Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Human Milking and Making Milkshakes: Breast Pumps

So I had my first request for a post... breast pumps! Breast pumps can be very confusing (as are a lot of things you may need for a new baby I have learned!)
So here is my attempt to concentrate the smorgasbord of information out there on breast pumps... from what they are, to whether you may need one, to the different types available, to safety information, to the best selling pumps on the market today...

What is a breast pump?
Simply, a breast pump is a FDA regulated medical device used to extract breast milk from a nursing mother. They can also be used to "maintain or increase a woman’s milk supply, relieve engorged breasts and plugged milk ducts, or pull out flat or inverted nipples so a nursing baby can latch-on to its mother’s breast more easily." (FDA)

Do I need a breast pump?
Whether you are a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, you may find you have a need for a breast pump.
Not every mom may need a pump though - you can learn to express milk by hand, which can be a good option for stay-at-home moms who do not plan to need to pump often. You can use breast pumps to store and freeze some of your breast milk. Some women pump regularly and bottle-feed their baby the breast milk, some pump only occasionally to have milk on hand for dad to feed with if mom isn't around or for when traveling.

Choosing one, however, can be a lot more difficult than you may think. There are many different types of pumps, different options for getting one (you can purchase new or second hand, rent one from a hospital... your health insurance may even cover a breast pump), different brands, features, styles, sizes... it can be a little overwhelming.

I plan to pump on occasion, when needed. I'd like to be able to provide my husband with some frozen breast milk in case I'm not around when our boy needs to eat. Plus, if it'll help me keep my supply up, then I don't need to worry about not making enough for the baby. 

What kind of breast pumps are there?

  • Hospital grade
    • These pumps are usually larger, heavier, and louder - though some are now smaller and comparable to a mid-weight hand pump
    • Provide a higher level of suction and more efficient pumping
    • Designed for use by multiple women, so contain barriers that prevent cross-contamination
    • Consider renting one if you do not know how long you will be pumping or will be staying at home exclusively breastfeeding
    • Example: Ameda Elite Breast Pump

  • Manual hand pump
    • Small, lightweight, single pump is easier to travel with
    • Pumps one breast at a time, requiring you to use your hand to repeatedly pump
    • Not ideal for a working mom who has little time to pump
    • Probably the most affordable option
    • Example: Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump (this is the one I purchased - I'll post a review of it after I use it!)
  • Battery operated
    • Generally small, single pump
    • Not the best for a woman needing to pump often since needing to replace batteries frequently can become costly.
    • Example: I actually had trouble finding a breast pump that was only battery-powered. Most are both electric and battery operated
  • Electric
    • Single pump, generally midweight
    • Some provide both electric plug-in option as well as batteries as back up when no outlet is to be found 
    • A little bulkier and more difficult to travel with as there are more parts and pieces
    • Example: Philips Avent Single Electric Comfort Breast Pump (a single pump that operates with ac-adapter or batteries)
  • Double pump
    • Electric pump that pumps both breasts at the same time
    • Can be worn with a hands free pumping bra to free up both hands while pumping
    • More expensive
    • Example: First Years Breastflow miPump Double Electric Breast Pump (allows you to pump both breasts at the same time, needing only one hand. Also comes with a cute carrying tote and has a battery-powered option)
  • Hands-free 
    • Attaches to your bra or shirt, or has a harness or wraps around your waist to free up your hands
    • More expensive
    • Example: Medela Freestyle Hands Free Breast Pump (marketed as their first "hands free"pump, but reviewers say that setting it up to use completely hands free is complicated)

Questions to answer when choosing a breast pump (courtesy of the FDA):

