With so many breast pumps on the market many new mothers feel confused. Each has its selling points, which are marketed aggressively. The negatives of the different pumps you have to sniffle out in various reviews and blogs. Generally a breast pump is one of the bigger expenses when having a baby, and new mothers don’t have the luxury of testing a pump before purchasing. This article provides information on the basics of breast pumps to help you choose a breast pump best suited to your needs.
Breast pump components
All breast pumps have two components that need to work for an individual mother:
- The collection kit – a cone-shaped cup/flange that fits over the nipple and areola, and a container to collect the breastmilk. Breasts and nipples come in different shapes and sizes, and the same kit may not be comfortable for all mothers.
- The pump – this is the mechanism which creates the suction that extracts milk from the breast. In a manual pump this suction is created through a lever that is squeezed or pulled by hand. In an electric breast pump suction is created through a motorized pump, with silicone tubing usually connecting the flange kit to the pump unit.
The collection kit
The collection kit (and specifically the flange that fits onto the breast) is crucial for comfortable expressing. Most pumps are issued with a standard size flange to fit the average nipple. But if a mom has nipples either larger or smaller than average this may not work for her. An ill-fitting flange can lead to painful expressing, nipple damage, low milk supply, engorgement and mastitis.
It’s worthwhile looking for a brand with different flange sizes available, should you need it. You may also benefit from a proper assessment by a lactation consultant before purchasing.
Electric versus manual
Manual breast pumps
As explained a manual pump has a lever which the mother needs to pull or squeeze rhythmically to create suction and extract milk from the breast.
|Advantages of a manual pump:||Disadvantages of a manual pump:|
|· It is usually less expensive than an electric pump
· Can be used in situations where a power source or batteries are not available
· It is smaller and easier to transport than an electric pump
· Theoretically it has lower noise levels (though many manual pumps produce squeaky noises which are actually more annoying than the noises created by a motorized pump)
|· The mother does not have her hands free to do something else while pumping, like eating her lunch or operating her phone
· You can only express on one breast at a time
· Will be difficult to use for mothers with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis
· In the long run it is less effective in maintaining a milk supply than a good quality electric pump
Electric breast pumps
An electric breast pump uses a power source like an electric cord that plugs into a wall outlet, disposable batteries or a rechargeable battery to provide power to a motorized pump that creates the suction needed to extract milk from the breast.
Most high-quality pumps can be adjusted to create different suction types and rhythms. Basic two-phase pumps have a ‘stimulation cycle’, where the suctions are light and quick to stimulate the nipples and to create a let-down reflex; it then switches over to an ‘expressing-cycle’ where deeper, longer suctions express milk.
The features of the motorized pump determine its cost. An important aspect to take into consideration is the number of cycles (or ‘suctions’) that the pump can maintain per minute. During breastfeeding a baby will on average suck 40-60 times per minute, maintaining a pressure of 50-250 mmHg. So while the pressure is fairly high, the amount of time each suck lasts is around 1-1,5 seconds. A pump needs a fairly strong motor to be able to mimic this. Cheaper and lower quality pumps take longer to reach this negative pressure level, leading to each cycle taking up to 2 seconds and longer. This will not only lead to reduced stimulation and smaller volumes of milk, but can also damage the mother’s nipples and areolas. To maintain a milk supply in women who are away from their babies for long periods in a day, a pump should be able to maintain at least 40-60 cycles per minute. This is important to keep in mind when you choose a breast pump.
|Advantages of an electric breast pump||Disadvantages of an electric breast pump|
|· It is available as a double option (allowing you to express from both breasts at once)
· May yield larger volumes of milk in a shorter time-span
· It is more convenient and easier to use
|· They are dependent on a power source
· May be noisy
· More parts that you need to transport wherever you are going
· More expensive than manual pumps
Silicone suction pumps
These are one-piece silicone collection kits which the mother squeezes to create a vacuum and then apply to her breast where she leaves it to slowly and constantly drain milk. These pumps are quite cheap and may be handy to catch leaking milk and relieve engorgement, but many lactation consultants are concerned about using these in the longer run. Traditional pumps offer rhythmic suctions that lead to a let-down reflex and proper breast emptying. It is doubtful whether suction pumps would offer sufficient stimulation for the mother to build and maintain a proper milk supply (so not ideal for the mom working away from home). Collection of milk can also take a very long time. These one-piece pumps are more difficult to clean on the inside and have the potential to harbour bacterial and fungal growth if the mom is not careful.
Closed versus open system pumps
In a closed system pump there is a barrier between the tubing that connects the pump motor and the collection kit, meaning that no milk can enter the tubing and the pump. Multi-user pumps are closed system pumps to which multiple mothers can connect their own collection kits. These pumps have very strong motors, as they are going to be used a lot and need to last longer.
In an open-system pump small amounts of milk can potentially enter the tubing and pump motor, which can lead to mould and bacterial growth. These pumps are always for use by one mother only, and needs to be inspected and cleaned regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Single versus double electric pumps
A single pump can express from only one breast at a time, while a double pump has two collection kits that connect to the same motorized pump and enables the mother to express from both breasts at once.
Investing in a double pump is well worth it, especially if a mother plans to express more often. It has the potential to half the amount of time she spends expressing. Studies have shown that most women will express larger volumes of milk when expressing with a double breast pump.
Can you buy a secondhand pump?
Having a baby is expensive and many women end up buying second-hand pumps or taking over used pumps from friends and family members. It is never recommended for women to share breast pumps, as harmful pathogens can potentially pass to the baby. If the pump was used a lot the motor may not last a full term for a second mom. By then the warranty has probably expired, leaving her without support should it need repairs.
Choosing a brand
Be sure to choose a company that offers proper customer support, can service your pump where applicable, offer replace pump parts and provide different flange sizes.
Where to start when you choose a breast pump?
Determine your needs
If you want to occasionally express to have some milk on hand for a date-night, a manual pump may be sufficient. However, if you need to provide milk for your baby and maintain your milk supply while working a full-day away from home you will definitely benefit from a more advanced pump.
Set a budget
Determine your budget and make a list of the breast pumps that you can realistically afford. Remember that formula feeding is very expensive. Breastfeeding also helps to protect your baby against common illnesses, saving you money on medical bills. Expressing breastmilk can potentially save you a lot of money in the long run, making the cost of a good quality pump worthwhile.
Other considerations before you choose a breast pump?
- Pump size – some are small and easy to fit into a bag while others are large and difficult to transport.
- Noise level – what does it sound like? This is important if you need to pump in a work environment.
- Power supply – does it need to be plugged in, use batteries or can you recharge at home and use wherever you are?