Okay Mama, let’s talk about breast pumps. If you’re planning on breastfeeding your new baby, then you’re going to need one. The problem is trying to figure out which is the best breast pump for you.
Researching breast pumps just throws you into this whirlwind of terminology like manual, electric, hospital grade, flanges, valves, membranes, it’s enough to make your head spin. So I’m here to try to shine some light on the big breast pump debate so that you will hopefully have an easier go of it than I did.
I exclusively pumped for my son for a year after our failed nursing experience. I had never planned to use my breast pump quite as much as I did, so I didn’t put very much thought into the purchase. I figured I would just need it for when I went back to work. I didn’t realize that she and I would become so close (her name is Barb by the way).
Now I’m not saying that you have to be an exclusive pumper to use a breast pump, but you just never know when you might need one. So you should really know what you’re looking for.
(This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you buy something through one of my links I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will never suggest a product or service that I don’t use and love myself because that’s just wrong. If you like reading legal mumbo-jumbo then you can check out my disclosure policy HERE.)
Who Needs a Breast Pump
Honestly? Everyone. Any new mom that is considering breastfeeding should get a breast pump. The whole process has been made even easier these days with breast pumps being considered medical devices covered by insurance.
You can get a free, that’s right, FREE breast pump through your health insurance. Just fill out this form with Aeroflow and they will take care of all of the paperwork for you. All you’ll need to do is figure out which pump that you want.
Types of Breast Pumps
Electric Breast Pumps
There are many different types of breast pumps on the market these days. The most popular options are electric breast pumps. An electric breast pump is just what it sounds like. It is a pump that uses electricity to provide suction to remove the milk from your breasts.
The other option is a manual breast pump and we’ll talk about those in a minute. There are two primary types of electric breast pumps: single-electric and double-electric.
Single-Electric Breast Pump
A single-electric breast pump is set up to only pump one breast at a time. This type of pump is very useful for women that are nursing and pumping at the same time because it is very easy to just pump one breast while the baby is feeding on the other side.
The downside is that if you don’t have the baby to help you out, then your pumping session will be twice as long since you’ll have to do each side separately. Though I do know women that have managed to make a single-electric work, I would strongly recommend going with a double-electric if you have the option.
Double-Electric Breast Pump
A double-electric breast pump has many benefits, the biggest being its ability to pump both sides at the same time. Being able to pump both breasts at once typically means that your pumping sessions will not take as long and that you are taking the most advantage of your letdowns.
A letdown is when your milk gets released and begins to flow out of your breasts. Your body will try to release the milk on both sides at the same time, especially in the beginning, if you can use a pump to catch both sides at the same time then you are more likely to empty quicker and it could even lead to more milk and a higher supply.
Hospital Grade Electric Breast Pumps
A hospital grade breast pump is the best of the best. They are generally known for their better suction and ease of use. They are pumps that are more capable of getting the most stubborn of milk out. They also have a little higher price tag.
Hospital grade breast pumps have a closed motor system as opposed to an open system like many personal use breast pumps. This means that there is a distinct separation between the parts that touch the milk and the parts connected to the motor. This allows these pumps to be safely used by multiple mothers.
Because of this, it is possible to rent hospital grade breast pumps rather than having to shell out the money to buy one. Most hospital grade breast pumps are not provided by insurance because they are not typically seen as a necessity.
There are certain circumstances where this can be worked around though. If you have a preemie baby, multiples, or have a condition where you know that breastfeeding with a traditional pump would be difficult, your doctor may be able to help you with getting your insurance company to ease on the reigns a little bit.
Manual Breast Pumps
A manual breast pump is a handheld breast pump that does not use a battery or electricity to provide suction. You are in control of that yourself.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Hell no, I don’t want to do that!” I understand, but hear me out. Manual breast pumps are actually kind of awesome.
Yes, they require you to put in more effort than your electric, and yes you can only do one side at a time, but knowing that you have a backup available should you need it is amazingly helpful. I love my manual breast pump. I used it all the time when I was pumping for my son. I used in when I traveled, when I just needed a quick pump, or even that time that we lost power and I couldn’t use my electric.
I’ve also had to bust it out on a few occasions to deal with some particularly nasty clogs. That thing gets out my clogs so much better than my electric one. I’m not sure why, but it totally works. One of my favorite ways of getting out clogs is to pump in the shower. I certainly can’t do that with my electric now can I?
