6 things to look at when buying a breast pump

Carey Haupt, Parenty’s resident lactation consultant, gives the inside scoop on what to consider when buying a breast pump.

If you have decided to breastfeed you must have thought about getting a breast pump.  This can be a daunting decision because of all the choices out there.  When considering which breast pump that would be the best fit for you, consider the following:

1.    Renting or buying

There is a difference between a hospital-grade (multi-user) and a personal pump. The hospital-grade pumps are designed for mothers who have to establish their milk supply without the assistance of her baby. For example, a mom who has her baby in NICU or is adopting. These machines are very expensive to buy, so if you need to use one, and it is just a short period (like a few months) it is probably best to rent as it is far more cost-effective.

When looking at buying or renting a multi-user pump make sure it is a closed system (see point 2) and that it has FDA approval.   

If you are looking to buy, a personal pump is probably your best bet. These pumps are smaller and more compact,  so they are portable, and can be taken with you to most places you need to go, for example, a holiday or even friend’s house for a braai. These pumps can be powered via electricity, batteries, car adaptors or manually, which again makes them ideal for moms on the go who want breastfeeding to fit into their lifestyle for the long term. 

2.    Closed or open-system

Closed and open-systems refer to the ability of moisture, air, pathogens or breastmilk to move from the flange set (the little cuppy-tubey things that you put over your nipple) into the pump’s tubing or motor. A closed system is the recommended type.

A closed system pump does not allow any moisture, bacteria or mould into the tubing or pump due to a barrier that blocks the transfer. The best placement of the barrier is between the flange and the tube. This prevents any moisture in the tubes.  As a result, the tubing does not need to be cleaned or replaced and the motor of the pump lasts longer as it is not damaged by the milk or cleaning.

Open-system pumps allow moisture or breast milk to collect in the tubing/motor which allows for the growth of pathogens. Studies have found pathogens in the open-system pumps and/or milk expressed with them.  Open-systems increases the risk of pathogen transfer to a sick or premature infant via expressed breast milk.  It is very difficult to clean or sterilise the tubing or pump once it has milk in it. It is best to replace spoiled tubing which can be time consuming and expensive.

3.    Used or new

Mothers may consider a second-hand pump due to cost, and while second-hand is better than no-hand, it is important to know the potential risks involved with taking on a second-hand breast pump. I think we have established that an open system pump has a higher risk of pathogens finding their way into your baby’s milk, so a second-hand open system would be no better at preventing this risk.

In fact, generally speaking, the older the pump the more opportunity the pathogens have had to move into the pump base. So, if you can afford it, it is always better to buy a new pump. 

4.    Manual or electric

The decision between a manual and an electric pump is usually one made based on price. Manual pumps are more affordable, and while some moms respond well to manual pumps and find them easier to use, a lot of moms find them to much hard work.  Electric pumps are more expensive but are generally considered to be more effective and quicker than manual pumps.  

There are now two types of manual pumps the ones, where you literally pump – like you would at an old-timey water well – and the silicone ones that use suction and physics to draw milk out without you having to do much to facilitate – while these pumps do work well for some and are super fashionable at the moment, I would give a couple of cautions to consider when choosing this as your pump.

If you do not have a strong let down (that initial rush of milk when your milk ducts are stimulated) or strong milk flow you may find these pumps frustrating or ineffective. You might find that the shape makes it difficult to clean well, and like any pump, they need to be cleaned thoroughly to prevent bacteria growth.

5.    Double or single

A double pump lets you pump both breasts at the same time, thus halving the time needed to pump. It also results in your breasts producing more hormones and milk per pump session. Single pumps are less expensive and are ideal for a mom that has a bit more time to pump. 

6.    Comfort and fit

Chose a breast pump that’s comfortable and fits your breasts correctly, as this helps to produce more milk. Flange size is key. Look for pumps with a range of flange sizes as not all breasts are the same size and flange size matters. If the flange is too small it can hurt your nipple and if it is too big it can result in the poor expression of breast milk.

flange fit

Infographic from bornandfed.com

When you are researching a pump, search for user reviews, watch videos and read blogs about different pumps. Just keep in mind that not every pump will fit all mothers so do your research and find the best pump for you. And if you are still struggling to know what is best, contact a reputable lactation consultant.

buying a breast pump

  • Registered Dietitian
  • M(Msc)
  • Certified Lactation consultant
  • I became a dietitian because of my interest in breastfeeding and nutrition. However, only when I had my two children both prematurely did, I realise how much help and support mother’s needs. No textbook can prepare you for NICU. My breastfeeding experience with my children is why I became a lactation consultant. I now help mothers in their homes with breastfeeding issues. Another of my dreams was to establish My Breastpump. My Breastpump was created to supply mothers with affordable, quality, hygienic and comfortable breast pumps. This desire came from my struggles in finding a breast pump that worked for me. While overseas I learnt about the Ameda brand of breast pumps which is internationally recognised as a leading breast pump in technology and focus on mothers. My Breastpump hires out closed system hospital-grade pumps and supplies personal pumps and accessories. To learn more about My Breastpump go to www.mybreastpump.co.za

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