11th August 2023
Written by Harriet Shuttleworth and Charlotte Treitl
Let’s discuss a tool which is part of many families’ parenting journey: the breast pump.
This article serves as a guide of what there is to know about breast pumps. We’ll explore various types of breast pumps, highlight features, and provide practical considerations. Whether you’re a busy professional or prefer a comfortable approach, our breakdown has you covered. Get ready to make an informed decision as we share insights on selecting the most suitable breast pump for your needs and empower you on the path to parenthood.
In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know to get started , including:
- What is a breast pump?
- What are the benefits of expressing breast milk?
- Should I use a breast pump?
- Reasons why women use breast pumps
- Different types of breast pumps
- Best things to consider when buying a breast pump
- Using a breast pump correctly
- Using a breast pump for the first time
- How much breast milk gets expressed using a pump
- Keeping a breast pump clean
- Double breast pumping
Keep reading to dive into picking out the ultimate breast pump that’s right for you. Our upcoming article spills the beans on all the must-know info, helping you rock your mum-game with confidence and choose the best breast pump for a smooth and comfy journey ahead.
What is a breast pump?
A breast pump is a device that extracts breastmilk from a woman’s lactating breasts after the baby has been born or to induce lactation for non-birthing parents. These can be manual or electronic devices and are not recommended for antenatal expression of colostrum.
What are the benefits of breast pumping?
Breast pumps are important tools for mums for several reasons:
1. Maintaining Milk Supply: Regular and effective pumping helps mothers maintain their milk supply, especially if they are separated from their baby due to work, travel, medical reasons, or other commitments. Pumping stimulates the breasts to produce milk and ensures a steady milk supply for the baby.
2. Feeding Flexibility: Breast pumps allow mothers to provide breast milk even when they are not physically present with their baby. This enables them to feed their baby with breast milk even if they are at work, school, or away for any reason.
3. Relief from Engorgement: Breast pumps can help to alleviate discomfort and engorgement when breasts become overly full. Pumping can also prevent or manage issues such as blocked ducts and mastitis.
4. Shared Feeding Responsibility: Pumped breast milk allows partners, family members, or caregivers to participate in feeding the baby, providing an opportunity for bonding and allowing the mother to rest or take a break.
5. Special Circumstances: In cases where a baby is premature, has difficulty latching, or has specific medical needs, a breast pump can be crucial for ensuring the baby receives breast milk. Pumping also helps mothers establish their milk supply in these situations.
6. Working Mothers: For mothers who return to work after maternity leave, breast pumps enable them to continue providing breast milk for their baby while they are away. Many workplaces have started providing facilities and breaks for mothers to pump milk.
7. Breast Health: Pumping can aid in maintaining breast health by preventing engorgement, reducing the risk of mastitis, and promoting proper milk flow. Regular emptying of the breasts through pumping can prevent issues associated with stagnant milk.
8. Milk Storage: Pumped breast milk can be stored for later use, allowing mothers to build up a supply for times when they are unable to nurse directly. This can be particularly useful for creating a stockpile of milk.
9. Transitioning to Solids: As babies grow and start transitioning to solid foods, breast milk continues to provide valuable nutrients. Pumping allows mothers to continue providing breast milk as a complement to their baby’s diet.
10. Emotional Connection: Breastfeeding is often a deeply emotional experience for mothers. Pumping can help maintain that connection even when direct breastfeeding is not possible, as it allows mothers to provide their own milk to their baby.
In summary, breast pumps offer practical and emotional benefits to mothers by facilitating breastfeeding, providing flexibility, maintaining milk supply, and supporting various situations and circumstances that mothers may encounter.
Should I use a breast pump?
Whether or not you should use a breast pump to express milk once baby has arrived, depends on your individual circumstances, needs, and preferences. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to use a breast pump:
1. Work and Schedule: If you plan to return to work or have other commitments that require you to be away from your baby for extended periods, a breast pump can be very helpful in maintaining your milk supply and ensuring your baby receives breast milk.
2. Milk Supply: If you’re experiencing challenges with milk supply, using a breast pump can help stimulate milk production and increase your supply.
3. Engorgement and Comfort: If you’re experiencing breast engorgement, discomfort, or other breastfeeding-related issues, a breast pump can provide relief by effectively emptying your breasts.
4. Latch Difficulties: In some cases, babies may have difficulty latching onto the breast. A breast pump can help extract milk and maintain milk production until latch issues are resolved.
5. Premature or Ill Babies: If your baby is premature or has medical issues that prevent them from breastfeeding directly, a breast pump can help you provide valuable breast milk to support their growth and development.
6. Partners and Caregivers: Using a breast pump allows partners, family members, or caregivers to participate in feeding and bonding with the baby.
7. Travel or Separation: If you plan to travel without your baby or experience temporary separation, a breast pump can help you continue providing breast milk during your absence.
