Tips to help choose a breast pump

With such a huge array of breast pumps on the market (with prices to match), even the most retail-savvy mum can be challenged when it comes to making a purchase.

Breast pumps can be really helpful for nursing mums returning to work or heading out for a social occasion. But how do you go about choosing one when there are so many too choose from?

When do I need to use a breast pump?

Breast pumps come in handy when breastfeeding mums need spend time apart from their baby and don’t want to use infant formula. A breast pump also helps to maintain a mother’s milk supply.
 
Kaye Dyson is manager of the Breastfeeding Service and Childbirth Education department at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Victoria. She’s also a midwife and lactation consultant. “It can take four to six weeks for your lactation to become fully established,” she advises. “During this time we recommend that mothers don’t express unless there is a reason.”
 
Exceptions to this may be if your baby is premature, or unwell, or if you know you will be separated from your baby. 

Once breastfeeding is going well, Dyson says you may not need a pump at all, but there may be times when you just can’t have your baby with you 24/7, or perhaps you need to return to work or study – which is when a breast pump can be a lifesaver.

Baby being bottle fed

Which one should you choose? 

There are three main types of breast pump:

  • Hospital-grade pump, which can be hired from most maternity units, local Australian Breastfeeding Association Groups and some pharmacies.
  • Electric and battery-operated pumps.
  • Hand-held, manual pumps.
Which type of breast pump you choose really depends on you and your needs. “In terms of their effectiveness, the hospital grade pump is the gold standard,” Dyson says, recommending it for those mums who will be expressing at least three times a week. These retail for around $4000 but can usually be hired from around $15-$35 per week.
 
Good-quality electric pumps can cost anything from around $200 to $600 and it’s recommended to have them tested by an electrician every year. Battery-operated pumps are generally cheaper at around $100 to $200, but don’t have as strong a suction as the electric pumps, so you might not be as successful at getting as much milk out.
 
“If you are only expressing a small number of times then a hand pump would be more than adequate,” says Dyson. It’s likely to be more time consuming, but a lot cheaper at around $40 to $100.
 
Once you’ve decided which model suits you best, make sure the breast shield (the part that sits directly on the breast) is a good fit. If it’s not the right size, you can cause damage to the areola and nipple.
 
Don’t be tempted to borrow a friend’s pump or buy second-hand unless you are sure there is a barrier between the milk-collection kit and the pump, as milk could have entered the pump mechanism or tubing, which could pose a risk of infection. However, if it’s a hand pump, properly sterilised and in good condition, then it should be safe to use between women.

Express advice

Here are Kaye Dyson’s top tips for expressing:
 
  • Ensure you are in a private place and won’t be disturbed.
  • Look at a photo of your baby or one of your bub’s soft toys, as this will help you relax and get your milk flowing.
  • If using an electrical pump, don’t be tempted to set the suction too high as this can damage the breast. Gradually increase the suction to just below your maximum level of comfort.
  • Use massage to stimulate the breast before you express, and then hand-express to allow the first let-down to occur.
  • After you have used the pump, express by hand to finish. Using hand expressing before and after the pump is thought to give you a higher volume of milk and help you to maintain your milk supply.
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