Finding the Right Breast Pump For Your Needs

Breast pumps may seem daunting at first (double or single? electric or manual?) but they're a totally necessary accessory for breastfeeding moms who need to be apart from their babies for more than a few hours. Before you hit the stores, check out our be-all, end-all guide to buying a breast pump.

Types of Breast Pumps

Hand pumps:
If you’re only planning to pump once in a great while, a manual hand pump could be right for you. Single hand pumps, which range from about $10 to $35, won’t break the bank and are usually small enough to fit in a handbag. “If breastfeeding is going well, a simple hand pump is sufficient for the occasional outing without the baby,” says Catherine Watson Genna, certified lactation consultant in New York City and the author of Selecting and Using Breastfeeding Tools: Improving Care and Outcomes.

Electric breast pumps:
If you’re going back to work, trying to stimulate milk production or plan to spend some time away from baby, consider investing in either a single or double electric pump. (Most moms will fall into this category.) Expect to pay anything from $40 to $350 for an electric pump, but also plan to deduct the purchase -- the IRS recently ruled that pumps and breastfeeding supplies are now tax-deductible, which can make that triple-digit price tag less painful. You can also rent hospital grade pumps, but these are generally only necessary for babies who are unable to nurse and are in the NICU.

  • Single electric pumps are the least expensive of the bunch -- they’ll run you anywhere from $40 to $90 -- but can be time consuming, since you can only do one breast at a time. They’re a good option for a stay at home mom, or for moms who only plan to pump once in a while. Single pumps are usually compact and easily portable.
  • Double electric pumps, which drain both breasts at the same time are the quickest way to pump and are great for working moms or for moms who need to pump large amounts of milk. These pumps usually have two phases -- a faster let down phase and a slower phase that is designed to mimic a nursing baby. If you really want to multitask, consider investing in a nursing bustier, which lets you pump hands-free.

Should You Share a Pump?

Even though everyone does it, experts recommend against it -- even when the used pump in question comes from your sister, cousin or BFF, and even when you use a new kit. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how well you know the person who is lending you the pump; sharing a single-user pump is never recommended,” says Sharen Medrano, a certified lactation consultant in New York City. “Personal pumps are "open" systems, which don’t contain a filter, so milk particles can enter the motor. Unlike a hospital-grade pump, which contains a protective barrier to prevent cross contamination to multiple users, personal pumps cannot provide a guarantee of safety for the next mother who uses it.”

What’s the risk if you do buy or borrow a used pump? Milk particles from the pump’s previous owner can enter the motor and be blown into your milk, and if that happens, the potential for diseases such as Hepatitis or HIV, or transmission of fungal infections, commonly known as thrush or yeast, become a concern, Medrano adds.

If you’re planning on borrowing or buying a used pump, make sure you know (and are comfortable with) the risks involved; a better bet is to take advantage of that aforementioned tax credit to buy the most affordable new pump you can find.

Cleaning and Sterilizing
The Pump

You'll want to make sure you properly wash -- either by hand or in the dishwasher -- the pieces that come into contact with your milk after each pump. (In order to save time, Medrano recommends purchasing extra pump kits, so you can leave the washing until the end of the day.) You can also use micro-steam bags (which are placed in the microwave) to clean parts.

Storing Your Milk

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to pump is to build up a supply of milk for baby to drink later -- which means you’ll need a way to store all that lovely liquid. Many breast pump models come with a couple of storage bottles, but if you want more than a couple feedings worth in storage, you'll definitely need more -- or you can pump directly into special breast milk storage bags, which then can be frozen flat in the freezer. Whatever type of container you use, make sure you mark the date on it, and use up your oldest milk first.

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