Selecting and using a breast pump

If you plan to breast-feed and use a breast pump at times, research your equipment options while you are pregnant. When evaluating the different types of breast pumps, think about how often you will need to use the pump. Consider:

  • How often you will need other caregivers to feed your baby.
  • Whether you will return to work while continuing to breast-feed.
  • How long you plan to breast-feed.

Expressing breast milk by hand (manual expression) is one collection method. However, it takes a long time to completely empty a breast and it is rarely practical if you plan to return to work. Pumps can be operated manually, with batteries, or with electricity.

  • Manual pumps are those that you operate by hand. These are most appropriate for relief of engorgement or for women who only rarely need to pump breast milk to be fed to their baby by another caregiver. They are easy to carry with you, but are generally not practical for regular pumping several times a day.
  • Electric pumps are designed for frequent or regular use. They generally are faster and more comfortable than manual pumps. Some versions closely imitate the action of a breast-feeding infant and will help you maintain your milk production if you bottle-feed breast milk often. Electric pumps are larger and heavier than manual pumps but are also the fastest and most effective way to express milk. Some of the newer models are very light weight.
  • Battery-operated pumps are also for occasional use but are easier to use than a hand pump.

Before your baby is born, ask for information from someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about what brand and type of pump to buy or rent. Pick up different styles of pumps and feel how heavy they are. Evaluate each pump for practicality, ease of use, and how it will meet your needs.

You usually can rent electric pumps from a hospital or breast-feeding specialist. Renting a pump may be a cost-effective option if you only plan to pump temporarily (for example, if you are away from your baby for a few days).

Some electric models pump both breasts at once (double electric pumps). These often are preferred by working mothers because they are efficient and fast. These may also be recommended for preterm infants to stimulate your milk supply.

If you frequently feed your baby pumped breast milk, your milk supply may decrease. This is because your body releases less prolactin than it does when you feed your baby at the breast. To help maintain your milk supply when you pump frequently:

  • Use a double electric pump, which expresses milk from both breasts at the same time.
  • Breast-feed your baby whenever possible. For example, if you are working, breast-feed your baby frequently in the morning, evening, and throughout the weekends.
  • Keep a regular pumping schedule. Don't try to make up for missing a session by pumping longer at the next one. This can lead to breast engorgement and decreased milk production.
  • Talk to a lactation consultant about how to manage a decreasing milk supply.

For more information about selecting and using a breast pump, talk to a lactation consultant. Most hospitals can refer you to someone who can discuss the options with you.

Last Updated: May 4, 2009

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