What Kind of Breast Pump Do I Choose?

Veronica Tingzon, IBCLC By Veronica Tingzon, RLC

When you’re thinking of the items you want to sign up for on your baby shower gift registry, somehow or another, the top of the line breast pump ends up on that registry list. Do you really need that expensive pump? The following will guide you when deciding on the perfect pump for your circumstance.

 Not unlike cars, breast-pumps have different motors with very different capabilities. There are many expensive pumps that may be substandard for initiating a milk supply when a mom and baby have been separated (baby going to NICU or mom’s medical emergency). The cycle power and the strength of the hospital grade breast pump’s motor are more consistent and more closely related to that of a baby’s suck pattern. Less than that could be a set-up for mom’s milk to “come in” weakly. On the other hand, why spend three hundred dollars on a pump that you’re only going to use once a day, at home since you’re planning on staying home with the baby?

The first thing I want to stress is to wait to purchase a pump until you’re actually breastfeeding. Many hospitals will provide a hand pump or a breast-pump kit (that has a hand pump included) and is compatible with an electric, hospital-grade pump. Early on, you may only need to use the hand pump to pull out inverted or flat nipples or pump out some milk from engorged breasts. Conversely, the hospital-grade pump is a great way to initiate your milk supply when you are separated from your baby or your baby isn’t getting the hang of breastfeeding quite the way he/she should yet. If the pump kit isn’t provided for you, you can purchase the kit and rent a hospital grade pump for a nominal fee. Your milk is initiated in the first three weeks of your baby’s life. If you are separated for at least that length of time from your baby, I would recommend renting a hospital grade pump for about a month. At the end of that month, you can re-evaluate whether to continue renting the pump or purchasing a new commercial/business grade everyday use pump.

So, why would you want to purchase an everyday use pump?

Benefits of the commercial grade, everyday use pump include: over time, it becomes less expensive to buy than to keep renting, they’re less conspicuous and less clunky, they’re quieter, they have storage areas that facilitate carrying the parts, cooler, and ice packs. Different commercial-grade, everyday use pumps that do a good job of keeping up a plentiful milk supply while pumping for a NICU baby or for going back to work full or part-time, include but are not limited to: Hygeia EnJoye, Medela Pump in Style Advance, Medela Freestyle, Ameda Purely Yours, Avent Isis IQ, Playtex Embrace. (Sidebar: The PJ Comfort Pump by Limerick Inc. is a compromise between hospital grade and commercial grade. It’s the only double-electric pump that milks the breast like a baby’s mouth would, however it’s a lot more expensive and more difficult to get a hold of.)

Also for sale are the smaller or mini-electric breast pumps. Many of these models run on a low voltage AC outlet or battery power. Many moms purchase this type of pump for their return to work. Much to their chagrin, they find a noticeable (sometimes irreparable) drop in their milk making capacity. The lower price disparity to that of the everyday use, commercial grade pump is usually the attraction to this type of pump. But, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. These mini-electric pumps are for occasional use only and are NOT intended for everyday/multiple times per day usage. This type of misuse will burn out the mini-electric pump’s weak motor, making your milk supply plummet. The true applications for the mini electric breast pumps are: occasions where you’ll be gone for just a short time (ie: going to the gym, the grocery store, on a date with dad, to a wedding, a special one day class or seminar….you get the picture). (Sidebar number 2: Medela makes two mini-electric breast-pumps. The Medela mini-electric is not my favorite pump, it falls in the same category as Evenflo’s, The First Year’s, and Gerber’s mini-electric models, for me. They are okay as strictly, occasional use only pumps. However, Medela also makes a great mini-electric pump called the Swing. This pump has a similar motor to that of a Pump in Style Advance, with the dual phase suck, however, it is only single sided and half the cost of a Pump in Style. This is a good option for the part-time working mom.)

Finally, we come to the selection of hand/manual pumps. I’m quite fond of three hand pumps. I like the Simplisse hand pump, the Medela Harmony, and the Avent Isis, in that order. Yes, I am going out on a limb and naming names. Why? All three of these pumps are single handed pumps, and they have soft silicone breast-shields that help accentuate the expression of the milk from the breast. The selection of a manual pump depends on how hard the mom is willing to work at getting the milk out. (Sidebar number 3: If you have tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, a manual pump may not be the pump for you, at anytime.) A manual pump like these can bring in the milk, just like a hospital grade pump, if mom is willing to manually pump her breasts every 3 hours, for 10-20 minutes per breast, when separated from her baby. However, the work involved in that amount of hand power usually results in mom renting an electric hospital grade pump or all together quitting. The hand pump can also sustain a milk supply when going back to work, however, with limited amount of pumping time during breaks, many moms turn to an electric pump. Finally, manual pumps make great occasional use pumps. Pumping your breasts once a day with a manual pump is not such a huge commitment that it would feel impossible to continue doing. And, for those moms that don’t have painful hands or wrists, it is an inexpensive way to allow baby’s daddy to bond with baby during a feeding (of your milk).

This explains the many types of breast pumps and why you would choose one over the other. However, there’s always a built in option: manual-expression. Please watch the supplemental video on hand expression to learn the proper technique. Some lactating moms actually get a better milk-ejection response (“let-down”) with manual expression. It’s a good thing to know, whether you think you’ll use it or not.