Choosing the Right Breast Pump

by Dr. Michele Brown

choosing a breast pumpLet's face it. A breast pump is not the most romantic, or glamorous, piece of equipment ever invented. They can be bulky and uncomfortable, hard to clean and very expensive. Even worse, when lifted out of their boxes, they may seem extremely intimidating to use on something as delicate as our breasts. Personally, I would rather spend this kind of money on a cute Kate Spade purse, or a nice pair of Gucci pumps...not a breast pump!

Does a Breastfeeding Woman Really Need One?

The answer is maybe...

It's a well known fact that breast feeding has significant benefits to both mother and baby. Four million pregnant women in America are currently employed and the majority will want to return to the workforce soon after delivery.

This should not be a deterrent for breastfeeding and therefore, it becomes extremely important for women to be encouraged to continue to breastfeed their newborns in a safe, efficient, and effective way while still carrying on their daily work lives. Since women are not available for demand feeding, it becomes vital to know how to use a breast pump so another caregiver can provide milk for the newborn.

Who Should Use a Breast Pump?

Learning how to use a pump is important in the following situations:

  • Women returning to work and not available for feeding.
  • Premature infants lacking a good suck reflex can benefit from breast milk that is pumped making it easier for them to feed.
  • Mom is unable to breastfeed due to sickness.
  • Infants having difficulty removing milk from the breast due to anatomy when other techniques to correct fail.

How Does a Breast Pump Work?

Pumping milk from the breast has its origins from the dairy industry in the 1950's by Einar Egnell. Pumps have been designed to simulate the sucking action of a nursing infant by mimicking both the suction pressure and the frequency of a baby's suckling. Pumps are designed so that the amount of pressure and the cycle frequency can be regulated by the mother.

The volume of expressed milk with a breast pump is higher compared to manual expression.

Pressure: The pump has to have enough pressure to extract milk from the breast but not so high that it causes pain and skin trauma. The pump relies on the physics of a fluid moving from an area of higher pressure to an area of of lower pressure. The breast pump creates a pressure differential with negative pressure on the breast reducing the resistance to the outflow of milk from the milk ducts of the mother, which is at a higher pressure.

Babies breast feed with a suction pressure of 50–220 mm Hg so the pumps are designed to suck at maximum negative pressures at about 220–250 mm Hg. Levels at less that 150 mm Hg are ineffective in emptying the breast and pressures greater than 220 mm Hg may cause nipple pain which will result in the mother terminating her breast feeding.

Pumps can vary in the configuration of the flange (cup applied to the breast). The smaller the cup, the more pressure is exerted over a smaller area of space.

Frequency: The other important factor is the length of time the vacuum is applied. Babies suck at a frequency of between 40 and 126 sucks per minute and pumps are designed to mimic the breast by pumping at 40–60 cycles per minute.

Selecting the Proper Breast Pump

There are so many pumps available today with countless cycle and suction settings, different sizes, power sources, single versus double set-ups and varying prices that it becomes a great enigma in choosing the right one for an individual. Important considerations in choosing a breast pump include:

  • baby's age
  • Mother's work needs (full time or part time)
  • Support from the mother's work environment
  • Mother's finances
  • Family's health insurance

Price differences can be based on the durability of the motor, length of the manufacturer's warranty, style of packaging, personal amenities, and have single or double set-ups.