1) How do you plan to use the pump?
  • Are you using a pump in addition to breastfeeding?
  • Do you plan to pump and store several containers of milk? 
  • Are you returning to work? 
  • Will you be away from your baby for several days?
2) How much time will it take you to pump?
  • If planning to pump at work, or don't have a lot of time to pump, you may want a battery powered or electric breast pump
  • A double pump, which extracts milk from both breasts at the same time, will also decrease time spent pumping
  • If you are planning to stay at home and only pump occasionally, a manual hand pump may be all you need
3) Are the pump's instructions easy for you to understand?
  • Choose a pump that is easy for you to assemble, use and clean. 
  • If you are shopping for a pump in a store, ask if they have display breast pumps so you can practice assembling and taking apart several different pumps before you buy one.
  • Remember, most stores will not allow you to return a breast pump.
4) Where will you be using a pump?
  • Manual and battery-powered pumps are easier to transport and use in small spaces.
  • An electric pump requires an outlet and are larger and heavier and may be more difficult to transport.
5) Do you need a pump that is easy to transport?
  • If you travel frequently, or plan to pump at work, consider a lightweight pump that transports easily in a carrying case that holds the pump and pumping supplies.
  • If you plan to pump in the same place every time, you may not need to worry about how easy it is to transport.
6) Do the breast-shields fit you?
  • Make sure that the breast-shield opening is the correct size for you. You should be able to comfortably center your nipple inside the breast-shield.
  • Many pumps are sold with one size of breast-shield. 
  • Before buying a pump, check to see if you can replace the breast-shields with a different size or texture that is comfortable for you. 

Things to keep in mind:
  • Health Insurance Coverage
    • Most health insurance plans provide coverage for breast pumps and counseling and lactation services for pregnant and breastfeeding women
    • Your health insurance plan will determine whether the pump they will cover is manual or electric, single or double, whether it is a new pump for you to keep or one to rent (plus how long coverage for a rented pump lasts)
    • In most cases, your insurance will follow whatever your doctor recommends as medically necessary. So talk to your doctor about the breast pump for you. 
  • Buying Second-Hand
    • A top-of the line electric pump can cost you hundreds of dollars. Many women choose to buy second-hand to help cut the cost
    • With very few exceptions, most breast pumps are designed for use by one woman. "The FDA considers breast pumps to be single-user devices
    • Single-user breast pumps cannot be guaranteed to be cleaned and disinfected between uses by different women. Unlike hospital-grade pumps, which are designed for multiple users and have special barriers in the tubing and other parts to prevent cross contamination. Even if you think you've thoroughly cleaned and disinfected your pump, milk and moisture can still get trapped in the tubing and valves and such and therefore, bacteria can still be hanging around. 
    • Buying a used pump may be in violation of the manufacturer's warranty, so you are out of luck if you need help from the manufacturer with replacements or solving any problems
  • BPA
    • Most bottles that come with breast pumps are now made without bisphenol A (BPA), "a chemical used to make polycarbonate rigid and shatterproof that has been associated with adverse health effects in children." (Consumer Reports)
    • To be safe, though, make sure your breast pump is labeled with No-BPA before buying
What are some of the best sellers and top-rated pumps?

According to

  • The top rated breast pump brands (they receive the most satisfactory customer reviews across the board):
    • Ameda
    • Philips Avent
    • Medela
  •  The worst rated breast pump brands (receive the poorest customer reviews)
    • Evenflo
    • Gerber
    • First Years
  • other brands to consider that may be lesser-known:
    • Lasinoh
    • Dr. Brown's
    • Playtex
    • Whisper Wear
    • Hygeia
    • Bailey Medical
According to, the top 3 best-reviewed breast pumps are...
  1. Medela Harmony (the best manual pump)
  2. Medela Swing (the best single electric breast pump)
  3. Medela Pump In Style Advanced (the best double electric breast pump)

The best-selling breast pumps on
  • Medela Pump In Style Advanced Breast Pump
  • Philips Avent Manual Comfort Breast Pump
  • Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump
  • Medela Swing Breast Pump
  • Philips Avent Double Electric Comfort Breast Pump

I feel like I could just keep finding more info on breast pumps to include... where do I draw the line? When do I stop? So, for now, I'm stopping because I'm tired and need to go to bed. I think I've covered the most vital information... and hopefully I've succeeded even mildly in my attempt at providing a semi-concise guide to breast pumps!

I'll just leave you with this humorous, kind of pessimistic and cynical little image I found...


Planning Your Pregnancy and Birth - The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Consumer Reports
Breast Pumps Direct
WebMD: Breast Pumps 101
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