Manual breast pumps are awesome. The other great thing about them is that they are typically pretty cheap and if you get one made by the same company that makes your electric then all of your bottles and parts are interchangeable. And if they’re not, then there are definitely some hacks that can fix that.
Choosing the Right Breast Pump
Just like with any other purchase, deciding which breast pump is right for you will come down to several different factors.
Do you plan on exclusively pumping from the start, or do you have a demanding job that will mean that you will be away from your baby for several feeding sessions a day? If so, then you will want to consider those things when making your breast pump decision.
Things like the motor, suction power, and portability will play a larger role in your decision than it would for mothers that are only going to use their breast pump occasionally.
Though you can hopefully get the pump itself covered by your insurance, you will probably still have to spend some money out of pocket to purchase a few of the accessories. Especially if you chose to buy any extra add-ons that insurance companies may consider “convenience items”.
It’s also a good idea to make sure that you have easy access to replacement parts. Some stores will carry a few basic supplies for some of the larger breast pump brands, but they will not carry everything and there’s no guarantee that they will have the right size or shape that you’re looking for anyway. Make sure that you know where you can get your replacements.
I have always found great luck on Amazon for my replacement parts, but it’s a good idea to scope them out before making your decision just in case.
Breast pumps are not a one-size-fits-all kind of item. What works well for one woman may not work well for you. Find a breast pump that is a comfortable size and shape for you. You may end up spending a lot of time together and you’ll want to be comfortable.
Most hospitals will offer breastfeeding courses for new mothers. If you have the opportunity to go to one of these, I would strongly suggest it. The course will most likely be taught by an experienced lactation consultant who’s knowledge is invaluable, but they may also have some breast pumps available for you to actually put your hands on and experiment with.
They will also be able to help answer any questions that you may have about particular makes and models and even discuss the rental options available through the hospital should you need one down the road.
Hospital grade breast pumps definitely are known to have the strongest motors around, but there are personal electric breast pumps that have adjustable suction.
Some breast pumps are completely portable and some require an outlet to function. Deciding which style will work best for you and your family is important.
I used the Medela Pump in Style Advance for my entire year-long pumping journey. I loved it and definitely made it work, but I also only had one baby to deal with. If you have multiple children, or if you have a very active lifestyle, then having a more portable pump may work better for you.
There are even some pumps that are completely portable and relatively discrete in order to be able to pump in public without anyone being the wiser. There are definitely some options out there if that is something that you are looking for.
When to Use a Breast Pump
You can use your breast pump in a few different situations.
- At work so that you have milk for your caregiver to feed your baby.
- At night if you need to build supply while baby is sleeping.
- Any time you’re away from your baby for an extended period.
- If you want to build up a freezer stash.
Using your breast pump is amazingly helpful and it doesn’t have to be nearly as difficult as most people make it out to be.
Breast Pump Supplies
The type of breast pump that you have chosen will dictate what supplies that you will need for it. Your pump may have some specific parts that are unique to your pump, so just make sure that you read through the instructions carefully before using anything so that you know how each of the parts should be cared for and handled.
Most electric breast pumps will come with a starter kit that will include the necessary supplies and even a few bottles and lids. Having a few extras on hand though can be a huge benefit.
The flange, also known as a breastshield, is the plastic piece that goes over your breast. Having the proper fit for your flange is very important to make sure that you are getting out all of the milk without causing yourself any unnecessary pain.
A little discomfort when you first start a pumping session is completely normal, just like it is when you start a nursing session. Pain on the other hand, is not and is generally a sign of an issue. One of the biggest causes of pain while pumping is an incorrect flange fit. The standard size is a 25 mm inner diameter. Flanges can range in size though from 15 mm to 36 mm.
What Breastshield Size is Right for You?
The ideal size of your breastshield, is to have the inner diameter be 1-2 mm larger than the diameter of your nipple after a pumping session. If you are measuring your nipple diameter before a pumping session, then the size should be 3-5 mm larger. This size will ensure that you have a close fit to provide good suction without having your nipple actually rub against the flange and causing pain.
For an easier way to accurately measure your nipple diameter, Maymom has a printable caliper that is very useful.
Valves and Membranes and Backflow Protectors
The type of pump that you end up choosing will dictate what kind parts you will need. Each type of breast pump will require some sort of valve though.
