How to Find The Right Pump

Breast pumps are medical devices regulated by the FDA. Breast pumps are used by breastfeeding women to extract (or express) their breast milk. They can also be used to maintain or increase a woman's milk supply; feed multiple babies; relieve engorged breasts or plugged milk ducts, or pull out flat or inverted nipples so a nursing baby can latch-on to its mother's breast more easily. Many women find it convenient, or even necessary, to use a breast pump to express and store their breast milk once they have returned to work, are traveling, or are otherwise separated from their baby. Women are often delighted to learn that a breast pump can be used as a supplement to breastfeeding and that some pumps are designed to mimic the suckling of a nursing baby.

There are three main types of breast pumps: manual, battery-powered, and electric. Breast pumps extract milk from the breasts by creating a vacuum around the nipple that pulls air into the breast-shield, and applies and releases suction. Each suction and release combination is called a cycle. There are three different pumping types: single, double and double-alternating:

Pumping Type How it Works Types of Breast Pumps
Single Extracts milk from one breast at a time. Most manual breast pumps are single pumps.

Battery-powered pumps are commonly single pumps, perhaps because the single pumping action drains the battery at a slower rate than other pumping types.
Double Can be used to extract milk from both breasts at the same time.

A separate breast-shield can be attached to each breast and stimulate both nipples at the same time.
Some electric pumps are double pumps.

Some women find that the dual suction decreases the amount of time it takes to empty their breasts.
Double-Alternating Can be used to extract milk from both breasts at the same time.

Unlike the double pump, the double-alternating pump releases suction from one breast before applying suction to the other breast.
Electric pumps are commonly double-alternating pumps.



Mayo Clinic "Breast feeding: Choosing a Breast Pump"  March 15, 2008

If you're breast-feeding your baby, a breast pump may offer welcome flexibility. But how do you know which type of pump is best? Ask yourself these questions.

Breast-feeding is a round-the-clock commitment. That's why many breast-feeding mothers consider breast pumps as important as car seats and baby wipes.

Whether you're going back to work or simply want the flexibility a breast pump can offer, you'll have many choices. Some breast pumps are hand-operated, and others run on electricity. The designs also vary. Some models attach to only one breast. Others let you express milk from both breasts at once.

The Checklist:
To decide which type of breast pump is best for you, ask yourself these questions.

  • How often will you use the breast pump? If you'll be away from the baby only occasionally, a simple hand pump may be all you need. These pumps are small and inexpensive. You simply squeeze the handle to express the milk. If you're returning to work full time or you're planning to be away from your baby for more than a few hours a day, you may want to invest in an electric pump. Electric pumps stimulate the breasts more effectively than do hand pumps. This helps empty your breasts and protect your milk supply.
  • Will you need to pump as quickly as possible? A typical pumping session lasts about 10 to 15 minutes per breast. If you'll be pumping at work or in other time-crunched situations, you may want to invest in an electric breast pump that allows you to pump both breasts at once. Double breast pumps help stimulate milk production while cutting pumping time in half.
  • How much can you afford to spend on the pump? You can buy breast pumps from medical supply stores and most drug and baby stores. Manual models cost less than $50. Electric pumps that include a carrying case and insulated section for storing milk may cost more than $200. Some hospitals rent hospital-grade breast pumps, although the equipment that attaches your breast to the pump must be purchased. Some health insurance plans cover the cost of buying or renting a breast pump. Because there's a small risk of contamination, borrowing a breast pump or buying a used pump isn't recommended.
  • Is the pump easy to assemble? If the breast pump is difficult to assemble, take apart or clean, it's bound to be frustrating — which may reduce your enthusiasm for pumping. Make sure you can remove any parts of the pump that come in contact with your skin or milk for cleaning after use.
  • Is the suction adjustable? What's comfortable for one woman may be uncomfortable for another. Choose a pump that allows you to control the degree of suction. Some manual models allow you to adjust the position of the pump handle.
  • Is the pump heavy? If you'll be toting the pump to work every day or traveling with the pump, look for a lightweight model. Some breast pumps come in a carrying case with an insulated section for storing expressed milk.
  • Is the pump noisy? Some electric models are quieter than others. If it's important to be discreet, make sure the pump's noise level is acceptable.
  • Are the breast shields the correct size? Every pump has a shield to place over your breast. If you're concerned that the standard breast shield is too small, check with individual manufacturers about other options. If you want to pump both breasts at once, make sure the pump is equipped with two breast shields. Read: How To Fit A Breastshield
  • What if the electricity fails? An electric pump needs to be plugged in. If an outlet isn't accessible or the power fails, you'll need a rechargeable battery pack. In case of emergency, you may want to keep a manual pump handy.

If you're not sure which type of breast pump would be best for you, ask for help. A lactation consultant can help you make the best choice — and offer support as you start to use your breast pump or if you run into trouble. If you haven't worked with a lactation consultant, ask your baby's doctor for a referral or check with the obstetrics department at a local hospital. Counselors from La Leche League and similar organizations can help, too.


Consumer Reports "Best breast pump for working mothers"  December 10, 2007

"What kind kind of breast pump should I buy if I’m planning to breastfeed my baby and go back to work full-time?"

Go with a midweight personal-use automatic breast pump, such as the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. Midweight personal-use pumps retail for around $195 to $350; they’re not inexpensive, but the trade off is that they’re fast and efficient (although not as efficient as hospital grade pumps), which is what you need for an on-the-job situation. Usually no bigger than a briefcase and weighing around 8 pounds or less, a personal-use automatic is portable and can slash pumping time because it’s got a powerful motor and serious suction. Many personal-use automatic pumps offer suction that mimics baby’s natural sucking patterns, which typically begin with rapid, high-frequency suction and change to a slower, suck/swallow pattern. They’re designed to mimic baby and thereby foster faster milk flow, although some use a constant vacuum, with self-adjusting suction settings. Intermittent action better imitates a baby than a constant vacuum—and it’s probably easier on you, too.

Many models come housed in a black microfiber tote bag or backpack, which is ideal if you’re working outside your home. They’re often equipped with an adapter for your car’s cigarette lighter or a battery pack, for times when you’re not near an electrical outlet. Most come with all necessary attachments, including removable cooler carrier and cooling element, battery pack, AC adapter, and collection containers, lids, and stands.

To justify the cost, consider how much you’re saving by breastfeeding. If you were to give your baby only formula, you’re likely to shell out $1500 by her first birthday. Breast feeding also offers many health benefits for your baby, so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics and other leading health organizations strongly recommend it for at least the first six months--and even longer is better.

Don’t be afraid to register for a breast pump if you’re having a baby shower or two. But remember--never buy a used pump. Unless you’re using a hospital-grade rental pump, all breast pumps are designed for one user only. Breast-pump sharing is considered as unhygienic as using someone else’s toothbrush. Yuck!



This is general information and does not replace the advice of your physician or healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away. Every baby is different, and your baby may not be average. If in doubt, contact your physician or other healthcare provider.

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