When a mother starts looking at breast pumps, the types and features available can cause confusion. Would a manual one suit better than an electric one? Would a double breast pump be needed? What are cycle speeds? So before a mother buys a breast pump, she needs to spend time thinking about what her circumstances are, why she needs a breast pump and will these needs change.
Frequency of breast pump use and your baby’s age:
Why a mother wants to use or may need to use a breast pump may vary considerably according to her baby’s age.
When a mother start pumping, she might be pumping occasionally or infrequently because:
- She wants to ensure that her baby takes a bottle as well as breastfeeding so she starts the baby as soon as is convenient with a bottle of expressed milk
- The mother may want Dad to be involved with feeding the baby so that he can bond with the baby, take over a night feed so that the mother can get a longer uninterrupted sleep, and also so the father can do more than change nappies and bathe them
- The mother may want to spend time with older children so that they do not become jealous of the time-consuming new baby
- The mother may want to have some milk stored for occasional time away from the baby - a night out, getting her hair done, a date with baby’s Dad, etc.
So as the breast pump may not be used every day, a manual one or small electric one may be perfect for these infrequent pumping occasions.
But as the baby gets older, the mother may need to use her pump more often:
Most mothers have to return to work at some stage and if they decide to continue breastfeeding and want to supply their child minder or crèche with expressed milk, they will need to pump more frequently.
So a simple manual pump may suffice initially for infrequent pumping sessions but may not be fast enough for frequent pumping, when you may need to express as much milk as possible as quickly as possible, e.g.
- Before work
- During work - if the mother gets the opportunity and time to pump at work, she would want the pumping time to be as quick and effective as possible.
So the most important question when choosing a breast pump would be how often do you intend using this breast pump.
Questions to help you choose the best breast pump for you
Ask yourself a few questions before choosing a breast pump:
As above, how often do I intend to use this breast pump?
For infrequent use, a manual breast pump would probably work best and be the cheapest option.
For a number of times a week or daily use, an electric pump would be recommended, perhaps one with a battery option for convenience.
For multiple times a day use, a double electric pump would be best as you would save time by pumping both breasts at the same time, and empty your breasts more effectively.
If speed is also an issue, a double electric or a hospital grade double electric breast pump would be advised, as you would also get the advantages of adjustable cycle settings and suction settings.
How long do I intend breastfeeding / expressing milk for my baby?
If you only intend using a breast pump for a short time, it would be difficult to justify spending a large amount of money on a top of the range pump and then only use it for a month. But if for that month you intend to pump a number of times a day and want each pumping session to be as short as possible, then you may need to buy a double electric breast pump. Consider these timing factors before purchasing.
Where will I be using this breastpump?
If you intend pumping at home or while with family and friends, using a large pump with a motor probably isn’t an issue. But if you are going back to work and know that the only place you can use your breast pump while there is a small room beside other offices, a discreet low-noise pump may suit your needs better.
Will there always be a socket wherever you intend to pump? If not, consider a manual pump or an electric one with a battery option.
Do I need it to pump quickly?
If you know you will only have a certain amount of time to pump, you will want to maximise the amount of milk you can express in that time. A double electric pump will be the quickest at expressing milk from both breasts.
Would I prefer a manual or an electric?
Some women find a manual pump works perfectly well for them. Others find it tiring to use and difficult to express the desired amount of milk. Some women may have both, and use the one that suits them best at different times and in different situations. In general, electric pumps express milk more quickly, and have more options in terms of speed and suction controls.
If electric, would I like the option for it to be battery-powered?
As mentioned above, if you would like the flexibility of knowing you won’t be left without a pump if the electricity fails or you do not have access to a power socket, then you should purchase a pump that gives you both options.
How much do I have to spend?
Again as mention above, consider how long you intend using the pump for, how quickly you want each pumping session to be, and if you want to express from both breasts at the same time. A more expensive pump will generally be faster, last longer without needing replacement parts, and have more features like double-pumping, adjustable speed and suction settings, etc.
Do I intend carrying it around regularly with me, so a lightweight model would be better?
Again you need to work out what is most important to you. You need to carry your pump to work so a lightweight one would be better but the faster double pumps are generally heavier, bigger and so less discreet. But some of the larger pumps either come with a bag or a bag can be bought as an extra that look more like a laptop case.
Can I adjust the number of cycles per minute (speed) and the suction?
In general, the larger electric breast pumps have these adjustable cycles per minute and suction controls.
There is a trade off to be made when choosing the best breast pump for a mother:
- The fastest pump will generally be more expensive, heavier, bulkier and louder/less discreet than the manual or small electric ones, but will be the most efficient at expressing the maximum amount of milk in the shortest time
- A less expensive breast pump will probably take a lot longer to pump the desired amount of milk, but would be cheaper, lighter, less noisy and fit into a handbag
So a mother has to take all her circumstances into consideration before choosing the best breast pump for her needs.
Manual breast pumps are:
- Used to pump one breast only
- Suitable for occasional use
- Small and light, so easy and convenient to carry around
- Mother had complete control over speed and suction
- Free to use as they do not require electricity or batteries, so have no on-going running costs
How do they work?
