Choosing a breast pump is an important decision to make. The wrong pump choice can spell the end of breastfeeding for you and baby. There are so many options to choose from. Do you need a manual or electric? A double or single? It’s all very confusing and overwhelming for beginners.
If you have never purchased a breast pump before it’s hard to know what to look for. Ultimately it really comes down to what you need from your breast pump. The best breast pump for you will be the one which mimics you baby’s nursing behavior the closest. What’s right for one mom’s situation will not be right for another. For example a mom who is expressing for a rare night out will have different pump need to a mom who is expressing for premature twins.
Expressing Mama have done the hard work for you by researching the features you will need to consider and put it all in this beginners guide for how to choose a breast pump. Check it out.
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How to Choose a Breast Pump
If you read breast pump reviews online you will find that other moms note how effective a pump is. Usually they will measure this by how many ounces of milk they pump during a session. However the effectiveness of a breast pump should be based on how many cycles it does per minute.
A pump cycle is also known as suction speed. The term is used to describe one full suction and release action from the pump. A baby at the breast will average around 1.28 sucks per second. A pump which has a cycle rate of close to 60 per minute will be a highly effective pump. A high cycle rate is most often found in hospital grade pumps or high end breast pumps. This is why these breast pumps are often rated highly by moms.
Cheaper or battery operated breast pumps tend to have lower cycle rates (15-30 cycles). Manual pumps cycles will depend on solely on how many times you actively pump, which is difficult to maintain over time. These pump are often have lower ratings because they are not as effective at yielding the milk. These pumps are often hit or miss, as some moms find them effective but others report a decrease in milk supply.
Slower cycle states can caused a drop in milk supply as the nipple is not being stimulated as much as baby would. The slower action also means that the nipple is stretched into the breast tunnel for longer and may cause nipple pain.
Breast pumps are available in three different grades: manual, personal use and hospital grade. Manual pumps are fairly inexpensive, the personal use pump are mid-range and the hospital grade pump are very expensive. The grade of pump you need will depend on how frequent you need to express milk.
- Once or twice a week – a manual or small battery operated pump will be sufficient
- Once a day – a mid- range single electric pump is suggested
- Up to 4 times a day – a mid-range double electric pump should meet your needs
- Five times or exclusive pumping – a double hospital grade pump is required.
Unless you have an overabundant breast milk supply we suggest you follow this guide and not choose a pump based on price. IF you buy an ineffective pump the motor will wear quickly with overuse and you’ll want to buy a replacement as you milk supply starts to fall.
The reason comfort features are important when expressing is down to how your body a makes milk. If you feel stressed, frustrated or uncomfortable when pumping, your body simply won’t produce milk. A breast pump should never be painful. If you experience pain whilst pumping it is best to stop and seek professional guidance. A pump which makes the effort to ensure comfort whilst pumping will help you to relax when expressing and produce more milk. There are few features to look out for which may make expressing more comfortable for you.
Not all moms will need the same suction levels pump the most milk. The best level is the highest suction rate which is comfortable for you. Remember if it’s painful to pump you risk damaging your breast tissue and not getting much milk.
Again, not all moms will have the same nipple size. It’s important to have a correct fit of breast shield so your nipple does not rub or pull during suction. Some brands such as Medela, Philips Avent and Ameda have a range of shield sizes to accommodate most needs.
How much time do you have for pumping? It can take anything from 10-40 minutes to effectively express and ‘empty’ both breasts. If you need to pump frequently that time can add up quickly. As a new parent that can really eat into your free time. Also if you are returning to work you may have strict time limits to pump in, if your employer is inflexible with pumping breaks.
A pump which allows you to express from both breast at the same time is called a double pump. Using a double pump increases the efficiency of a breast pump by:
- Cutting expressing time in half (around 10-15 min compared to 20-30 min with a single pump)
- Boosting your milk producing hormones through increased stimulation
- Avoiding leaking from the ‘free’ breast
Two Phase Expression
Some electric pumps come with a two different suction modes.
Stimulation phase is short, fast sucks to stimulate your let down.
Expression phase changes to long slow sucks, to express the milk when it begins to flow.
The idea is to mimic baby’s feeding behavior. These pumps are often automatic and will have this mode pre-set so you don’t need to manually change the suction yourself. This feature is very effective at expressing milk and will often reduce the amount of time it takes to empty your breast.
Ease of Use
Depending on whether you have a manual or an electric pump, it will be powered by hand or electricity.
How satisfied will you be with a manual pump which makes your arm ache after a few minutes? Or an electric pump which has complicated buttons or is not easy to operate with one hand? An ergonomic pump will be designed specifically to make holding and operating the pump easy. Some pump have specific levers and angles to prevent milk leaking and all you to sit back comfortable when pumping.
All the pump parts which come into contact with breast milk will need to be washed and sterilized after each pumping session. If the pump you have is like a challenge from ‘minute to win it’, you’ll quickly get frustrated having to reassemble it. A well written instruction manual will also help you to figure out where parts go.
If you plan to travel a lot with your pump or use it at home and work, then the portability will be important to you. You may also want to consider portability if you are express want to move around and do other tasks whilst expressing.
Size & Weight
You will want a pump to be light and compact if you plan to carry it around. A heavy hospital grade pump is only really suitable to be used and stored in the same place each time.
Manual pumps are the most portable type, however a lot of electrical pumps are designed to be portable. A good test is to see how easily the pump would fit into a standard size tote with all the accessories. Some pumps are designed for ‘on the go’ moms, and come with carry bags, lanyards or belt clips to carry the motor around with you.
Electric breast pumps will require a mains supply to provide the most effective pump. Some also have battery options so you can use on the go. It’s best to check how long a pump will run on full battery power so you are not left without power. Another great option for traveling moms is the option of a car charger for your pump.
You should consider if the noise made from a breast pump is important to you. If you feel easily irritated with noises then this can inhibit your let down and affect your milk supply.
The quietest breast pumps are the manuals as they don’t require a motor. Electric breast pumps will vary with noise levels. If you find white noise relaxing, the churn of a breast pump can help stimulate your let down. If white noise irritates you then a quiet pump is the best option.
A top tip is to check out you tube videos of any pumps you are considering buying. You will be able to hear the pump in action and decide whether it puts you off buying.
There are breast pumps available to suit all budgets. If you need to express milk often, then you should see your breast pump as an investment. The cost of formula feeding a baby is estimated around $1700. Weigh this up against the cost of some of the most expensive breast pumps on the market and you still make a saving. Plus you can re-use good quality breast pumps for more than one baby.
Remember to factor in any hidden cost such as batteries feeding and storage equipment. Do be fooled into false economy by a cheaper pump than the one your need. You may be saving money, but at what cost? You will often find over use of cheap pumps wear out the motor quickly, or decrease moms’ milk supply.
Did you know that your health insurance may cover the costs of your breast pump? The Affordable Care Act passed in 2012 aims to prevent ill health by supporting breastfeeding moms. It states that women should have better access to lactation support, counseling and breastfeeding equipment, all of which are being included in health insurance policies. There is certain criteria you will have to meet, but it’s worth checking out if you need a cost effective pump but can’t stretch the budget.