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How to Use Your Breastpump - The Basics (Spectra S1 and S2)

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

new mother using spectra breastpump

There is no doubt about it, pumping is daunting. Just looking at a breastpump makes most mums panic about how to assemble, let alone what settings they should use when they are pumping.

This post is not a detailed deep dive into how to pump for increased supply, this is a simple 'go to' guide on the basic settings to get you started.

Step 1: Wash and sterilise your breastpump parts

This means all the pieces that may touch milk. So you should not wash your tubing, for example, but you do need to wash and sterilise your flanges and bottles. Spectra advise that you should wash and sterilise:

  • Breastshields

  • Valves

  • Bottles

  • Bottle necks

  • Backflow protectors

  • Sealing discs

  • Bottle caps

  • Teats

Step 2: Assemble your pump parts

Follow the instructions (or call for a consult if you need help at this stage).

For the sake of this post I will assume that you have the correct size flanges, but it is important to state that this can dramatically impact your yield, so if in doubt contact me or a Lactation Consultant for correct fitting.

I highly recommend using a hand free pumping bra (find great ones using discount code Empowa22 at, even for single breastpumps, but if you don't have one you can use a sports bra with slits cut to position the flanges. Opting to hold your breastpump with one, or two, hands is not a long term option unless you have a lot of help and support at home for all other daily and baby related tasks.


Step 3: Stimulating a LETDOWN

The Spectra S1 and S2 has 3 distinct functions

1. Letdown (see "wave" button)

2. Cycle + / - (speed)

3. Vacuum + / - (suction)

Babies stimulate your Letdown with fast, short, sucks - that flutter type suck you may feel.

This is simulated on the Spectra by using the "wave" button and normally mimics approx 70 sucks per minute.

Babies can typically suck up to 120 times per minute, I know, mind blowing!, but the Letdown mode on a Spectra S1 or S2 is normally very adequate to stimulate a Letdown.

At this stage you can start to become familiar with the other functions on your Spectra.

In Letdown mode you can increase the vacuum from approx 50mmHg (Level 1) to approx 180mmHg (Level 5)

Note: There is no information from Spectra as to what levels correlate to exact vacuum pressure. The max mmHg is around 280 mmHg.

Not everyone responds well to increased vacuum at this stage, but try increasing the vacuum and see how it impacts the Letdown response. Typically Level 3 is a comfortable and effective setting before moving to full expression mode.

Stay in Letdown "wave" mode for approximately 2 minutes, or less if your Letdown is strong and obvious.

Step 4: Expression mode

Press the "wave" button to stop Letdown mode - this will automatically start Expression Mode.

Cycle (Speed) + / -

Average nutritive milk flow rate for a full term baby is upto 60 sucks per minute. Your spectra will mimic upto 54 sucks per minute in expression mode.

At the start of your expression aim for the maximum cycle (54), but reduce if it is uncomfortable. If you are pumping for more than one Letdown then subsequent Letdowns may yield more on a slightly lower cycle setting.

Vacuum (Suction) + / -

A full term baby normally has a maximum suction of 220-240mmHg. Your breastpump may go upto 280mmHG.

For your first Letdown take the suction level to the point it is slightly uncomfortable and then reduce by one level - so that you are not uncomfortable or in any pain.

Pumping should never be painful. If you cannot find a setting that is pain free consult a Lactation Consultant.

I recommend that a standard pumping session should be no longer than 15 minutes. If this is not producing the amount of milk you want, or require, please arrange a call with Empowa or your Lactation Consultant.


  1. Start on "wave" mode, for 2 minutes. During this time try to increase the Vacuum to 3-5, then

  2. Try Cycle 54, increase the Vacuum as far as is comfortable

  3. Do not pump for longer than 15 minutes

Step 5: Pumping for more than one Letdown per session

If your milk stops flowing you can try to stimulate a second, or even a third, Letdown by using the "wave" function again.

Cycle and Vacuum interaction

Generally speaking to maintain your yield throughout a pump with multiple Letdowns you may find that a lower Cycle will require a higher Vacuum.

An example of what this may look like during a pumping session:

  • "wave" function with Vacuum 1-3

  • "wave" function with Vacuum 4-5

  • Cycle 54 with Vacuum 5-8

  • "wave" function with Vacuum 4-5

  • Cycle 50 with Vacuum 6-10

  • "wave function with Vacuum 4-5

  • Cycle 46 with Vacuum 8-12

I recommend that a standard pumping session with multiple Letdown's should be no longer than 25 minutes. If this is not producing the amount of milk you want, or require, please arrange a call with Empowa or your Lactation Consultant.


If you are having pain while pumping decrease the vacuum level until you are comfortable.

When you have finished pumping you should have soft, empty breasts. If not, you may have the wrong size flanges, so call for a consult.


Reduce the Vacuum setting to 1 when you finish pumping. Your Spectra will remember, and start with, your last setting, so starting at Level 12 can be a bit of a shock sometimes.

And always remember that I am here if you need me! Specialising in physical and emotional evidence based support in those first few days, weeks and months of having a baby.

All my best wishes





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