What is a breast pump?
A breast pump extracts milk from your breasts so you can store it and feed it to your baby with a bottle. Used to stimulate milk supply, relieve engorgement, feed multiples and premature babies, breast pumps are also popular with mums who want to continue breastfeeding after they return to work.
Breast pumps can be manual or electric, and all electric pumps can be single or double.
Manual pumps are designed for occasional use but are cheaper and lightweight. Electric pumps might be more efficient but are more expensive, noisier and bulkier.
If you need to express infrequently or for a short period, consider hand expressing or hiring an electric pump.
How often will you use it?
A manual pump is not ideal if you want to express frequently – it is usually operated by squeezing or pulling a handle, so you might need both hands, and the repetitive movements required to express a good amount of breast milk can be tiring and cramp inducing.
A manual breast pump also may not provide sufficient stimulation nor empty your breasts as efficiently as electric ones – another reason why they’re recommended for occasional use.
If you just want to relieve very full breasts and/or express some milk so you can enjoy a night out, an inexpensive manual can do the job. Manuals are also lightweight, which means they’re a good portable option.
If you want to express several times a day, build a supply of breast milk in your freezer, feed hungry multiples or a premature baby, you should invest in an electric pump. It is faster and more efficient. A double pump is recommended if you’re a mum of multiples and hungry babies.
Where will you use it?
Electric breast pumps tend to be noisier, so if discretion is your top priority, you might want to opt for the quiet manual. Electric breast pumps will also need a power socket, unless they can take batteries (which might slow down expressing and don’t last that long). They’re also not compact, even when designed to be portable.
Electric breast pumps are more efficient, so if you’re expressing at work, a home or several times a day, it won’t take ages or give you hand cramps. Some pumps even come with an adaptor for the car battery, which is useful when travelling.
Some mums prefer using manual breast pumps because they’re lightweight and compact, so can fit in a small handbag. They’re portability and quietness make them ideal for mums on the go, who don’t know where they may be expressing next. Although slow going, manuals are also more reliable because they don’t have mechanical parts that can break down.
If you’re using your pump on the other breast while your baby is nursing, a quiet manual is preferable to a noisy electric pump.
Does it fit the bottles you use?
Most pumps come with a bottle so you can express straight into it, thus avoiding transferring breast milk to another container. This means no contamination and less equipment that needs sterilising.
In many models the breast pump is not compatible with other brands of bottles, so check the feeding system that comes with your pump. Do your homework by reading reviews and talking to other mums. Unless you are hiring a hospital-grade pump, you can’t try before you buy!
Is it BPA-free?
Many manufacturers are now committed to provide breast pumps and bottles that are BPA free. This is because breast pumps need to be sterilised and there is some evidence that this harmful chemical is released at high temperatures. A breast pump qualifies as BPA free when no part that comes into contact with breast milk or your baby’s lips contains BPA.
How do you clean it?
Breast pumps need to be sterilised before each use. Manual breast pumps are usually easier to clean and sterilise than electric pumps. Containers for storing breast milk also need to be clean and sterile to avoid contamination.
Read the manual carefully as all pumps come with specific instructions on how to clean and sterilise. For instance, not all parts of a breast pump can be washed or submitted to high temperatures, and not all breast pumps are dishwasher safe.
Leave your breast pump to dry on a clean rack until you need to sterilise it for another use – don’t use a towel or cloth to dry it as they might contain germs.
Where do you start?
Finding the right breast pump for you can make expressing all the easier, so check out our in-depth reviews of breast pumps, both manual and electric.