8. Convenience: Breast pumps offer convenience, especially if you prefer or need to have a store of pumped milk available for various situations.
9. Personal Comfort and Choice: Some mothers prefer using a breast pump to have more control over feeding times, to help balance breastfeeding with other responsibilities, or for personal reasons.
10. Cost and Availability: Consider the cost of purchasing or renting a breast pump, as well as the availability of resources and support for breastfeeding and pumping in your community.
It’s important to note that while breast pumps can offer many benefits, they might not be necessary for every mother’s unique situation. If you’re unsure whether a breast pump is right for you, it’s a good idea to discuss your individual situation with Anya’s lactation consultants who can provide guidance based on your specific needs and goals. Remember that breastfeeding and pumping decisions should ultimately be based on what works best for you and your baby.
The reasons why women use breast pumps
Women use breast pumps for a variety of reasons, based on their individual circumstances and needs. Some common reasons why women use breast pumps are included below.
1. Maintaining Milk Supply: Breast pumps are often used to stimulate and maintain a mother’s milk supply. Regular pumping sessions can help ensure a consistent milk production, especially if a mother is unable to breastfeed directly for extended periods.
2. Returning to Work: Many working mothers use breast pumps to continue providing breast milk to their babies when they return to work after maternity leave. Pumping allows them to collect milk during work hours for later feeding.
3. Feeding Flexibility: Breast pumps provide the flexibility to feed the baby breast milk even when the mother is not available. This is particularly useful for mothers who have appointments, commitments, or situations where they need to be away from the baby.
4. Engorgement Relief: Breast pumps can help alleviate breast engorgement and discomfort by effectively emptying the breasts when they become overly full.
5. Latch Difficulties: If a baby has trouble latching properly or trouble with breastfeeding positioning, using a breast pump can help maintain milk supply until latch issues are resolved.
6. Exclusive Pumping: Some mothers exclusively pump breast milk and feed their babies from bottles. This approach may be chosen for various reasons, such as latch problems, personal preference such as worries over breast tissue changes after breastfeeding, or medical conditions.
7. Premature or Sick Babies: Babies who are born prematurely or have medical conditions that prevent them from breastfeeding directly might receive pumped breast milk to support their growth and development.
8. Supply Boosting: Women with low milk supply or those who are trying to boost their milk production may use breast pumps to increase the amount of breast milk they produce.
9. Milk Donation: Some women pump excess milk to donate to milk banks, which provide breast milk to babies in need, particularly premature infants and babies with medical conditions.
10. Relief from Mastitis or Blocked Ducts: Breast pumps can help relieve discomfort and promote healing in cases of mastitis or blocked milk ducts.
11. Partner or Caregiver Involvement: Using a breast pump allows partners, family members, or caregivers to participate in feeding and bonding with the baby.
12. Travel or Separation: Breast pumps enable mothers to provide breast milk to their babies when traveling or experiencing temporary separation.
13. Creating a Milk Stash: Some mothers pump and store breast milk to build up a stash for future use, emergencies, or times when direct breastfeeding is not possible.
14. Weaning Gradually: A breast pump can be used to gradually reduce breastmilk supply as a baby transitions to solid foods or if moving to other forms of nutrition.
It’s important to note that the reasons for expressing milk using a breast pump can vary widely, and each mother’s situation is unique. Consulting with Anya’s lactation consultants can help you determine the best approach to using a breast pump based on your specific needs and goals.
The different types of breast pumps
Next up: a closer look at breast pump types. We’ll explore manual vs. electric options, helping you find the best match for your needs.
Different types of breast pumps
You may see lots of differing descriptions for pumps, including:
- Manual pumps – These are where your hand (or sometimes foot) does the pumping, with a lever or bulb.
- Electric pumps – Pumps with a motor that is powered by a battery or plugged into the socket.
- Single pumps – These pumps do one breast at a time!
- Double pumps – And these pumps do both breasts together.
- Fixed pumps – You must stay in one place with these pumps, as the pump is plugged into the wall.
- Mobile pumps – A pump where you can move about! Sometimes the pump is in your bra so you can pump hands-free!
- Open circuit – Milk can get into the suction tubes, and theoretically into the body of the pump.
- Closed circuit – It’s impossible for milk to get into the pump because there are valves preventing it.
- Home use pumps – designed for occasional infrequent, expressing and single user.
- Hospital grade pumps – Usually found in healthcare establishments – robust, made for longer-term use, shareable between users.
Best things to consider when buying a breast pump?
When it comes to expressing breast milk, there are different types and styles of breast pumps, and what works best for some will differ for others.