There are two main types of valves for breast pumps. The yellow plastic one common with Medela breast pumps, and the duckbill valves that are common with Spectra breast pumps. The valves are placed on the bottom of the flange. They are used to provide the suction needed to actually remove the milk. So, very important pieces.
The yellow Medela valves will also need membranes to function. The membrane is a small, white piece of flexible plastic that attaches to the valve to create the suction. This will be the most common piece of your breast pump that you will have to replace. A worn-out membrane can drastically affect the performance of your breast pump.
Duckbill valves are attached the same way that the yellow valves are, but they do not require a separate membrane since they are already flexible pieces of silicone and can double as their own membranes.
Most valve and membrane combinations can be used on multiple pumps. You will just need to ensure that if you are buying a piece that is not common for your pump (like a duckbill for your Medela), that the piece is compatible. Products should always list breast pumps that they are compatible with.
Backflow protectors are an extra piece used for closed-system breast pumps such as those from Spectra. Backflow protectors are meant to keep milk from being able to go through the tubing to get to the motor.
Milk in your pump’s motor is definitely not a good thing. Backflow protectors prevent this. It is not uncommon to have milk end up inside the backflow protector. That is normal and nothing to worry about. Just pop the protector apart and wash it like you normally would then allow to fully air dry.
When to Replace
Fully functioning valves, membranes, and backflow protectors will ensure that your breast pump is working to its full capacity.
Keeping these pieces in good condition is vital for maintaining your breast pump as well as maintaining your supply. Using worn out parts can actually hurt your milk supply by not allowing your breasts to fully empty. This in turn tells your body to stop making as much milk. Not good.
If you are pumping only once to twice a day, then membranes can typically last 2 months before needing to be replaced. If you are pumping exclusively, then 2-4 weeks is more common. Duckbill valves can go 2-3 months if you are using it once or twice a day, and about 4 weeks for exclusive pumpers.
Backflow protector diaphragms should be replaced every 6 months if using once or twice a day, and every 3 months if you pump exclusively. Though you can certainly follow the replacement guidelines above, it is best to simply inspect your parts each time you pump.
Take a moment and look at your valves and membranes. The membrane should lie flush against the valve, even against gravity (holding it upside down). If it doesn’t, the it is time to replace it, regardless of how long it has been. Duckbill valves should not have any gaps in the opening before use.
It is common for them to become stretched when pumping, so afterwards they may have a gap that doesn’t immediately close. By your next pump though, that should no longer be there. If it is, then you should replace them.
Also replace any of your parts if you see any cracks or tears in them. You should also replace your parts if you no longer feel that you are getting good suction out of your pump. Typically, that is a sign that your parts are wearing out.
If replacing the parts does not fix the problem though, then reach out to the customer service of your breast pump to make sure that there is not a bigger problem.
The plastic pieces that attach your breast pump to your flanges. The only thing traveling through the tubes should be air, though a little moisture buildup is common, especially for open-system breast pumps.
You can get rid of the excess moisture by running the pump with nothing attached to it for a few minutes after each pumping session. The tubes do not have to be replaced as often as valves and membranes.
The general rule of thumb is just when they become stretched or damaged. If you ever see mold growing in your tubes though, then they should be replaced immediately.
Pro tip: If your tubes are in good condition, but the end connecting to the pump as stretched out a bit, you can cut off a bit of the end of the tube and then just reattach. The ends can stretch out and cause a loss of suction, but that end can be removed and generally the problem solved. It can save you from having to buy new tubing too.
Milk bottles will screw into the bottom of the flange around the valves. Milk will flow from your breasts, through the flange, out of the valves, and into the bottles. The bottles that you choose to use are completely up to you. You also do not have to use the same pumping bottles as your feeding bottles.
I personally pumped into my Medela bottles and fed my son with Tommee Tippee bottles. I did not like the nipples on the Medela bottles, but every one and every baby is different, so don’t be surprised if you need to try a few different kinds. Just know that the measurements on different bottle brands can vary slightly.
If you are going to track how much milk you pump and feed, then choose only one bottle brand to keep track of. I personally used the measurements of my Medela bottles, but I know many women that will use the measurements of the feeding bottles.
The only measurements that you shouldn’t use are milk storage bags. They are horribly unreliable.
Milk Storage Bags
If you are going to be going through the trouble of pumping, especially if you are going to be pumping exclusively, then you will probably want to figure out how to store your milk long term. The best way to do that is with bags in the freezer.