Manual breast pumps work by the user producing the suction by pumping a piston or squeezing a lever. The quicker you can pump this cylinder or piston, the faster the milk will flow.
Advantages of manual breast pumps:
- Great for occasional use
- Simple to use
- Small and lightweight, easy to pack and carry anywhere - will easily fit into a changing bag or even a handbag
- Quiet and discreet - as they do not make a noise it is easier to use them in places where a noisy pump could attract attention
- Can be used anywhere, i.e. they do not need to be plugged in
- Very affordable to buy and free to use - they just need mother’s time
- Mother has control over the speed and suction - these are based entirely on how quickly the mother can pump
- Great choice of manual breast pumps available.
Disadvantages of manual breast pumps:
- Some women find it takes a long time to pump using a manual breast pump, and may not be able to pump the amount of milk they require, i.e. enough for a feed
- It can be tiring on the arm and hand
- Some mothers are unable to express any milk at all using a manual breast pump
- If you are only able to express a small amount of milk using a manual pump, the breast will not be emptied properly, which can lead to problems with blocked ducts and reduced milk supply
- You need two pumps if you wish to pump both breasts at the same time.
Electric or Mini-Electric Breast Pumps are:
- Operated by electricity or battery, or often both
- Suitable for occasional use or more frequent use
Electric or Mini-Electric Breast Pumps work by electricity or batteries; these run a motor that controls the pump’s cycling times and suction strength.
Note - there are a wide range of breast pump models in this category; a small single breast pump with very limited or no ability to adjust the suction or cycle times could be classed as an electric breast pump, as could a large double pump with a range of cycle times and suction sections. Review the features and the price to compare these breast pumps.
Advantages of Electric or Mini-Electric Breast Pumps:
- Perfect for frequent pumping - daily or even a number of times a day; obviously also suitable for infrequent pumping
- Not tiring for the mother to use
- Will express more milk in a shorter amount of time when compared to a manual breast pump
- Often have adjustable speed settings - referred to as cycling times
- Often have adjustable suction settings
- While they are more bulky than the manual pumps, they are still quite portable
- The current electric breast pumps are lighter and less noisy than previous one
- Some of the top-end electric models can pump both breasts at a time; this can greatly decrease the time to pump
- Some of the more sophisticated breast pump models have a two-phase settings:
- A short rapid one to mimic a thirsty baby’s first attachment to the breast - this helps to stimulate the let-down response
- A longer phase to maximise the milk flow
- Are usually supplied with some accessories - such as at least one bottle, a spare valve, a bottle stand, etc.
- While they are more expensive than the manual ones, they are not very expensive
- Some of the electric pumps can also be used as a manual pump with a specially designed attachment - usually sold separately
- Some of the electric pumps have a battery option for extra convenience and flexibility for busy mothers
- Some of the models either include a soft flange or breast shield that is designed to be more comfortable to pump with.
Disadvantages of Electric or Mini-Electric Breast Pumps:
- The smaller ones may only have very slow or long cycling times - 12-15 cycles per minute compared to up to 60 cycles per minute for the top-end electric or hospital grade pumps. This means that it could take some time to express the amount of milk required
- Slow cycling times can also lead to sore nipples as the nipple is dragged into the funnel for a number of seconds on each cycle
- If batteries are used, they may have to be changed frequently; if this is the case you should always have a new set with you
- Usually you can only express from one breast a time; the larger ones allow you to express from both breasts but if you use batteries to run the pump, double pumping is even harder on the batteries
- The motor may need to be replaced on the smaller models if they are used very frequently.
Hospital Grade Breast Pumps
Hospital Grade Breast Pumps are the strongest, most reliable and quickest of all the breast pumps. They have strong, powerful, durable motors with a high level of suction which results in more efficient pumping.
- Suitable for very frequent use - many times as day
- Always a double pump or can be converted into a double pump
Advantages of a Hospital Grade breast pump:
- Usually has two phases for stimulating the milk let-down and then expression
- Will have variable cycle speeds and suction strengths
- These cycle speeds will be the fastest of all breast pumps
- The suction strengths will provide a high level of suction - these features mean that the milk will be pumped as fast as possible
- Can be used as a single or a double pump
- Typically much faster than a regular electric or a manual pump:
- It has a variable cycle speed
- It has variable suction strengths
- A double pump will express the milk in less than half the time a single pump will
- Will usually be supplied with a number of accessories, e.g. spare valves, at least two bottles, soft breast shield, bottle brush, etc
- While they are heavy, some of them come with or you can buy specially designed carry bags for them
- Have a large, strong, durable motor that is great for very frequent pumping
- Are suitable for all frequency levels of pumping as they are designed to work for frequent daily pumping, and are often recommended for particular situation where frequent pumping is a necessity:
- For premature or unwell babies
- For twins or multiple babies
- When the mother decides to feed her baby exclusively by expressed breast milk.
Disadvantages of a Hospital Grade breast pump:
- Hospital grade pumps are the most expensive breast pumps
- Bulky and heavy, so they are more difficult to carry around.
