How to choose a breast pump

There are many different breast pumps on the market, each with its pro’s and cons. The same pump won’t work for everyone, leading to conflicting opinions from friends and on social media.

Generally, a breast pump is one of the bigger expenses when having a baby, and new mothers don’t have the luxury of testing a breast pump before purchasing.

However, the cost of a breast pump dims in comparison to the long-term cost of formula feeding. Breastfeeding offers immune protection to your baby, indirectly also saving you on doctors’ bills. It’s very possible to continue breastfeeding when you are going back to work, even if your baby doesn’t only get breastmilk (and yes, you can combine the two; any breastmilk is better than no breastmilk). But in order to do that you need a good quality pump.

This article provides information on the basics of breast pumps to help you choose the breast pump best suited to your needs.

Please note: this article was written by our on-board lactation consultant, and includes her personal opinions based on years of working with breastfeeding mothers, as well as on expressing breastmilk for her own babies. You are welcome to contact her via our site should you have any further queries regarding the topic. 

READ MORE: Five basic tips for breastfeeding

Breast pump components

All breast pumps consist of two components:

  • The collection kit – a cone-shaped cup/flange that fits over the nipple and areola, and a container to collect the breastmilk.
  • The pump – this is the mechanism which creates the suction that extracts milk from the breast. In a manual pump, this suction is created through a lever that is squeezed or pulled by hand. In an electric breast pump suction is created through a motorized pump, with silicone tubing usually connecting the flange kit to the pump unit.

To ensure successful expressing it’s important that both the collection kit and the pump mechanism work well for the individual mom.

The collection kit

The collection kit (and specifically the flange that fits onto the breast) is crucial for comfortable expressing. Most pumps are issued with a standard size flange to fit the average nipple. But if a mom has nipples either larger or smaller than average this may not work for her. An ill-fitting flange can lead to painful expressing, nipple damage, low milk supply, engorgement and mastitis.

It’s worthwhile looking for a brand with different flange sizes available, should you need it. You may also benefit from a proper assessment by a lactation consultant before purchasing a breast pump.

 How to choose a breast pump

Electric versus manual breast pumps

Manual breast pumps

As explained, a manual pump has a lever which the mother needs to pull or squeeze rhythmically to create suction and extract milk from the breast.

Advantages of a manual breast pump: Disadvantages of a manual breast pump:
·         It is usually less expensive than an electric pump

·         Can be used in situations where a power source or batteries are not available

·         It is smaller and easier to transport than an electric pump

·         Theoretically it has lower noise levels (though many manual pumps produce squeaky noises which are actually more annoying than the noises created by a motorized pump)

 

·         The mother does not have her hands free to do something else while pumping, like eating her lunch or operating her phone

·         You can only express on one breast at a time

·         Will be difficult to use for mothers with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis

·         In the long run it is less effective in maintaining a milk supply  than a good quality electric pump

 

 Silicone hands-free suction pumps recently entered the market as an alternative to manual breast pumps. These are one-piece silicone collection kits which the mother squeezes to create a vacuum and then apply to her breast where she leaves it to slowly and constantly drain milk.

These pumps are quite cheap and handy to catch leaking milk and relieve engorgement. Very little research is currently available, but most lactation consultants have some concerns about using these in the longer run.

Traditional breast pumps offer rhythmic suctions that lead to a let-down reflex and proper breast emptying. It is doubtful whether suction pumps would offer sufficient stimulation for the mother to build and maintain a proper milk supply (so not ideal for the mom working away from home).

Collection of milk can also take a very long time. These one-piece pumps are more difficult to clean on the inside and have the potential to harbour bacterial and fungal growth if the mom is not careful.

Electric breast pumps

An electric breast pump uses a power source like an electric cord that plugs into a wall outlet, disposable batteries or a rechargeable battery to provide power to a motorized pump that creates the suction needed to extract milk from the breast.

The pump will have a control panel with a dial/switch to switch it on or off, and to set the suction rhythms and strengths. Most high-quality pumps can be adjusted to create different suction types and rhythms. Basic two-phase pumps have a ‘stimulation cycle’, where the suctions are light and quick to stimulate the nipples and to create a let-down reflex; it then switches over to an ‘expressing-cycle’ where deeper, longer suctions express milk.

The features of the motorized pump determine its cost. An important aspect to take into consideration is the amount of cycles (or ‘suctions’) that the pump can maintain per minute. During breastfeeding a baby will on average suck 40-60 times per minute, maintaining a pressure of 50-250 mmHg.

So while the pressure is fairly high, the amount of time each suck lasts is around 1-1,5 seconds. A pump needs a fairly strong motor to be able mimic this. Cheaper and lower quality pumps take longer to reach this negative pressure level, leading to each cycle taking up to 2 seconds and longer. This will not only lead to reduced stimulation and smaller volumes of milk, but can also damage the mother’s nipples and areolas.

To maintain a milk supply in women who are away from their babies for long periods in a day, a pump should be able to maintain at least 40-60 cycles per minute.

