Some mothers have the opportunity to breastfeed their babies without ever needing to store their milk. Others feel that a breast pump is an essential newborn care item. Whether a new mother is returning to work or just leaving her baby in someone else’s care, a breast pump gives the baby have the benefit of breast milk even the mother is absent.
The main choice is between electric versus manual pumps. Some women have one of each, the electric to use at home, the smaller manual version for travel.
Manual pumps are small and simple to use, and many mothers claim that manual pumps feel more natural and more closely mimic a baby’s sucking. They like being able to control the strength of the suction manually. Hand pumps are generally cheaper, lighter, smaller, and quieter than electric pumps. And if a woman likes to pump on one side while the baby is nursing on the other, the infant will not be disturbed by the noise of an electric model.
On the downside, while some mothers easily learn the method of speedy manual pumping, others find manual pumps extremely slow. The speed of the pump depends greatly on how fast the user can sqeeze the pump handle. Some women feel that hand pumps fail to completely empty their breasts, which can cause a subsequent lowered milk supply. Others have trouble expressing any milk at all with these machines. Repetitive use of manual pumps can lead to tired, sore hands.
Electric pumps are easy and efficient to use. Mothers who use breast pumps regularly, such as those returning to work, usually prefer the increase in production offered by the electric or battery-powered pump. Most electric models can be used to pump both breasts at once. However, some electric models are large, cumbersome and noisy. This varies from brand to brand; some models are surprisingly compact and quiet. It’s a good idea to ask the salesperson to plug in the model so the noise level can be evaluated before buying.
Whatever model is finally chosen, purchase it while the baby is still less than a month old. Many babies who are used to breastfeeding will refuse to nurse from a bottle unless it is introduced early.
Most hospitals give new mothers the option of renting a top-of-the-line breast pump. These expensive professional machines are usually efficient, with a rapid cycling time (sucking 48 to 60 times a minute). In caring for a premature infant or twins, or if the mother plans to be away a great deal, renting a heavy-duty hospital-grade pump may be a good choice. Remember that these models can be large and heavy, some weighing up to 18 pounds. Hospitals charge one to three dollars a day for these machines, which cost approximately $1,500 to purchase.
If a baby is born with a disability which makes nursing difficult, health insurance may cover the cost of the breast pump.
When purchasing a breast pump, look for adjustability, efficiency and speed of use. Women vary in what level of suction they regard as comfortable, so a pump should allow the user to adjust the vacuum. Some manual machines have adjustable pump-handle positions.
It is worthwhile paying a higher price for a pump that sucks more times per minute (known as the cycling time) and has a double-pumping capability. A model which pumps both breasts simultaneously cuts pumping time by more than half. Pumping first one breast and then the other takes roughly 30 minutes, but pumping both at once takes only 12 minutes. Double pumping also boosts milk production by completely emptying both breasts.
Buy a pump that’s easy to use, clean, and reassemble, since it will have to be cleaned hundreds of times during one infant’s nursing period. If the machine is to transported, buy a compact, light model with a sturdy carrying case, or else buy a case separately.
Breast pumps can be categorized into different price ranges. High-end electric pumps offer the best features of hospital-grade pumps, but are ore affordable and portable. They are fully automatic, with quick cycling times, adjustable suction levels, and double-pumping capability. A few are even designed to mimic a baby’s sucking patterns. They weigh less than 8 pounds, and often come with all the accessories a new mother might need, such as carrying cases, labels, storage bags, clips, bottles, and nipple ointment. Most can be operated on an adaptor plugged into a car cigarette lighter, and a few come with a built-in battery pack. These models range in price from $200 to around $320.
Mid-range electric pumps are a bit more difficult to use, but are lighter and more portable, as most weigh less than 2 lbs. They have medium cycling times, adjustable suction, and are usually double-pumping. Most mothers find these models perfectly adequate. A few of them also run on an adapter plugged into a car lighter. Prices vary from around $75 to $180.
Inexpensive electric or battery pumps can be bought for as little as $30 to $80, but are not ideal for heavy, regular use. Most only pump one breast at a time, and slowly at that. They have long cycling times, some only about 12 times per minute. The batteries need frequent replacing, and the suction, often unadjustable, is ineffectively weak or painfully strong. These machines are more cheaply made, with motors and other parts more prone to breakage.
Nonelectric, manual pumps require the mother to pump a piston or squeeze a lever to create suction. They empty only one breast at a time and usually require two hands to operate, although a few are designed for single-handed use. Mothers who need to use a breast pump frequently will find these models inadequate, but some women who use them only occasionally like the fact that they can control the suction themselves. These models are sold for $35 to $50.
For mothers having difficultly deciding which model to buy, a lactation consultant or midwife is a great source of information and help. She can give advice on breastfeeding problems, and teach the technique of hand-expressing milk, a useful emergency skill that allows a mother to continue collecting milk even in the event that her pump breaks down.