Tips for Choosing and Using Breast Pumps

Many women and individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) choose to use a breast pump for various reasons. The convenient product can help support mothers who want to provide breast milk for a baby who will frequently be cared for by another person. While women and AFABs may be concerned about breast pumps decreasing their milk supply, they may even help increase it once it is used correctly. Here's what you need to know to choose and use the best breast pump for you.

Key takeaways:

Purpose of breast pumps

The World Health Organization recommends that infants be breastfed for the first six months and up to two years or more once they are given the proper foods. Breastfeeding has also been shown to protect mother and baby against certain illnesses and diseases, reducing the risk of asthma and sudden infant death syndrome (in babies) and breast or ovarian cancer (in mothers and AFABs).

In addition, some individuals may enjoy the idea of breastfeeding to promote bonding with their babies. Breast pumps may allow more flexibility to include breastfeeding or at least breastmilk in your plans to care for your baby.

How breast pumps work

There are three types of breast pumps — battery-powered, electric, and manual. While each breast pump works differently, they are all designed to work like a baby would extract milk from the breast. All breast pumps have the same basic parts, including breast shields, connectors, backflow protectors, and milk collection bottles.

The breast shield (also known as a breast pump flange) sits on the breast, circling and creating a vacuum seal over the areola, which is the pigmented area that forms a ring around the nipple. Breast shields often come in different sizes, and choosing the right one is important for experiencing an efficient, pain-free pumping session. The connectors secure the breast shield to the milk collection bottle.

The breast pump valves sit below the breast shield, expanding and shrinking to create the suction that helps extract the milk. For some pumps, a membrane filter sits on the top of the valve to help prevent milk from flowing into the breast pump motor area and to keep the milk sanitary. For others, a backflow protector part may be designed to attach to the connector.

Hospital grade vs. regular breast pumps

Hospital-grade pumps are typically used in hospital settings and have stronger motors that allow the pump to extract milk more efficiently. Pumps used in the hospital are often designed for use with multiple users, and hospitals may use them to extract milk for babies born prematurely or with other unfortunate health issues. It may also be a good option for those struggling with a low milk supply.

It is important to note that the FDA does not recognize the term "hospital grade." Many companies market pumps using the term to indicate the product is of high quality. Unfortunately, this marketing may lead to the misunderstanding that a pump made for use in a hospital with more than one user is the best option for personal use at home. Unless faced with special circumstances (such as a baby's health concern or milk supply issues), an FDA-certified pump designed for a single user will help most individuals establish and maintain their milk supply.

Cost of breast pumps

Breast pumps range in price, especially according to the type of pump. Manual pumps don't require electric or battery-operated parts and are cheaper, costing between $10 to $40. However, these pumps may not work as effectively as electric pumps or those operating on batteries.

An electric motor or battery-operated pump costs are higher, ranging from $200 to $500. Most insurance will cover all or part of the cost of a breast pump, and individuals with coverage should reach out to their insurance carrier to understand their options for purchasing a breast pump.

The table below lists some popular breast pumps by company, product name, pump type, and current cost.

BrandProduct namePump typeApproximate cost
ElvieElvie CurveManual$40
ElvieElvie PumpElectric, wearable$550
HaakaaBreast Pump and Suction BaseManual, silicone$30
LansinohManual Breast PumpManual$25
MedelaFreestyle FlexBattery$360
MedelaPump in StyleElectric$200
PhillipsAvent Manual Breast PumpManual$45
SpectraS1 Plus Electric Breast PumpManual$200
WillowWillow Go Breast PumpElectric, wearable$350

Breast pump benefits and risks

Using a breast pump has several benefits. The device provides flexibility to allow a baby to be fed without the nursing parent being present. Such flexibility is important for many parents, especially those working away from home and others who need to travel. It can especially be helpful for those who need to have a break each day to take care of themselves. Other benefits include the possible increase in milk supply and the ability to nourish a baby who needs more support getting breast milk.

The risks of using a breast pump are few but notable. For one, injury to the breast (soreness, pain, and bleeding) can occur if they are not used properly. This includes not using the correct breast shield size, incorrect placement of the shields, and using too high of a power setting for too long.

Also, the pump parts have to be sanitized before and in between each use, and not doing so can contaminate your baby's milk. For these reasons, it is imperative to read and follow your manufacturer's guidance closely and reach out to your healthcare provider or lactation expert for support.

When used correctly, pumps are a convenient and helpful way to provide breastmilk to a baby safely.

Choosing a breast pump

It may feel overwhelming to decide on a pump due to the many different companies and designs. However, here are a few things to consider when choosing your pump.

  • Cost and coverage. Manual pumps cost much less than other types of pumps. However, it takes more time and effort and may not be as efficient for multiple pumping sessions. If you have insurance coverage, reach out to your carrier to understand your options for getting a pump at little to no cost.
  • Lifestyle. Traditional electric pumps are large and, while often powerful, are not designed for mobility. Using a traditional pump can work if you have a set location where you will use your pump. However, if you need to carry your pump around or want to be very mobile while pumping, an electric or battery-operated hands-free pump may be a better option.
  • Cleaning. You must carefully clean your breast pump parts to prevent harmful bacteria from entering your milk supply. This means taking apart the pump parts, washing and sanitizing each piece, and allowing them to air dry before putting them back together. For pumps with tubing, any sign of condensation or liquid means it must also be cleaned. Some pumps may have fewer parts and be easier to clean than others.
  • Frequency of use & durability. If you rarely need to use the pump, your milk supply will be well established, or you plan to be away from your baby only occasionally, a manual pump or even learning to hand pump may be best. If you have a low milk supply or plan to use your pump frequently, an electric pump may be a better option. Also, if you plan to use a breast pump for a few years or multiple babies, you may need to evaluate the durability of your pump.
  • Comfort. All breasts are different, and there are a few sizes of breast shields to accommodate breasts of various sizes. You can determine the shield size you may need by measuring your nipple. Keep in mind that you may also need two different shield sizes, one for each breast. Be sure to review shield size options for your pump.

Breast pumps are convenient devices that allow nursing parents the flexibility to determine how and when their babies are provided breast milk. All breast pumps have the same basic parts, which must be cleaned thoroughly after each use to keep the breastmilk and baby safe. When considering what type of breast pump to purchase, considering the cost, your lifestyle, cleaning needs, and your needs regarding frequency and ease of use will help you choose the best option for you. As always, consider reaching out to your healthcare or lactation support provider if you need support making the best decision.


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