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Breastpumps 101

As you look forward to your baby’s arrival, you are probably looking at lists of essential items to have ready.  One of the more mystifying things on your list may be a breast pump, especially if this is your first baby.  Perhaps your friend or relative has offered to give you hers or buy you one as a gift.  How do you make the choice?

There are three general categories of breast pump.  Your personal situation will decide the appropriate pump. 

Hospital-grade pumps are designed to be very durable, lasting for many years and used by many mothers.  Although no pump is exactly like a baby, these will most closely resemble the suckling of a baby. They are all double (pumping both breasts at once), fully automatic, electric pumps.  They are considered closed-systems, incorporating a filter or other barrier so that no microscopic pathogens may enter the motor housing.  Each mother has her own kit, which includes the tubing, the filter/barrier, and the parts that touch the mother or her milk.  Commonly available brands of hospital-grade pumps in Austin include Ameda, Hygeia and Medela.  There are several models within each brand, each with their own special features.  Depending on the model, rental prices for the motor range from $55 – $80 per month.  Rental stations will also have the kit available for purchase; or you may receive one if you have a hospital birth.

Hospital-grade pumps can also be purchased by special order and range in price from about $700 – $2000.  They can also be found used but, as a buyer, beware.  Consider getting the serial number and calling the manufacturer to be sure the particular pump isn’t considered “missing” from a rental station. 

You will need a hospital-grade pump to establish and protect your milk supply:

  •  If you will be separated from your baby for any length of time or your baby is not nursing well before breastfeeding is well established.
  • If your baby has a condition such as cleft palate that prevents effective breastfeeding.
  • If you choose to exclusively pump your milk rather than feed the baby directly at the breast.
  • If you will be breastfeeding multiples.

Professional-grade pumps are also double, electric, fully-automatic pumps.  They are designed to be used by a mother with a well-established milk supply but who will be separated from her baby for a few feedings each day.  Most of these pumps are open-systems and do not have the protective barrier to prevent pathogens from entering the motor.  Since the motor cannot be fully sanitized, these are considered single-user pumps and should not be used by more than one mother.  Some, such as the Hygeia EnJoye, do have a filter and can be rented or passed on to another mother after the original owner is done with it.  Be aware that professional-grade pump motors have a shorter lifespan than hospital-grade pumps and may lose effectiveness or simply burn out over time.  Most have a one-year manufacturer’s warranty on the motor but typically last longer.  Replacement parts for the kit are readily available.  The Ameda Purely Yours, Hygeia EnJoye, and Medela Pump-In-Style and Freestyle are all professional-grade pumps and range in price from about $220 – $380.  At about the $300 price point, you will find features such as rechargeable batteries and timers.

Occasional-use pumps are designed for a mother who will be with her baby for almost all feedings but may want to give a bottle on occasion, generally less than once per day.  They can be manual or electric.  Many pump only one breast at a time.  They are not designed to withstand heavy use and will have a shorter warranty period.  Prices range from $30 – $200.

How to Decide

If you are planning to stay at home with your baby, you may not need a pump at all!  Many breastfeeding mothers never use one.  They manage separations from their baby between feedings or take the baby with them.  Breastfed babies are very portable. 

If you know you will have extended separation from your baby in the future such as going back to work, you will want at least a professional-grade pump.  However, you may want to put off the purchase until a couple weeks after your baby is born.  If you educate yourself and do what’s necessary to get breastfeeding off to a good start, everything will most likely go smoothly, but there is always the chance that you will need a hospital-grade pump for a few weeks until breastfeeding is well established.  With that in mind, investing in a professional-grade pump before the birth can be a bit of a gamble.  If you expect it to do the job of a hospital-grade pump, you could be gambling with your milk supply.  If you just feel more comfortable having the pump before the birth, go ahead and get it, but allow yourself to rent a hospital-grade pump for a short time if it turns out to be necessary.  You will be able to rely on your purchased pump later when the little bumps in breastfeeding are resolved.

If you have a history of low milk supply with previous babies or you know your baby has a condition that will prevent effective feeding at the breast, plan to have a hospital-grade pump available immediately after the birth.  This will allow you to begin pumping within hours of the birth to establish a copious milk supply right from the start.

Because different breast pumps are designed to meet different needs, read, ask questions, and educate yourself before you make an investment.