Many breast-feeding mothers consider breast pumps as important as car seats and baby wipes. Whether you're going back to work or simply want the flexibility a breast pump can offer, you'll have many choices. Here's help deciding which type of breast pump is best for you.
If you'll be away from the baby only occasionally and your milk supply is well-established, a simple hand pump might be all you need. You simply place a cone-shaped shield on your breast and squeeze the handle to express the milk. If you're returning to work full time or you're planning to be away from your baby for more than a few hours a day, an electric pump is a better option.
Consider waiting to get a pump until after your baby is born, when you might better know how you'll be using it.
A typical pumping session lasts about 10 to 15 minutes a breast. If you'll be pumping at work or in other time-crunched situations, you might want to invest in an electric breast pump that allows you to pump both breasts at once. A double-breast pump helps stimulate milk production while reducing pumping time by half.
You can buy breast pumps from medical supply stores and most drugstores and baby stores, as well as many discount department stores. Electric pumps typically cost more than manual models. Because there's a small risk of contamination, don't borrow or buy a used personal-use breast pump.
You might also consider renting a hospital-grade electric breast pump from a hospital or medical supply store — especially if you're pumping milk while your baby is hospitalized or you've chosen to feed your baby expressed milk rather than breast-feed your baby. If you rent a pump, you'll need to buy the equipment that attaches your breast to the pump (pumping kit).
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of buying or renting a breast pump.
If the breast pump is difficult to assemble, take apart or clean, it's bound to be frustrating — which might reduce your enthusiasm for pumping. Make sure you can remove any parts of the pump that come in contact with your skin or milk for cleaning after use.
If you'll be toting the pump to work every day or traveling with the pump, look for a lightweight model. Some breast pumps come in a carrying case with an insulated section for storing expressed milk. Also keep noise level in mind. Some electric models are quieter than others. If it's important to be discreet, make sure the pump's noise level is acceptable.
What's comfortable for one woman might be uncomfortable for another. If you opt for an electric pump, choose one that allows you to control the degree of suction and cycling speed.
Breast shields are the cone-shaped cups that fit over your breasts and nipples. If you're concerned that the standard breast shield will be too small, check with individual manufacturers about other options. Larger or replacement shields are often available. If you want to pump both breasts at once, make sure the pump is equipped with two breast shields.
An electric pump needs to be plugged in. If an outlet isn't accessible or the power fails, you'll need a rechargeable battery pack. In case of emergency, you might want to keep a manual pump handy.
If you're not sure which type of breast pump would be best for you, ask for help. A lactation consultant can help you make the best choice — and offer support as you start to use your breast pump or if you run into trouble. If you haven't worked with a lactation consultant, ask your baby's doctor for a referral or check with the obstetrics department at a local hospital.