In this several part series, I’ll explore milk expression from a variety of angles: different types of breast pumps, personal testimony about expressing milk, how to use the Marmet technique, and breast milk storage tips.
Editor’s Note: All types of milk expression, including the use of breast pumps, only aid in the let-down reflex and do not suction out breast milk. No matter how a mother chooses to express milk, the most efficient way to remove milk from the breast is to simply bring the infant to the breast. Also one does not need a breast pump in order to express milk. Hand expression is also equally affective.
Today, I’ll talk about breast pumps: the type of breast pumps and their basic parts.
Manual breast pumps: There are two types of manual breast pumps: hand operated and foot operated. The most common is the hand operated. These are inexpensive pumps where the mechanism is controlled entirely by the operator. You either squeeze or pull in order to create suction. Manual breast pumps are most effective for occasional use because these pumps aren’t as effective as other types of pumps and overtime wear out easily. Bicycle horn style manual breast pumps are no longer recommended for use.
Electric breast pumps: There are numerous types of electric breast pumps. You can buy a pump that uses batteries, plugs into an outlet, plugs into a cigarette lighter, or any combination of these. Some breast pumps only allow you to pump from one breast (single breast pumps) at a time while others (referred to as double breast pumps) will allow you to pump both breasts simultaneously. Some double breast pumps have the ability to convert to single breasts pumps. Also a number of electric breast pumps can be converted into manual pumps. You can rent or purchase (if you have the funds) a hospital grade pump which is supposedly the most powerful and effective type. Hospital grade pumps are usually larger and designed for multiple women. Personal pumps are smaller, more portable, and meant for one user. Unlike hospital grade pumps, most personal pumps are open collection pumps. Closed collection pumps are designed so that milk does not get into the tubing or exposed to the motor. Open collection pumps sometime have problems as the tubing can get milk in it which can lead to mold growth. Although open collection pumps allow more flow of air or suction. There’s no conclusive evidence to suggest which type, open or closed, is more effective in milk collection.
All pumps come with three basic parts: flanges also called breast shields (which come in a variety of sizes for a good fit around the nipple), the pumping mechanism, and a detachable storage container, usually a reusable bottle. Most pumps also have valves to prevent milk from coming up the breast shield when the containers are too full. Electric pumps also come with tubing. If you use a closed collection system, you will have some sort of diaphragm and cap to keep milk from going through the tubing. See side picture. For comparison the parts are in order, left to right, from two different double electric pumps: breast shields/flanges, valves, (diaphragm from Ameda), collection bottles, tubing with caps (Medela’s diaphragms are built in the caps), and Ameda’s pumping mechanism.
How one chooses a pump depends on two things: how often a person intends to pump and the amount of time a person has to pump. If you are working outside the home or intend to donate pumped milk, you may want to invest in an electric double pump. If you have to care for multiple children, you may want to invest in an electric double pump. If you wish to boost your milk supply, you may want to invest in an electric pump of some sort or rent one. If, on the other hand, you only need a pump to relieve engorgement, you may want to rent a pump or purchase a manual pump.
I would recommend before investing in a pump of any kind to rent a pump. This may help you determine what type of pump you need or if you are even able to pump effectively at all.
Please refer to your owner’s manual of your pump for pumping instructions, set-up, cleaning/care, and storage.
For more information about pumping itself, please continue to read the series in the next following weeks.
Article by Laura Weirich
Laura Weirich has been married for four years and has two sons. She's been breastfeeding for nearly two years and currently tandem nurses her toddler and infant. A big proponent of breastfeeding, she's been educating her friends and family about the benefits of breastfeeding and helping other women along the way. When she's not nursing, she chases a toddler all day, washes cloth diapers, tries to catch a few zs and reads up on the latest research about children.
Laura has written 33 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.