Breast Pump Models
Choosing the right breast pump for your lifestyle can be challenge since most pumps look very similar at first glance. By taking a closer look at the pumps that you are most interested in, you can determine which pump will best meet your needs, whether it's a Manual Breast Pumps or Electric Breast Pumps. Use the pump comparisons on this page to find out more about what each pump has to offer. For more information on the manufacturer of the pump you are interested in please read our article on Companies Behind the Brands.
The Companies Behind the Brands
With so many brands, types and models of breast pumps available it can be hard to know which will best fit your lifestyle. Knowing who the company is that manufacturers the breast pump and what other products are available to go with the pump can be helpful when you are making your selection. Here is a snapshot of information about each of the major pump manufacturing companies:
Einar Egnell helped to develop the first hospital-grade electric breast pump, the Ameda SMB, in 1956. The Ameda-Egnell breast pump name has been trusted by hospitals for over 50 years. Products in the Ameda Mother and Baby Care division include hospital grade breast pumps, personal use electric and manual breast pumps, breast pump accessories, breast care products, pump cleaning products, and breast milk storage bags and bottles.
Avent has been a leader in infant feeding products for years, and it is the fastest growing infant feeding brand in the world. The short, wide-neck bottle was an innovation from Avent, and it created a new trend in the infant feeding market. Avent’s manual pump, the Isis, was introduced in 1997. In 2005, Avent launched its line of innovative electric breast pumps. Avent’s infant feeding products include a full line of personal use breast pumps, breastmilk storage systems, disposable and reusable feeding bottles, spill-proof toddler cups, nursing pads, pacifiers, bottle warmers and sterilisers.
ARDO is a Swiss-based family firm operating world-wide. The promotion and support of breastfeeding is a core part of their business. As the company is managed by its owners, it is able to pursue not only economic targets, but also to emphasise ecological, ethical and social goals. Management has a strong sense of responsibility in respect of clients, end-users, society in general and the environment. ARDO is already WHO-Codex compliant and is dedicated to remaining fully compliant in the future.
In this context, ARDO is aware of the importance of good breastfeeding management in the baby’s first few weeks, and the impact that this can have in the long term. “Made in Switzerland” - that says it all. It speaks not only to ARDO’s exceptionally high quality standards of product design, production and durability, but also to the company’s relationship with the market. Products in the breastfeeding division include hospital grade breast pumps, manual breast pumps, breast pump accessories, and breast care products. For more information visit www.ardomedical.co.uk
Lansinoh is an American company, started over 25 years ago with a breastfeeding mom creating her own pure lanolin nipple cream when no other could be found. Today, Lansinoh’s breastfeeding and baby supplies are still made by moms, for moms, and thought, care and practicality is put into all of Lansinoh’s products. When moms choose to breastfeed, Lansinoh believes they should have the support and encouragement they need to experience all of its benefits, and ensure baby feels the same. Lansinoh will always take mothers seriously and their needs personally, creating high-quality products moms want and can trust as they nurture their babies and develop a special bond only formed in motherhood. That's a promise - we're always here for you at lansinoh.com.
BPA Plastic Baby Bottle Concerns
Bisphenol A (abbreviated BPA) is a chemical found in polycarbonate plastic. It is a shatter-resistant and clear material used in a variety of products such as plastic bottles, bicycle helmets, eyeglasses and sports safety equipment, as well as components of lifesaving medical devices such as incubators and kidney dialysis machines. It is also used to make durable epoxy resins, materials used as the coating in most food and beverage cans, to help preserve the safety and totality of our current food supply.
Recently, there was a complaint filed by a California resident whose newborn son was born with a defect that has been documented to arise from high levels of BPA found in the urine of lab rats. Based on the complaint, environmental groups have taken a stance against the sell of any plastic containing BPA sold to the public.
The highest concern, of course, is the safety of infants and toddlers who could be receiving trace amounts of BPA each time they drink from their baby bottle or beaker, especially if the bottle or cup has been heated. To find out if a plastic container has been manufactured with Bisphenol A simply look on the bottom for the recycle symbol containing the number 7, which indicates the chemical’s usage.
According to the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), the non-profit organisation that currently represents the leading baby bottle manufacturers in the United States, there is no scientific evidence proving BPA is harmful to children. The controversy here seems to question the amount of BPA that will cause harm or defects if humans are exposed.
There are bottle options available that do not put infants and toddlers at risk to the exposure of BPA. Glass, stainless steel and new BPA-free plastic bottles are quickly rising in sales due to the recent concern. However, it is still yet to be proven that the chemical make-up of these containers is not just as risky as the older plastic alternative.
Research shows that Bisphenol A can contribute to human defects, and is carcinogenic if consumed or exposed to at high levels. The amount of BPA that a person is exposed to is detected though human blood, urine, sweat or breastmilk. More and more research is being done everyday to further the knowledge of the subject. Resources are available on the web to conduct and formulate a well-educated decision.
If you are concerned about the potential dangers associated with BPA and would like to limit your family’s expose to the chemical, we recommend that you check out the BPA Free Products