All About Breastpumps: How to Choose, How to Use, Tips for Working Mothers

November 28, 2011 Guest Blogger 5 comments


If you’re a breastfeeding mom who will be away from your baby for more than 3-4 hours at a time on a regular basis, you will definitely want to invest in some sort of breastpump. If you are primarily a stay-at-home mom, you may also want to have a pump for occasional use.

If you’ve ever stood in the breastfeeding aisle at your local baby store or searched online, it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the styles and decisions surrounding pumps. Consumer Reports has a great breast pump guide that can help navigate some of your questions. The following information will hopefully help to make things more clear so that you can choose and use the pump that will be best for you and your baby.

First consider your pumping needs.

  • If you are a working mom, will you be returning to work full-time or part-time?
  • How long will you have for each pumping session?
  • Do you stay home with your baby and want to pump so your partner can share feeding duties or to build up a supply in your freezer?
  • Will you pump long-term or short-term?
  • How much are you able to spend?

Keep your answers to the above questions in mind as you read through the information below:

Hospital-Grade Rental Pumps

Examples include the Ameda Platinum, Ameda Elite, Medela Symphony, and Medela Lactina. These highly efficient double electric pumps are available from hospitals, lactation centers, and some specialty maternity shops and are rented for a monthly fee, usually around $50-$90/month. These pumps have closed systems, which ensure the safety and sanitation from one nursing mother to the next.

(Note: If your baby is premature or in a neonatal intensive care unit [NICU], these pumps are available for your use in the hospital at no charge.)

Pros: Very efficient; express milk quickly

Cons: Not economical to rent if you plan to pump for more than 1-2 months; a rental deposit is usually required; can be bulky and heavy

Personal Use Electric Pumps

Examples include the Ameda Purely Yours, Medela Pump in Style Advanced, Medela Freestyle. These double electric pumps are the most popular and widely used for working mothers and cost around $240-$380. These pumps are also the most highly rated among users on Babies R, receiving 4/5 stars. Avoid the temptation to purchase one of the Medela pumps used; unlike hospital-grade pumps, these are open systems, therefore it is possible for contamination to occur from one mother to another. (The Ameda Purely Yours pump uses a closed system.)

Pros: Efficient (10-15 minutes to empty the breast); uses pumping techniques that mimic how an infant feeds; adjustable suction strength; available in a variety of easy to clean carrying cases/bags; can be operated via electrical outlet, battery pack, or AC car adapter; Freestyle allows for hands-free pumping

Cons: Single user only (Medela pumps); expensive; depending on your level of use you may need to replace pump accessories about every 6 months

*From personal experience, I use the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. I started back to work full-time when my son was 9 weeks old. He is now 14 months old and I have not had any problems with maintaining my milk supply. The pump has been easy to use and is very efficient. I’m a registered nurse, so I don’t have a private office or the ability to take long breaks and this pump allows me to empty my breasts two or three times a day in about 10-12 minutes per session. As a downside, I do feel like the parts are a lot to dissemble, wash, and reassemble, but I think all pumps are pretty much that way. I bought several sets of accessories so that I don’t have to wash the same set every day. Also, when I first started pumping it was very uncomfortable, even painful. I purchased these SoftFit breastshields (the horn looking part that actually goes on your breast) made of soft silicone, instead of the hard plastic that comes with the pump. This made a huge difference in my comfort level and I highly recommend them. (Note: the SoftFit shields come standard with the Freestyle.)

Personal Use Electric Pumps (less expensive options)

Examples include the Lansinoh Affinity, Playtex Petite, and The First Years miPump. These pumps are much cheaper double electric options, ranging from about $55-$150. Reviews on these pumps are mixed, earning an average of 2.5/5 stars on Babies R These may be better for moms who pump occasionally or work part-time or less.

Pros: More affordable; small and lightweight; operates via electric outlet or battery pack; adjustable suction strength; Playtex Petite fits most bottles, so there is no need to buy special bottles for pumping

Cons: Accessories may not be as widely available; pump may become less efficient over time (according to customer reviews); not all come with carrying cases

Single Electric Pumps

Examples include the Medela Swing, Medela Single Deluxe, and Evenflo SimplyGo. The Medela Swing sells for about $160 and is highly rated, at 4/5 stars on Babies R, while the other two cost about $40-$80 and are rated an average of 2.5/5 stars on Babies R These are best for stay-at-home moms who may need or want to occasionally pump and still want the ease of an electric pump.

Pros: Small; compact; portable; easy to use; cheaper than double pumps; operate via electric outlet or battery pack; adjustable suction strength

Cons: Loud; uncomfortable; takes twice as long (as double pump) to express milk

Single Manual Pumps

Examples include the Medela Harmony and Philips Avent.

These pumps sell for about $40 and are highly rated at 4/5 stars on Babies R These are best for stay-at-home moms who may need or want to occasionally pump.