 

Advantages of an electric breast pumpDisadvantages of an electric breast pump
·         It is available as a double option (allowing you to express from both breasts at once)

·         Most women will find reduced pumping times and increased milk volumes when expressing with an electric pump

·         It is more convenient and easier to use

 

·         They are dependent on a power source and the mother must have alternative options available in case of a power outage or flat batteries

·         Some pumps are quite noisy; all electric pumps produce some noise

·         More paraphernalia that needs to be taken along wherever you go

·         They are more expensive than manual pumps

 

Single versus double electric pumps

A single pump can express from only one breast at a time, while a double pump has two collection kits that connect to the same motorized pump and enables the mother to express from both breasts at once.

The extra money spent on a double pump is well worth it, especially if a mother plans to express more often. It has the potential to half the amount of time she spends expressing, and studies have shown that most women will express larger amounts of milk when expressing with a double breast pump.

Closed versus open system breast pumps

In a closed syste,m pump there is a barrier between the tubing that connects the pump motor and the collection kit, meaning that no milk can enter the tubing and the pump. Multi-user pumps are closed system pumps to which multiple mothers can connect their own collection kits, for example in a Neonatal ICU setting. These pumps have very strong motors, as they are going to be used a lot and need to last longer. Women can rent them as well, an option that some lactation consultants feel is worth the cost. However, this option is far more expensive in the long run and considering how many excellent-quality pumps have become available on the market over the last few years, most women will benefit from rather buying their own pump.

In an open-system pump small amounts of milk can potentially enter the tubing and pump motor, which can lead to mould and bacterial growth. These pumps are always for use by one mother only, and needs to be inspected and cleaned regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

New versus second hand breast pumps

Having a baby is expensive and many women end up buying second-hand pumps or taking over used pumps from friends and family members. It is never recommended for women to share breast pumps, as harmful pathogens can potentially pass to the baby. If a pump has been used a lot it’s motor is also not likely to successfully last a full term for a second mom, and by then the warranty has probably expired, leaving her without support should it need repairs.

Company support

Most of the common ‘bottle brands’ have a breast pump as well, some of them fairly decent. However, a mother will definitely get better support when buying a pump from a company specialising in breast pumps and breastfeeding products. Choose a company that offers proper customer support, can service your pump where applicable or replace pump parts, provide different flange sizes, etc.

ALSO READ: Top 5 Things You Need for Breastfeeding

Where to start when choosing a breast pump?

Set a budget

Determine your budget and make a list of the breast pumps that you can realistically afford. Then do the best that you can in that price range.

Determine your needs

Why do you want to express breastmilk? Is it to have some milk on hand for an occasional date-night with hubby, or do you need to provide milk for your baby and maintain your milk supply while working full-day away from home? For only occasional expressing a manual pump may well be sufficient. If you plan on expressing more extensively you will really benefit from a more advanced pump.

Talk to a lactation consultant

Most lactation consultants know the breast pumps on the market fairly well. Though they may also be biased they can definitely offer valuable input. Some may even have some demo models for you to try out before deciding.

Is it user-friendly?

  • Pump size – some are small and easy to fit into a bag while others are large and difficult to transport.
  • Noise level – what does it sound like? This is important if you need to pump in a not-so-private space.
  • Power supply – does it need to be plugged in, use batteries or can you recharge at home and use wherever you are?

Why choose Horigen Breast Pumps?

Horigen Breast Pumps definitely tick all the important boxes, and is worthwhile considering when choosing a pump:

  • Horigen breast pumps retail at an extremely competitive price, compared to other brands with similar products, thus offering even those with limited budgets access to excellent pumping technology.
  • Our electric pumps offer two-phase pumping, have an easy-to-use touch screen, offer a wide spectrum of suction strengths, can maintain 45 cycles per minute and allows the mother to use different suction strengths on her two breasts during the same expressing session.
  • Our electric pumps have a rechargeable lithium battery (the only pump that can boast with this!) offering two hours of pumping time when fully charged – you can say bye-bye to hunting for wall plugs or buying disposable batteries.
  • Our pumps are small, compact and easy to transport.
  • Our pumps are fairly quiet for discreet pumping.
  • Our electric pumps are closed system pumps, meaning no milk can leak into your tubing and electric pump parts.
  • Different flange sizes for our electrical pumps are available at a minimal cost for those mothers who need them.
  • We provide excellent customer support and can assist you with replacing pump parts and sorting out pumping troubles.
  • The special design of the silicone flange and tunnel enables the flange to ‘collapse’ during suction, thus not only pulling the nipple in but gently massaging it at the same time, leading to the so-called 3D suction that it is famous for and extracting more milk more gently. Because of this design the flange also very successfully forms a seal onto the breast, saving mothers lots of frustration.

2 comments

  1. Michelle Myburgh

    Hi there,

    are there other brands of bottles compatible with the Horigen pump?

    Thanks.

    1. Melinda Pennells

      Hi Michelle,
      Any wide neck bottle will fit on our pump.
      Kind Regards
      BabyWombWorld

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Christine

Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.