Sunday 10 June 2012

Choosing a breast pump

So pumping!

I feel quite passionately about pumping.  I pumped full time for my son when he refused to latch in the first few weeks after he was born, and I pumped for the first year of his life while I worked a full time job.  My job also involved issuing pumps to women who needed them for various reasons such as going back to work or school, re-lactation or a baby unable to latch in the hospital special care unit.

So, I'm just going to write down the basics, how to choose a pump and why.

There are many reasons you might decide or need to pump your breastmilk and there are many different pumps out there that all have different roles and should be used for different things.  You cannot plan for every eventuality, so first of all I'd probably say that you might want to hold off on buying a pump until you know exactly what you'll be using it for.  Sometimes you can only return a pump within 30 days of buying it so if you buy it before the baby arrives and you don't need to use it straight away you won't be able to return it if you decide it's not the one for you.

There are four main types of pumps -

Hospital Grade Pump

A hospital grade pump is a pump designed to establish a milk supply if the baby cannot.  I'm sure you've been told that the baby is the best pump and really nothing can compare, but when you need to establish your supply and the baby cannot do it for you for whatever reason, you really do need to use a hospital grade pump.  The hospital grade pump is the best breast pump, it can be shared, and it can therefore be rented (usually from a breastfeeding organization such as La Leche League, NCT or ABM).  They can be purchased but are usually very expensive, and you may only need it for a short amount of time.  It usually takes about 4 weeks to establish your milk supply, so many Mums that have babies in the SCBU/NICU use these pumps in the early days if baby is unable to go to breast or is very sleepy.  You can pump one breast at a time or both breasts at the same time (both at the same time is more time efficient and usually yields a greater amount).  You may be able to get hold of a hospital grade pump for a lower price from your local Children's Centre.

Double Electric Pump

Once your milk supply has been established (at about 4 weeks) you can use a double electric pump to maintain your supply while away from the baby for large amounts of time frequently.  A double electric pump is excellent for a Mum going back to work full time who may need to pump multiple times a day for a number of days per week.  The same applies that you can do one at a time or both and that pumping both usually yields more milk in less time.  Many of these pumps also come with a cute bag to carry them in, and often have a number of ways to power them such as a car charger or battery pack.  Some of the new ones are rechargable and the motors are small enough to clip to your waist.  The double electric pumps are a little more expensive than the single electrics and manual pumps, but they are definitely worth the extra money if you do not have a lot of time to pump at work/school.

Single Electric Pump

Once your milk supply has been established and you decide to go back to work or school part time or maybe for only half days, you may find that you only need to use a single electric pump.  For example - If your baby has decided that taking only one breast per feed is adequate and you can feed baby at home, work four hours with one break in the middle and then feed as soon as you get home again, you may find that a single electric is perfectly adequate.  In fact, I ended up only ever pumping my right breast because my left didn't pump much (completely satisfied both my babies though).  As you can imagine the single pump is less expensive than the double electric pump.

Manual Pump

Once you have established your milk supply you may decide not to go back to work or that you only leave baby on the odd occasion and need to leave breastmilk.  A manual pump is perfectly adequate for the occasional missed feed from a date or couple of hours away from baby.  A manual pump is the cheapest option and more time consuming and labour intensive choice.

Hand Expression

You never go anywhere without your hands, so make sure that you know how to hand express even if you already have a pump.  I remember being caught without a pump stuck somewhere without my baby and I hand expressed my engorged breasts into a cup to relieve the pressure until I could make it home.  It is a learned skill which becomes easier with practise, so take some time to practise.  A warm shower helps with the let down, and hand expressing can be important if you ever get a plugged duct too.  This is also the cheapest option costing nothing.

Of course I have met Mums that swear by hand expression or manual pumping and produce the best results in quicker times manually than with an electric pump.  I have also met Mums who have had good results from all brands of pumps, but I would generally recommend that someone purchase a pump made by a company that focuses on breastfeeding and pumps.  A company that makes the majority of its money form bottle feeding and formula probably doesn't spend a huge amount on pump research.

Since moving to the UK I have found that often women go home from the hospital pumping and using an inadequate pump.  Many times the midwives tell Mum to buy a pump without discussing what sort of pump to buy or rent, and they often don't have any information on how to get hold or a hospital grade pump.  A new Mum going home with a hand pump may overcome it all and have an amazing supply, but I want everyone to have the best chance of success and to protect their milk supply which comes after "feed the baby" in the grand scheme of breastfeeding, so I just thought I would share this with you so that you can make an informed decision when you find yourself in need of a pump.

I specifically haven't named any pump companies in this post or talked about names of each type of pump.  Ardo have kindly provided a pump as a prize for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding competition.  Ardo are a rare sort of pump company in that they have decided to follow the WHO code of the marketing of breastmilk substitutes and for this I salute them.  It is a tough decision for a company in this present economic climate to choose the health and wellbeing of Mothers and Babies over profits.

If you have enjoyed reading this article you will find more articles about breastfeeding on the following blogs.  Ardo have kindly provided a breastpump for the Grand Prize, so please take a look at their website and learn more about the pumps available in the UK.

Thank you for reading.  Please complete the following Rafflecopter to enter the competition for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Grand Prize.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. This is very interesting, thank you. I had a single electric pump but never got much out using that for my son. I'm thinking that hiring a hospital grade one in the early days for my baby due in Oct might help get my supply going given that I have hypoplasia and it took ages for my milk to even come in let alone build up supply with my son. I was given use of pump in hospital when he was readmitted with dehydration at 6 days old, but when I went home just used a single electric one, which, looking back, was probably not good enough for what I really needed. Interesting to read the difference between the pumps.

  2. I see it all the time, Mums are sent home with no info other than "go buy a pump" when things aren't going so great yet at the breast with no real guidnace on what kind of pump or even which brand or where to get them. You are not alone, I've seen a good few Mums pumping 2 times a day on day 5 with a manual pump wondering why it's not working. Maybe a handout would be good?

  3. This is really useful, some practical advice about pump selection and types would have been very useful when I got my pump I had no idea at all what to look for.

  4. I expressed for six months when my daughter wouldn't latch on. I would have been lost without my electric pump! My breastfeeding tip is join a breastfeeding support group, they really do give you a lift when times are tough

  5. Fab post! I expressed for almost a month with my little man as he was born with Pan Hypopituitarism and had to be in intensive care for 2 weeks then transitional care for 2 weeks. This meant I had access to a hospital breast pump everyday - it was fabulous!!! Even if it did make me feel like I was a cow bring milked with its double electric pumps! :) I then continued to use a single electric pump that I bought when baby was not allowed to Breastfeed naturally (due to the hospital needing to know EXACTLY his intake of milk). I got on ok with it but with it ring battery powered it just wasn't as powerful as the hospital ones so I struggled to keep up with my baby's demands .., after the month of stress etc, my milk dried up. I did try a hand pump and found it pretty unless to be honest but I guess it depends on your circumstances :)

  6. Cherish every moment - when my 15 month old started sleeping through the night and stopped accepting boobie milk I was heartbroken.

  7. Great post. I wish I'd read something like this back when I was choosing a breast pump as a double electric or hospital grade would have been better for me as I was trying to increase my milk supply and supplementing.

    My top tip would be to take it one breastfeed at a time.

  8. Great post thankyou for all of the infrmation and advice. My top tip would be to set yourself up somewere comfy with everything you are likely to need such as muslin, drink and snack to hand as you never know how long you will be feeding for especialy in the early days :)

  9. No tips as I'm 37 weeks pregnant with my first. And no questions as I've found out so much from blog hopping through various blog post for breastfeeding week