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How Do I Choose a Breast Pump?

When deciding what kind of pump to use or if one is even necessary, it is helpful to consider what your needs will be for expressed milk. Some women find that they never need to use a pump after seeing how easy it is to take a breastfed baby along. Others who will be away from the baby for specific times will need some way to express milk. Many women find it easy to hand express milk when needed. LLLI offers an information sheet Manual Expression Of Breast Milk which is available in the LLLI Online Store or from your local LLL Leader.

If you find you do need a pump, there are many different kinds of pumps available. Selecting the best pump can be likened to choosing a handbag--there are many options, and what works for one woman is not necessarily the best option for another. Some considerations when thinking about pumps are cost, portability, noise level, ease of use and efficiency. There are manual (hand operated) pumps ($14-$50) which often are helpful for those who want to pump on an occasional basis to leave milk for baby. Most are easy to operate, are small, and easy to transport. Some require two hands and others operate with only one hand. The "bicycle horn" style manual pump is NOT recommended. There are also small electric pumps ($30-$150) available from different manufacturers. These use batteries or AC adapters to supply the power and are still quite small and portable. Some are quiet and some are not.

When pumping time is limited and larger milk volumes are needed, some women rely on full-size, automatic electric pumps, which have a suck-release cycle that is closer to the pattern of a baby than the continuous suction of the smaller pumps. Many women report they are quite efficient and quiet, although not quite as portable. These are usually rented (although the equipment that attaches the mother to the pump must be purchased) and cost varies. The newer automatic electric pumps designed for mothers who need to regularly pump their milk represent another option. These are quiet to operate, cost over $200 and are listed as single-user pumps by the manufacturers. These come with an attractive carrying case and all the accessories needed to pump both breasts at the same time, and work well for mothers who work outside the home. However, if a mother needs to pump to increase her milk supply, provide milk for a premature baby or other situations where the baby is not breastfeeding to provide stimulation for the mother’s breasts, the hospital-grade rental pumps are the preferred option.

It can be helpful to ask friends whether or not they needed a pump and if they did what kind they used. Inquire what features were found helpful and what could have been better. Please note that most breast pumps are considered "single-user" products, and because of the risk of contamination (there is a chance that milk can be aspirated into the pump mechanism, which cannot be sterilized), should not be borrowed or shared. Manual pumps that can be autoclaved are an exception. For more information on this subject, see the article "Are Used Breast Pumps a Good Option? Issues to Consider".

Recommended Reading:

"Choosing and Using a Breast Pump" -- This informational sheet, available from the LLLI Store or from your local LLL Leader, provides brief descriptions of major categories of breast pumps and factors to consider when choosing a pump whether the mother pumps occasionally, has a baby who is hospitalized or neurologically challenged, or works outside of the home. Includes tips on learning how to use a pump and monitoring milk supply.

"Exploring the World of Breast Pumps" and "Answering Questions about Breast Pumps" -- Articles from Leaven, our publication for Leaders.

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