Although breastfeeding is the optimal way to remove breastmilk, there are times when this may not be possible. Breast pumps can be used to:
- Stimulate your milk supply
- Increase your milk supply
- Maintain your milk supply
- Provide breastmilk while you are away working, studying or out for a few hours, catching up on sleep
- Engorgement, oversupply or when weaning
- To help draw out flat or inverted nipples prior to breastfeeding
- To help stimulate let-down
- Breast refusal
- Prem baby, baby with a cleft lip or palate, unwell baby
- Personal choice
Whatever your reason, deciding on what breast pump to buy can be quite confusing as there are so many on the market. Hopefully by the end of this blog you will have a better idea of which one will be the right one for you and your baby. I really encourage you though to talk to a healthcare professional or breastfeeding expert first to determine the reasons why you may need to use a breast pump and the best type of pump for your individual situation. There are a lot of breast pumps on the market and some are definitely better than others.
Here are some things that you need to consider…
How much do you plan to use it?
Think about how often you will be pumping because this will determine what type of pump you will need.
Manual pump – These pumps are operated by hand and require no power source and are lightweight, quiet and cheaper than electric models. The pump is operated by manually pressing or moving the handle in a continuous motion. They require 2 hands to operate it, one to secure the pump to the breast and one to manually pump the handle to create the vacuum. Manual pumping is usually slower and takes longer than using an electric pump and can be hard work. Manual pumps are good for occasional use, so I would encourage you to consider an electric pump if you were needing to pump more than once a day.
Electric pump – Electric pumps do the work – you hold the breast shields (also known as flanges) to the breast and the pump provides the suction. They are plugged into a power outlet and in most cases also have a battery or rechargeable option for portability and convenience. Electric pumps are a popular choice with mothers and are available for single or double pumping. Breast pumps, like the Medela electric pumps have the technology to replicate a baby’s natural sucking behaviour, making it a more effective and natural way to express . At the start of each breastfeed, your baby uses short, fast sucks to stimulate your let-down reflex. Once your milk starts to flow, your baby changes to a slower, stronger suck so pumps like the Medela mimic this really effectively. Some electric pumps come with limited control settings of suction or cycle times whereas some come with greater flexibility to adjust controls so that you can customize it for you with the best level for maximum milk expression and comfort.
- A single pump: Is ideal for expressing from time to time and are an affordable electric option.
- A double pump is more efficient than a single pump. So if you are needing to express regularly, double pumping would not only save time but it can actually yield more milk.
Studies have shown that up to 18% more milk on average can be produced from double pumping rather than pumping from each side individually. The reason for this is that the double stimulation is more efficient and that you have an additional let-down.
It can also yield milk with a higher fat content and this is simply because the breast is drained more completely as fat content increases in the milk during the feed.
A well drained breast also tells your body to produce more milk, whereas milk that’s left behind after an ineffective feed or pump will signal to your body that more milk is not required.
That’s why frequent and effective milk removal is so crucial for your milk supply.
A great video to watch is below which details the advantages of double pumping.
Battery – operated pumps – An alternative and affordable option that use a small motor to generate suction. They are not usually recommended for daily use for mums who are increasing or maintaining their milk supply so are best for those little jobs like softening the breast before a feed if you are engorged for example. Overall they tend to have a weaker suction, cycle more slowly than a natural sucking pattern of a baby and are ineffective when they start to lose battery power.
How effective is the pump?
If you are going to use a pump – you want it to do the job that you are using it for. Some pumps are definitely more effective than others. Some manufacturers spend more time researching and deliver pumps that are efficient and are of a hospital level performance and this is important to meet the needs of most mothers who are expressing. If effective and comfortable breast pumping is important to you, look for a high quality pump that does the job well.
Is it a pump that is recommended by Midwives or Breastfeeding specialists?
My top picks for breast pumps and the only pumps that I recommend to my mums are by Medela and Crane.
- Medela have been leaders in the field of breastfeeding research and technology for over 20 years and provide some of the best breastfeeding pumps and products on the market
- Crane single and double electric pumps are fairly new on the market and are very comparable to Medela pumps. Lactation consultants and health professionals have been very impressed by them as have those mums who have used them. They are an affordable and quality option if you can’t quite stretch to a Medela pump.
How comfortable is the pump?
Some pumps are more comfortable than others. Some breast shields (the funnel that fits on the breast) are more cushioned made with soft silicone or have silicone inserts that make it more comfortable. Getting the right fit of the shield is important too, to ensure maximum comfort and efficiency while pumping. Most pumps will include a standard sized breast shield (24/25mm) and some may include additional shields for you to choose from.
- The easiest way to check if the shield is a good fit is to position your nipple in the middle of the breast shield – your nipple will move in the tunnel during pumping and you will not feel any discomfort from it
If it is too small, you will notice rubbing of your nipple against the tunnel and pumping will be painful and cause nipple soreness
If it is too large, you will notice more of your areola in the tunnel and pumping will cause pain at the base of the nipple.
How loud is the pump?
While no breast pump is entirely silent, some are louder than others. If you will be pumping in an office or where other people will be around you, you may want to choose one that’s recognised as being relatively quiet.
How easy is it to clean and assemble?
Most pumps are easy to take apart and clean, however some pumps have a lot of parts compared to other pumps that make the cleaning and assembling process a bit more complicated and time consuming. Some pumps will have an open system and some have a more hygienic closed system which has a barrier between the milk collection kit and the pump, preventing milk from overflowing back into the tubing and motor, preventing contamination by bacteria, mould or viruses etc. The closed systems are much easier to clean and to maintain.
Am I able to get extra accessories or replacement parts easily for the pump?
Are parts readily available in case you require more breast shields, bottles/teats, lose or damage a part or need to replace a part that has been worn down by frequent expressing? If not your pump will be essentially useless. If you are choosing to purchase 2 pumps – one for work and one for home, then choosing the same pump might be useful as your bottles, flanges etc will be compatible. Some pumps offer a good range of accessories such as extra bottles, pump carry bags or expressing bras etc so that is worth considering too.
How portable/lightweight is it?
Will you be just using your pump at home or will you be needing to take it with you when you go out – shopping, working or studying or will you need to take it with you travelling? Will you have access to an electrical outlet or will it require a battery pack, is it rechargeable – how long does the charge last? How lightweight and portable is it?
Quality vs Price
Like most things, you will get what you pay for. Buying a cheaper brand pump will generally mean it has a less effective design and motor quality. Pumping can be slower, possibly uncomfortable and you will achieve less milk volume for your effort.
So lots of things to think to about when it comes to purchasing a breast pump. Being prepared for when your baby arrives is important but buying a pump can be one of those purchases that can wait until after you have your baby. You will have a much better idea of what your breastfeeding situation is and what your requirements will be. It’s still a great idea however to do some research during this time, to familiarise yourself with the different pumps so you know what is out there.