Deciding what is best will come down to various considerations, including how often the breast pump might be used, and the budget. It’s not always necessary to have the swankiest, highest-tech breast pump available if you are just expressing occasionally to leave milk for when you pop out to an appointment. Equally, it’s unlikely that a one-piece silicon pump is going to work effectively enough to make milk for you to leave when returning to full time work.
Breast pumps come in different types and styles, offering varying levels of automation and portability.
Components of a Breast Pump:
Let’s break down the different parts of a breast pump. In this section, we’ll explore the essential components that make up these devices, giving you a clear understanding of how they work together to provide efficient milk expression.
1. Breast Shield or Flange: This is the part that fits over the breast and nipple. It creates a seal to draw out milk effectively.
2. Pump Motor: The motor powers the pumping action, either manually or electrically.
3. Collection Containers: These are the containers that collect the expressed breast milk. They can be attached directly to the breast shield or connected via tubing.
4. Tubing: Tubing connects the breast shields to the motor and collection containers. It carries the milk from the breast shields to the containers.
When choosing a breast pump, considerations such as the below will influence your decision:
- Your pumping frequency
- Specific needs of you or your baby
- Volume of milk needed
It’s a good idea to research different models, read reviews, and consider consulting with one of Anya’s lactation consultants via our app to determine the best type of breast pump for your situation.
How breast pumps work
Curious about how these contraptions actually work? We’ve got you covered.
Using a breast pump
It’s good to know how a breast pump works before it is used.
Pumps use vacuum suction to pull the nipple in and apply pressure to the areola (the darker bit of the breast, which surrounds the nipple) in a rhythmic manner, which stimulates the milk duct to make and release milk. The rhythm of the vacuum pressure, and the woman’s own hormones, work together. Most pumps then have a valve which allows milk into the collecting bottle but doesn’t let milk or air back into the pump flange.
Using a breast pump for the first time
Always consult the manufacturer’s guidance before having a play.
It’s best not to turn the pump on too high at first; but it’s always worth trialing to find something comfortable. We recommend dialing it down a little after you find the sweet spot, so that it will remain comfortable throughout the expression session.
If you are trying to build up a supply of milk for a time in the future then there is no ‘best time’ to express between feeds: you can do little and often over a period of days, storing it in the fridge and adding cooled milk to cooled milk, to make up a full bottle.
When you and your infant are apart, you can express your milk for comfort, every couple of hours or so. Make sure you have somewhere safe and clean to store the breast milk you express.
Some mums respond well to placing a clean sock over the pump bottle, so they are not able to watch the volume of milk in the bottle as it fills.
How much breastmilk gets pumped?
Breast milk supply stays constant after it has initially been established, usually around 2 or 3 weeks of age, until it starts to drop when the baby starts to take food as well as milk, from 6 months onwards.
This little known fact is crucial for understanding, as there is an idea that the supply would need to increase and increase over time, whereas the reality is that from taking no milk on the day before birth, by 2 weeks or so of age most babies will be taking about 750mL in 24 hours, which will only rise to approximately 900mL by the time baby is 6 months or so.
Those who are exclusively expressing may find that they express more at each session, but need fewer expressing sessions to supply all the milk for baby as time moves on; and those who are exclusively breastfeeding may find that baby feeds less frequently, leaving larger gaps between feeds, while continuing to grow and develop as expected.
How to use a breast pump successfully.
This section explains how to rock that pump like a pro, ensuring a smooth and successful expressing journey.
How to clean a breast pump
Maintaining a breast pump is important so it’s good to know what you need to do to keep it clean.
Fresh breastmilk contains components which help to keep it fresh; natural antivirals, anti-fungals and anti-bacterials. You should follow your breast pump manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and sterilising. It is recommended to wash bottles and pump components thoroughly in hot soapy water between uses and keep your breast pump sterile. It is advised to sterilise your breast pump before its initial use. The good news is that most pump parts are dishwasher-safe for convenience.
Breast Pumping Tips
Any other information or resources to help.
Is it possible to double pump your breasts?
Yes, it is possible to double pump breast milk.
If you have an electrical double pump, then it’s advisable to use both flanges at once to optimise the use and efficacy of the pump.
If you only have a single pump, you can pump on one side and hand express on the other (see more on this within the Anya app) at the same time, or you can alternate sides with the single pump, just as a baby might. Additionally, if you have use of two single pumps, you could use them both together.
It’s well documented that double pumping – providing stimulation to both breasts at once – creates a better hormonal response and therefore boosts the milk yield from the pump expression.
If you have questions about how this might work in your specific situation, you can always ask for support within the app.
Get started with breast pumping today
Armed with these insights, you’re well-equipped to make a confident choice regarding breast pumping. Remember, the right approach varies for each individual. Your unique circumstances and preferences will guide you toward the most suitable path. Our aim is to empower you with knowledge, ensuring you embark on your breastfeeding journey armed with the tools to navigate it successfully.