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How to Buy: A Breast Pump

From manual to electric, we’ve got your crash course in how to buy the perfect pump for you.

Okay, we’re just going to put it out there: No matter how effective your pump is, you might feel a little bit like a cow at first. There’s just no way around it. Don’t let this turn you off the pump itself, though -- you’ll (hopefully) work through your feelings and, even if you don’t, you’re providing a valuable service to your baby. Let that be your mantra as you sit there feeling like livestock.

Take advantage of your time at the hospital to talk with the staff lactation consultant -- if you’re still not sure what type of pump to go for, she should be able to help guide you and even teach you how to start using it. When you do invest in a pump, whether it’s before or after you deliver, don’t open it until you’re sure you’re going to be using it -- once the seal is broken, it can’t be returned.

There are three main types of pumps: hospital-grade, electric, and manual.

Hospital-grade pumps
These are the most powerful pumps, and can be used to establish milk supply for mothers who are separated from their babies due to complications on either end. Hospital-grade pumps are also available to rent from both stores and hospitals. You might consider this option if you’re unsure about breastfeeding and want to try it for a few weeks before you invest in a pump of your own. Keep in mind: If you do rent a pump, you’ll need to buy your own flanges, tubes, and collection bottles.

Electric pumps
These come in either double or single breast styles and are generally single-user only. This means they shouldn’t be shared with friends. Even if you’re using your own collection equipment, small drops of milk can still get inside the pump and pass viruses and bacteria.

If you’ll be working full-time and pumping daily, go for a double-breast model. Electric is the most efficient way to pump and most closely mimics baby’s natural sucking pattern. Remember, you’re pumping not just to provide milk for baby, but to keep up your milk supply. With a high-quality pump, expect to spend roughly 15 minutes per pumping session. They generally come with most of the necessary accessories, including a case, cooling carrier, collection containers, storage bags, and even bottles and nipples. When you’re buying a pump of this grade, invest wisely. With pumps, you really do get what you pay for, and it’s worth it -- particularly if you plan on using it for future children. Just think of all the money you’re saving on formula!

Single-breast pumps are less efficient than double-breast pumps, but are also smaller and cheaper. These are good options for moms who are away from baby no more than several hours a week but want the speed and efficiency of an electric pump.

Manual pumps
These can be much smaller and simpler than their electric counterparts and, as their name suggests, are operated by a squeezable hand pump. Working mothers who generally rely on double-breast pumps often like to have a manual pump on hand to toss in their purse for emergencies, especially in the early weeks when breasts become engorged. Stay-at-home mothers also might appreciate having one of these on hand, just in case they’re separated from baby for some reason. (You’re better off spending the same amount of money on a high-quality manual pump than a lower quality single electric.)

Pump elements

Flanges/breastshields
Often used interchangeably, these terms refer to the soft, cone-shaped cup that fits over your nipples and areolas. Look for a pump that has the option to change out flange sizes, since your needs may change over time, or the one that comes with it might just not fit right. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of situation…in fact, it’s not even always one-size-fits-you. Valves and membranes connect the flanges with the tubing.
Tubing
Milk flows through these into the collection bottles.

Pump
This creates the vacuum that suctions out your milk.

Collection bottles
 Your milk flows into these detachable parts. You can also pump straight into bottles, so if you have a specific bottle brand in mind, be sure to check and make sure they’re compatible with your pump. 

Adjustments
Both the suction level and the cycle rate should be adjustable, so that you can control the intensity and rate at which the pump sucks and releases.

Electricity source
You’ll get most flexibility from a pump that can run from either a power cord or disposable or rechargeable batteries. You can also look for a car adaptor if you’ll be pumping on the go.   

Case
Most double-breast pumps come with a case of their own, for both the pump itself and all its accessories. If not, you’ll want to invest in something durable and discreet for the office.

Insulated bag/ice packs/cooler
These are for keeping the milk cool once it’s been pumped. Even if you have a fridge handy at work, you’ll want some type of cooling system to tote your milk home in.

Warranty
High-quality pumps generally come with a year’s warranty.

Accessibility
When you buy a pump, consider how easy it is to find replacement parts in case something breaks or gets lost. You should be able to buy single parts at a nearby store or call a customer service line and have whatever you need overnighted -- because when your pump doesn’t work, it really is a crisis.


Pumping accessories

Storage bags or containers
Once you’ve pumped, you’ll need something to store your milk in. Bags are the easiest, because they take up the least amount of space in the freezer. Be sure to mark each bag with the date, time, and amount pumped. And no, plastic ziptop bags won’t do -- you need ones made specifically for breastmilk. To keep your milk fresh, remember the rule of 5: breastmilk stays good for 5 hours at room temperature, 5 days in the refrigerator, and 5 months in the freezer. 

Lansinoh HPA Lanolin
This much-loved lanolin cream works wonders for sore breasts. 

Nursing pads
Keep these on hand for leaky breasts -- there’s nothing like going into an important meeting with small signs of lactation on your chest.

Gel pads
If pumping is especially hard on your breasts, these soothing packs can be placed inside a nursing bra for extra soothing.
 
Pumping bra
This holds the collection bottles in place, leaving your hands free to work, talk on the phone, update your Facebook status or pretty much anything else while you pump. It zips right over your nursing bra, so you don’t even need to disrobe entirely.

Cleaning gear
Any part that comes into contact with your milk -- flanges, membranes, valves, and collection gear -- needs to be washed after each pumping session, so this is a pretty big job. You can simply wash with soap and water or boil the equipment, or you can buy microwavable bags that steam clean in a few minutes. (Because they need to be cleaned so frequently, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a spare set of parts to allow some leeway with cleaning time. This will also come in handy if you lose a piece.) Tubes usually only need to be washed if there’s milk overflow or moisture. You may also want wipes for the pump itself, in case milk drips on it.

-- Paula Kashtan

See More: Baby Gear , Baby Registry , Breastfeeding

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