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Types of Breast Pumps:  Manual, Semi-Electric & Electric

Written by Certified Lactation Consultant
RN, IBCLC

Congratulations!  You have already made one of the most important decisions for your baby, breastfeeding.  Now you need to decide how you will express your milk if you have to be away from your baby for a little while and what type of breast pump to use. 

manual breast pump

Women around the world manually express their breastmilk.  It is not difficult, but it takes some patience and practice to master the technique.  It is, however, a technique worth learning.  On those rare occasions, when you are running late, or caught without your pump, expressing just a little milk by hand can prevent painful engorgement.  Some mothers consider manual expression messy, because milk sprays from multiple nipple openings.  Manual expression can be labor intensive and time consuming.  It can take up to 45 minutes, or more, to completely express the milk.  (See: Manual Expression)

Most women prefer purchasing a breast pump to express milk for their baby.  Pumps are faster and cleaner than manual expression, and only take a few minutes to learn how to use.  Three basic pump types are available at Breast Pump Deals:  Manual, Semi-Electric and Electric.  Which one you decide to purchase will depend on your needs.  (See: How to Choose a Breast Pump)

Time was…

Breast pumps have come a long way since the glass bicycle horn pump we had in the early 1970’s (they are actually still available in some places).  They had a stiff squeeze bulb, a tiny area to catch milk and could produce prolonged, often damaging, suction against the breast. 

The first pump I used, some 28 years ago, was a slight variation on the bicycle horn theme.    It had a bottle for collecting the milk, but still had a squeeze bulb that was impossible to clean properly.  There was no way to control how much or for how long the suction was applied to the breast.

The cylinder-in-cylinder type pump was a slight improvement over a squeeze bulb.  It gave mom more control over the strength and duration of suction.  It had a rubber gasket at the bottom that wasn’t supposed to touch the milk, but when it inevitably did, at least, cleaning was easy.  The cylinders often pulled apart accidentally, spilling precious mother’s milk everywhere.  Unfortunately, the amount of suction it could generate was still a danger to breast tissue if used incorrectly.

Thankfully, today’s breast pumps, designed closer to how the breast releases milk for the baby, are safe, sanitary and much easier to use.

Manual Breast Pumps

Manual breast pumps are good for occasional use.  They work well for exclusively breastfeeding moms, who will only be away from baby for short periods.  A manual pump can help draw out flat or inverted nipples.  It can also be helpful in relieving the temporary engorgement that can occur when your milk “comes in.”  The manual pump has a few disadvantages: it takes time to learn, it can be tiring for your hands, and in general, is more time consuming than semi-electric and electric pumps.

Semi-Electric (Battery Powered) Breast Pumps

Several battery-powered types of breast pumps are available.  They are good for the mom who needs to pump no more than once or twice a week.  They are small enough to carry in a purse or lunch bag, assemble easily, and clean up in a snap.  Most models have adjustable suction.  Mom controls the rhythm of the pump with her hand or finger.  It takes most women approximately 30-40 minutes to pump with a semi-electric pump.  It is possible to double pump, to spend less time pumping, by purchasing 2 units.  Having a dead battery can be disastrous when you need to pump, so, an AC adapter or rechargeable batteries are highly recommended.  Occasionally, moms express concern about the buzzing sound a battery-powered pump makes, but, for most women, the sound isn’t a drawback to pumping.

Electric Breast Pumps

electric breast pump

For the mom who is pumping two or more times daily, a fully electric pump is her best choice.  An electric pump is generally a necessity for the mom whose baby is temporarily unable to feed directly at the breast.  Electric pumps are durable; yet lightweight.  Fully electric pumps have several options that are not available with battery powered pumps such as: automatic suction and speed control, programmed pumping sessions, built in carrying case, on board milk storage unit, hands free operation, and battery backup.  Electric pumps have a smooth operating rhythm and make very little noise.  With a single attachment, pumping takes about 20 to 30 minutes.  Double pumping attachments (available with all electric breast pumps), can cut pumping time in half.  Pumping both breasts at the same time increases mom’s levels of milk making hormones, which help maintain her milk supply better than the single attachment.

Whichever type breast pump you choose, manual, semi-electric, or electric, you will have peace of mind knowing that Breast Pump Deals' trusted, brand name, breast pumps are up to the task.