Choosing a Breast Pump

Claire was excited. “My baby is due next month,” she said, “and I still have not decided which breast pump to buy. Does it really matter which one I choose?”

You may have noticed how almost all “must have” list for pregnant parents includes a breast pump. Here are some things to consider.

Who needs a pump?
You may need a pump if:

  • your baby is not able to directly breastfeed
  • you will be separated from your baby because of his prematurity, or your work or schooling
  • under certain circumstances, if you need to increase your milk production

If you are staying home to care for your healthy newborn, you may not need a pump at all. For the occasion when you may want to go out without your baby, hand expression is an effective and cost-saving option.

A word about hand expression.
Hand expression is a very useful skill and is easy to learn. Ask your Breastfeeding USA Counselor to show you how to do it. You can see a simple animation of hand expression here: (Scroll down for English text.)

When is the best time to buy a pump?
This will depend on your own circumstances, because there are different kinds of pumps for different situations.

If either you or your baby is unable to nurse after birth, you should use a special hospital-grade pump. Your hospital will have one available for you to use during your stay, and they will let you know where to rent one if your baby is still unable to nurse when you go home.

If you are sure that you will be returning to work, you might want to consider buying a personal pump before the baby is born. That way you will have it available if you need to pump to comfort in the early weeks. However, these personal pumps should not be confused with the previously-mentioned hospital grade pumps, which are designed to help you establish milk production.

Not all pumps are created equal!
Don’t waste your money on a cheap pump. They do not work very well, are noisy, break down often, and can even cause nipple damage.

Check the length of the pump's warranty, because that is the expected lifetime of the pump!
As a general rule, it is a good idea to avoid pumps made by companies whose main business is selling bottles, nipples and other supplies needed by mothers who are formula feeding. In the long run, it is much cheaper to rent or to buy a good pump than to buy formula.

When buying a pump, consider whether that brand offers different fit options. Pump fit is not about breast size; it’s about nipple size. It refers to how well your nipples fit into the pump opening or “nipple tunnel” that your nipple is pulled into during pumping. Pump nipple tunnels come in different sizes. Fit is an important aspect of pump comfort and efficiency.

If you need to rent or buy a pump, first check to see if you qualify for a free one from your local WIC agency.

There are so many breast pumps available today that it can be hard to decide which one is right for you. Here are some things to consider.

There are three kinds of pumps:

  • For occasional use.
  • For regular use.
  • For mothers who have not yet established a milk supply and/or whose baby is less than 8 weeks old.

Pumps for occasional use.
NOTE: These are all single user pumps that, like toothbrushes, should not be loaned or re-sold.

  • Manual pumps are designed for very occasional use - once or twice a week. They carry a 30-to-90 day warranty.
  • Small, motorized pumps are often chosen by mothers who are separated from their babies for about one or two feedings, once or twice a week. These pumps, which also have very short warranties, can be useful for emergencies. They are expensive to run on batteries, because the batteries need to be changed so frequently. Whenever possible, plug them into an electrical socket. They have a 90-day (3 months) warranty, and tend to be a bit noisy.

Pumps for regular use
Are you a mother who has already established a good milk supply and has a baby who is nursing well? If you will be separated from your baby because of work or school, you will need a dependable and efficient electric double pump. Some mothers find that pumping both breasts at once saves time and actually brings in more milk. See the Breastfeeding USA article To Pump More Milk, Use Hands-On Pumping for more ideas for bringing in more milk.

There are new multi-user electrical pumps in the $300 price range, which carry a three-year warranty. After you are finished with it, the pump can be loaned or sold to another mother who has her own personal accessory set, and even be recycled.

Some mothers prefer to rent the hospital-grade electric double pumps for the reasons below. Contact a Breastfeeding USA Counselor for the most current information on available breast pumps.

Pumps for mothers who have not yet established a milk supply and/or whose baby is less than 8 weeks old.
If this is your situation, you will probably need to rent a hospital-grade electric double pump:

Mothers of babies who:

  • are premature
  • are too sick to nurse
  • have physical anomalies (like a cleft palate) which may prevent breastfeeding
  • are having difficulties nursing for other reasons

Mothers who:

  • are exclusively pumping
  • have had breast reduction surgery
  • have medical conditions (like untreated low thyroid levels) which may make it difficult to produce a full milk supply
  • are relactating or inducing lactation for an adopted baby
  • are having difficulties nursing for other reasons

Hospital-grade electric pumps are specially designed to bring in and maintain a mother’s milk supply. They can be sanitized and used by more than one mother.

Previously used pumps.
Using a previously owned pump that has not been approved for multiple users is like using somebody else's toothbrush. Milk can get into the unsealed motor, even if you get new tubes and personal milk collection parts.

Remember that the average lifetime of a pump is about the same as the length of its warranty. Yes, the pump may work a bit longer than the length of the warranty, but you will have no recourse from the manufacturer if it no longer works efficiently..

There is an even more important aspect to consider. An older pump that is beginning to wear out may not work well. If the pump is not able to adequately stimulate your breasts, then your milk production will drop, and you may not be able to make enough milk to keep up with your baby's needs.

Nothing lasts forever. Pumps wear out. We are not surprised when a hairdryer or a microwave oven or a car fails to work properly after it has reached it's *expiration* date, and it is the same for pumps.

Need more information?
If you want to know more about choosing or using a pump, storing your milk, or if you have other breastfeeding concerns, FREE help is available from Breastfeeding USA Counselors.

Norma Ritter is the mother of three grown children and the grandmother of six grandchildren, all of whom were breastfed.