Though it is certainly not a requirement to have a freezer stash of breast milk, nor should every woman expect to be able to build a freezer stash, if you have the opportunity then I would strongly recommend it.
Milk from your freezer stash can be used for many things. It can be used for caregivers when you go back to work, it can be used in times of emergency if your supply happens to drop or if you have to take a medication that isn’t safe for baby, or even if you decide to stop pumping early, but you want to continue providing your baby with breast milk. Either way, having a freezer stash is amazingly useful.
The easiest way to store breast milk in the freezer is by using milk storage bags. There are several brands on the market, but I personally use the Lansinoh Storage Bags.
Each bag holds up to 6 ounces though you can freeze in any amount that works for you. I do 6 ounces since it is most cost-effective. The bags are single use only so I don’t like to buy more than I actually need.
Once I have 10 bags full, then I put them all in a gallon sized zip-top storage bag. They can stand up alternating up and down with one laying on top. That will give you a “brick” of 60 ounces. Always make sure that all of your individual bags and your bricks are dated and that you use the oldest milk first.
Breast milk is good in a standard fridge freezer for up to six months and in a deep freezer for up to a year.
Hands-Free Pumping Bra
I cannot even begin to tell you the benefit of having a hands-free bra. There are several pumping bras available for purchase on the market. Some bras, like the Simple Wishes Supermom, are actual bras that happen to have holes cut out for you to be able to pump without taking off the bra, and some are smaller pieces that you can actually put on instead of your regular bra.
Just like with finding the right breast pump, finding the right pumping bra is just as personal of a decision. Either way, definitely get an option that works for you. Even if you just take an old sports bra and cut holes in it. Having the ability to pump without holding the bottles in place will make your pumping session so much more peaceful and relaxing.
Pumping is already hard work, you don’t need to add any other unnecessary tasks to it as well.
A good bottle and nipple brush are vital for making sure that your pump parts are properly cleaned. We’re talking about something that your baby’s food is going in. You want that stuff as clean as possible, especially when your baby is young and has a weaker immune system.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends to fully clean your pump parts with soap and hot water after each use and then allow them to air dry. The CDC also recommends sanitizing your pump parts daily to ensure that there is no bacterial growth. Sanitizing can be done in the microwave by steaming the parts.
Using the Medela Quick Clean Bags is the easiest way that I’ve seen it done. You can also sanitize the pump parts in the dishwasher with hot water and a heated dry setting, or by boiling the parts for 5 minutes. Boiling is obviously the most effective way to sanitize your breast pump parts, but that may not be feasible for everyone or for every day.
At the very minimum, you should boil your breast pump parts before using them for the first time. Just be sure to check the manufacturer instructions since there will be certain pieces that should not be boiled or steamed.
A Haakaa is a silicone breast pump. While it is not necessarily great as a manual breast pump option, it can be great if you single pump whether with an electric or a manual breast pump.
You just attach the Haakaa to the opposite side that you are pumping on, and it applies gentle suction to help catch your letdown. In the beginning, I leaked so much! Using a Haakaa when I would nurse or when I would single pump saved me from ending up with a soaking wet bra.
I loved mine and I used it throughout my entire pumping journey.
All of those breast pump supplies have to go somewhere. A pump bag is a must if you ever plan to leave your house again.
Even if your baby is successfully nursing, you will still need a bag to store your breast pump supplies when you go back to work or if you happen to be away from your baby for a longer stretch of time. You will still need to keep up with your baby’s feeding schedule, even if you are not with your baby.
If your baby eats every 2-3 hours, then that is how often you should pump. Otherwise you risk ruining your milk supply. Have a place to store your parts for easy access and transport.
You can get an actual pump bag like the amazing Sarah Wells ones. Those things are awesome and specifically made with pumping moms in mind.
If you don’t want to spend the money buying a “pump bag”, then a large purse or even a reusable shopping bag can be an easy back up. You want something with enough space to store your breast pump and any and all supplies that you may need with it.
I also stopped carrying a purse around after I had my son. Everything that I needed either went in the diaper bag or my pump bag. That’s something to consider when making your pump bag decision. You want something that will actually work for all of your needs.
Choosing a Breast Pump
Deciding which breast pump is right for you, is a decision that you will ultimately have to make. Just be prepared to experiment with the different settings on your breast pump to figure out what works best for you. Stick with it and your pumping journey will be a success.
Which breast pump are you going to choose? Leave me a comment below or join the conversation in our Facebook group.
Until next time!