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How to Choose a Breast Pump

Written by Certified Lactation Consultant

The information presented here is to help you choose the breast pump that is right for you and your baby. If you still have questions or concerns, contact your local lactation professional.

breastfeeding motherChoosing a breast pump can be confusing, overwhelming, even intimidating. There are an ever-increasing variety of styles, from multiple manufacturers, with different features for every pump. We’ve made our product descriptions as complete as possible, including customer reviews, to help you in your decision. However, a breast pump is a very personal item. The pump should suit your personal needs and lifestyle. We’ve included a few side-by-side comparison charts to help you.

How long it takes to pump, and how much milk a mom pumps, varies from mom to mom and from pumping session to pumping session. Getting a specific pump isn’t a guarantee that you will pump as much or more milk than your friend or co-worker does with a particular pump. Certain types of pumps are easier to use and express milk much faster than others.


Answering a few questions will help you in your decision:

Will you be away from your baby every once in a while, or on a daily basis? How do you plan to use the pump? Would you like to have some milk stashed in the freezer “just in case,” or will you need a regular supply to feed your baby while you are away at work?

If you plan on occasional pumping, a manual breast pump might be the right choice for you. Some women are able to build a “freezer stash” by using a one-handed manual or semi-electric pump on one breast while baby nurses at the opposite side. When baby stimulates the “milk ejection reflex,” or letdown while you pump, only minimal effort is needed to pump.


Are there any physical problems that might make pumping difficult?

If you have any problems with your hands or arms (like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), a manual pump may not be a good choice for you. Manual breast pumps use the motion and strength of the hand and/or arm muscles for pumping. A manual pump many not be appropriate for women with musculoskeletal problems of the hand and/or arm.


Where will you be using the pump? Is there an electric socket close by that you can use when you pump at work? How much time will you have to pump? Are you planning on pumping at work with limited break time?

If you are going to be returning to work the typical 6 weeks after your baby is born, you may need to pump 2 or 3 times a day at first, depending on how long you will be away from baby (don’t forget to include commuting time). (See: Managing Working And Pumping)

Moms who are pumping daily find an electric breast pump, that pumps both breasts at the same time, is the easiest to use and saves time pumping (compared to semi-electric and manual pumps). Electric pumps come with several useful options designed to make pumping quick and efficient. These pumps cycle automatically and at a rate closer to a baby’s, than manual and battery power models can imitate. Some of the newer models are designed with computer chips that allow mom to set the pump cycles closer to her baby’s nursing patterns. For example: a baby’s suckling pattern typically starts with quick, short bursts, followed by a longer, deeper, suckling pattern.


breastfeeding mother

Will you be taking the pump back and forth with you? Do you travel frequently because of your job? Will you be away from the baby for several days at a time? Does your job involve any international travel?

You will need a breast pump that is easily transported and fits into small spaces. Many of the pump models come in a carrying case that looks like a large handbag or small overnight bag; even backpack style cases are available. These carrying cases will hold the pump and all your pumping supplies. Some have built in cooling compartments for your pumped milk with reusable cooling packs. In addition to plugging into a standard wall socket, some models have rechargeable battery packs, and an optional 12-volt adapter is available for most models. A 12-volt adapter allows you to plug the pump into your car’s accessory outlet (or cigarette lighter in older cars). If you plan to pump in the same place every time, or have a place where you can safely keep your pump at work, you may not need to worry about how easy the pump is to transport.


Can baby nurse directly at the breast? Does baby need a constant supply of pumped milk because of prematurity or illness? Are you pumping to establish your milk supply, or to feed a premature baby?

For the woman who is trying to establish her milk supply without her baby, because the baby is unable to nurse directly at the breast, one of the larger rental units (or multi user pumps) is preferred. You will find rental depots listed on both Medela’s and Ameda’s web pages. Pumps typically rent for about $2.50 per day and some depots may have a monthly rate that is a little less expensive. Hospital grade, multi-user pumps like the Ameda Elite and the Medela Symphony, can be purchased on our site.

Still not sure about breastfeeding and pumping? Visit our page: How Much Does Formula Feeding Really Cost?


Important note: If you use any powered breast pump, you need to be prepared for emergency situations, when electricity or extra batteries may not be available. A back-up method, such as a manual breast pump attachment, will help maintain your breast-pumping schedule. The FDA has tips on using medical devices in an emergency. (http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/Safety/EmergencySituations/ucm055987.htm)

During your decision making process, it is a good idea to look at the instructions included with several different pumps. Choose a pump that is easy to put together, use, take apart, and clean. We’ve included a few PDF files of actual product manuals below. You can review the instructions here, on line, or download the files so, you can review them later.

One last word: If you are trying to save money and considering purchasing or borrowing a used pump, please, take a minute to review our information first: Why You Shouldn’t Get a Used Pump.