Breastfeeding usually comes with its own equipment: two breasts (one will work fine) and a baby (more than one means another mouth to feed, which can also work fine).
Yet, it’s now common for breastfeeding mothers to find they need the help of a breast pump, as they establish, maintain and continue breastfeeding in the twenty-first century.
Whether it's to support their supply while they work through problems in the early days, or stockpiling a supply of frozen breast milk, or juggling the demands of the modern work/life balance, expressing milk is now considered by most mothers (and their health care providers) to be a standard feature of the breastfeeding journey.
However, along with increased demand comes increased supply, leading to an overwhelming range of equipment filling the shelves of stores — and an even more mind-boggling array online. Selecting the best option for your individual needs can be confusing. Throw in the kindly offers from family and friends of their pre-loved pumps and unexpected gifts at the baby shower, and chances are you may experience ‘decision overwhelm’ — or even that the choice has been entirely taken out of your control.
Here are 4 things you need to know about choosing a breast pump to help you work through all of your options:
Breast Pump Tip #1: Do Your Research
Unless your baby arrives unexpectedly, you can take some time in your pregnancy to look into the pumps available, work out your budget and consider what lifestyle factors might influence your choice.
Think about your breastfeeding goals and how pumping might be involved in meeting them: will you continue breastfeeding once your return to work? Is your plan to exclusively breastfeed? Does your partner want to feed your baby expressed breastmilk once breastfeeding is well-established?
Find out what you can access during your hospital stay. Ask your IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) what pumps she has available or what she recommends. Contact your local breastfeeding support group about breast pump hire in your area.
If you decide to wait until your baby arrives to purchase a pump, it can be a good idea to share your choice and information with a trusted family member or friend, who can make the purchase on your behalf if you and your partner are unable to do so.
Breast Pump Tip #2: Determine Your Need
Expressing breastmilk can be something you never need to do or something you always do, and you won’t really know what path you will take until your baby arrives. Common reasons to pump are:
Occasional use – giving sore or cracked nipples a rest to promote healing (here are some tips to soothe sore nipples); boosting your milk supply after a temporary decrease; relieving engorged breasts in the first week; storing some milk for a short separation from your baby; as part of management of blocked ducts or mastitis.
Regular use – leaving your baby with a carer while you are working, studying or taking part in sport; keeping a supply of expressed breastmilk in the freezer; supporting your supply while breastfeeding problems are resolved.
Exclusive use – providing your breastmilk for a very premature baby not able to breastfeed; continuing breastmilk feeding after a breast strike; feeding a baby physically unable to breastfeed due to physical problems like a cleft palate. Find out more about exclusively pumping breastmilk.
Breast Pump Tip #3: Consider Your Options
Hand Expressing: If you need to express in the first 2-3 days after your baby is born, you will be encouraged to hand express until your milk comes in. Hand expressing is an effective alternative to using a breast pump, once you learn the technique and get the hang of it. Even if you use a breast pump, knowing how to hand express is useful in case your pump breaks or the power goes out! Learn how to hand express here.
Manual Breast Pump: The simple design and compact size make these a good choice for occasional pumping. With no mechanical noise, they are discreet and can seem more natural. However, some mothers find them tedious to use or they cause fatigue in hand or arm muscles. Some brands are gentler than others and effectiveness can vary between designs.
Personal Electric/Battery-Operated Pump: When you are expressing on a regular basis or find the idea of a manual pump unappealing, small personal pumps which run on battery and/or mains power are a great option. More affordable than ongoing rental, some models offer reliable pumping of one and/or both breasts in around 15-20 minutes, and are a great option for pumping during your work day. Quality does vary and you tend to get what you pay for. Designed as single-user products, pre-loved pumps can pose hygiene issues and cross-infection risk.
Hospital-Grade Rental Pumps: Used by NICU mothers, maternity wards and available for hire, these pumps are intended to be used by multiple users over many years. Their design reduces any risk of cross-infection and users have their own individual milk collection kit to connect to the pump. For mothers of premature babies, as part of a management plan for ongoing breastfeeding problems, women working full-time and mothers exclusively pumping breastmilk, these pumps are larger than the personal alternatives but are also more powerful.
Double-Pumping: When you want to maximise the amount of milk you pump or time is a restraint, choosing a breast pump which expresses both breasts at the same time will help. Some even offer “hands-free” options, so you can eat your lunch while you pump!
Breast Pump Tip #4: Take Time To Learn
Like riding a bike, tying your shoe laces or learning to dance, when you first begin expressing, it will feel awkward and you may feel you will never perfect the technique. Just as when you breastfeed, your milk needs to let-down to flow but unlike your beautiful baby, you probably won’t bond with your breast pump and convincing your body to relax and release those hormones might take some time.
Your baby uses a combination of positive and negative pressure to remove milk from your breasts. When you express, a technique known as ‘hands-on pumping’ will help you recreate that. Studies have shown this can double the amount of milk you express! Find out more about maximising milk production with hands on pumping.
Whatever your reason for expressing, getting the right pump for your needs can make all the difference. Once you get that right, here are some tips to get you pumping like a pro!