Pros: Inexpensive; compact; portable; easy to use; easy to clean

Cons: Leaky; slower than electric pumps; may be less efficient and have less suction than electric pumps

Manual Expression

Not sure if you want or need to invest in a pump? You may want to try the Marmet Technique of manual breastmilk expression. Instructions and diagrams can be found here. Videos like this one are also available on YouTube.

Pros: Natural; no cost; can be done anywhere; more comfortable

Cons: Learning curve; not as fast as electric pumps

Additional tips and things to consider:

  • Effective February 2011, you can use your flexible spending account (FSA) to purchase your pump and accessories. If you don’t have a FSA you can deduct it as a medical expense on your taxes (if you itemize), or as a work-related expense if you only use it while at work.
  • Click here to read about federal and state laws protecting your rights to pump breastmilk while at work.
  • It’s always worth looking into your health insurance benefits. If you are pumping for a medical reason or can obtain a prescription from your healthcare provider, your pump may be covered by your health insurance.
  • If you plan to have more children and know you will need to pump, you may want to go ahead and invest in a high-quality pump that will last through multiple children.
  • If you work in a hospital setting (especially one that has a NICU), check to see if they have lactation rooms. These rooms are equipped with hospital-grade pumps for mothers of patient’s in the NICU. You may be able to use these pumps while at work, saving you money and time. Talk to the lactation consultant at your hospital for more information.
  • If returning to work, start pumping a couple of weeks before you go back. This allows you to become comfortable and familiar with your pump, gives you time to troubleshoot any problems, and to build up a supply of breastmilk at home. You should also introduce a bottle to your breastfed baby at least 2 weeks before you go back to work. Most exclusively breastfed babies will refuse a bottle and it can take time until he/she will accept it. Be patient and willing to try a variety of nipple types. Click here to read tips and advice on introducing a bottle.
  • If you want to be hands-free while pumping, you can purchase a pumping bra, like this one.
  • If you are a rewards shopper or registered for baby products at Babies R Us, Target, or BuyBuy Baby, keep your eye out for coupons on pumps, or use one of your 20% off coupons.
  • Make sure you have a good cooler and ice packs to keep your milk cold until you get home to freeze it. Follow these guidelines about storing and thawing breastmilk. Never microwave breastmilk because it degrades the proteins in the milk and can create “hot spots.”

So once you decide which pump you will use, how do you get started?

  1. Read through the instruction manual that will come with your pump and/or visit the manufacturer’s website. These sites often contain instructional videos and tips, as well as troubleshooting should you have any problems. Take time to familiarize yourself with the operation of the pump itself and the assembly of the pump accessories.
  2. Sanitize the pump accessories by boiling them in water for 10-20 minutes, depending on manufacturer recommendations.
  3. Once the parts have dried, assemble them and connect to your pump motor.
  4. Wash your hands and find a comfortable, quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
  5. Center the breastshield over your nipple and turn on the pump. Observe how your nipple is pulled into the tunnel. If your nipple is not moving freely in and out, too much or too little of the areola is being pulled into the tunnel, if there is a poor seal, or it is painful, you may need to purchase a smaller or larger size breastshield. Pumps come with a standard (24mm) size breastshield, but there are many sizes, both smaller and larger available. To read more about the correct fit, click here.
  6. If you have a good fit, continue pumping (increasing the strength/speed of the pump) until your breast(s) is soft and milk flow has stopped for about 1-2 minutes. Repeat steps 4 – 6 on the other breast if you are using a single pump. Tips: The more relaxed you are, the easier it is for let-down to occur, which means the more milk you will be able to express. Many women will meditate or look at pictures of their baby while pumping. A gentle massage of the breast tissue, reducing distractions, or applying heat before pumping may also help your breasts empty.
  7. Store your milk in bottles (available in 2.5 – 8 oz sizes) with tight-sealing lids or pumping storage bags (4 – 8 oz sizes) inside a cooler with ice packs. Make sure to mark the date and amount on the container so that you can rotate the stock in your freezer. The Pump & Save bags from Medela are very convenient because they attach to your pump accessories allowing you to pump directly into them. When you’re finished, you simply perforate at the top, press together to seal, and freeze. If using storage bags, an easy way to store is to lay the bags flat on a cookie sheet, allow them to freeze, and then organize them by date in a container like this one.
  8. Dissemble the pieces and wash in hot, soapy water or use special wipes if you don’t have a sink available. Additionally, you may sterilize in a microwavable steam bag or a sterilizer like this one.

Click here to watch a short video showing the steps above.

Armed with the pump that is right for you and the knowledge on how to be a successful pumping mother, you can maintain your milk supply and nourish your baby while away. It takes planning, patience, and practice, but the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby are well worth all of the effort. Good luck!

If you are interested in purchasing any of the above mentioned pumps, you can do so through the following affiliate links and help support Atlanta Birth Center! *These links are here for your own benefit – Atlanta Birth Center is not affiliated with nor endorses any specific brand or style.

Hospital Grade Pumps

Personal Use Electric Pumps

Single Electric Pumps

Single Manual Pumps

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