Express yourself: A guide to breast pumps

Keeping baby’s tummy full is tough. Sometimes, breastfeeding just doesn’t work. Using a breast pump can be a great way to make the job of raising a baby easier while making sure baby gets the nutritional benefits of breast milk. There’s plenty of reasons why you may need to use a breast pump, whether it be excess milk production, problems with breastfeeding, or needing to be separated from your baby for a long period of time, such as if you’re going back to work. You can express milk by hand, but many find it a lot easier to use a breast pump. So, here is our complete guide to help you find the best breast pump for your needs.

guide to breast pumpsWhat are breast pumps?

Breast pumps are devices designed to mimic the way babies nurse, extracting milk from the breast to use straight away or to store for later use. The three main components are the breast shield (or “flange”) which goes over the breast, a collection container, and a pumping mechanism.

How do breast pumps work?

Breast pumps can be operated manually by pumping them with your hands, or electronically with an automated pump cycle.

Why would I use a breast pump?

There’s no wrong reason to use a breast pump. Everyone’s child-rearing experience and needs are different, so don’t allow anyone to judge you for your choices. Some of the reasons a breast pump may be used include:

  • Baby struggling to breastfeed
  • Painful and/or engorged breasts
  • Needing to return to work
  • Sharing feeding duties with dad or other family members
  • Inducing lactation for an adopted baby, or if you’re having trouble producing enough milk
  • Emergency supply
  • Having a break. Breastfeeding can be exhausting, especially when you need to feed every few hours
  • If your baby is born premature or spends time in neonatal intensive care unit and can’t nurse right away, breast pumps can help you establish your milk supply

Everyone has different experiences and different needs, so never let anyone shame you for using a breast pump. Australian law protects you from discrimination for breastfeeding or expressing milk at work. It can be both more convenient and more comfortable for you to express milk throughout the working day, so your employer must provide reasonable accommodations for you to breastfeed or express milk, although unfortunately legislation is not specific on this.

mother using breast pumpWhat kind of breast pump do I need? 

The type of breast pump you will need depends on the reason you’re pumping. For example, it’s probably not worth forking out the big bucks for a top of the line electric breast pump if you just need something to relieve engorgement or sore nipples.

Two important questions to ask yourself before buying a breast pump are:

How often will I need or want to pump?

Do I need something portable?

Manual (hand) breast pumps

  • Good for irregular/infrequent usage
  • The cheapest option
  • Some women find it easier to have more direct control over the pumping action, while others find it difficult to express milk compared to electric types
  • These may be a good option if you’re simply expressing to relieve pain or engorgement from excess production
  • Generally only single-pump available – it usually requires two hands to use effectively

Personal-use electric breast pumps

  • Electric powered suction device, so just pop the flanges on and go
  • Use if you’re seeking to pump most or at least a large portion of your baby’s milk supply, for example if you’re storing for baby to be fed while you go back to work
  • Could also be a good investment if you plan to have multiple children, or will be pumping for several months or longer
  • Speed and suction strength are often adjustable
  • Come in either single or double pumps. Save time by pumping both breasts at once!
  • Models range in size, with some designed to be lighter and more portable, while more heavy-duty ones are harder to carry around

Hospital-grade electric breast pumps

  • Usually preferred for short-term usage where you need to pump multiple times per day, or if you need a particularly strong device
  • Good for those encountering difficulty maintaining an adequate supply, inducing lactation for an adopted or premature baby, or has multiple babies to feed and needs the extra pumping power to stimulate more production
  • Very expensive to buy outright, but can be rented for a reasonable fee
  • These are heavier and bulkier, which can make it hard to carry around with you e.g. to and from work

What size breast pump do I need?

The breast shields that come with a pump, also known as ‘flanges’, may not be the right size for you. When using the right size flanges and properly attached, it shouldn’t hurt. If you’re experiencing any pain, or your breasts are still full after pumping, you may need a different size (usually a larger one). You can buy replacement shields in different sizes from baby supply stores.

How much do breast pumps cost?

Below is a price comparison of several major brands and retailers. These prices are intended as a guide only. Also bear in mind that some breast pumps come with kits and a number of accessories, while others do not. You can individually purchase accessories such as replacement parts, extra storage containers, and other add-ons.

Manual Electric
Single Single Double
Philips Avent $69 – $119 $169 – $299 $399
Mendela $59 – $99 $180 – $339 $299 – $599
Closer to Nature (Tommee Tippee) $65 – $90 $139 – $240 /
Spectra $49 – $55 / $229 – $379
Pigeon $57 – $99 $225 – $299 /
Dr Browns $67 – $89 / $179 – $249
NUK $59 $129 – $349 /

Source: Respective websites and retail outlets October 2016

Can you hire a breast pump?

Breast pumps can be hired from some hospitals, pharmacies, Australian Breastfeeding Association local groups (which cover a number of regional areas) and specialist hire outlets. The hire fee ranges from $15 to $50 per week, plus a refundable deposit. You will also need to purchase your own new kit (including breast shield, collection bottles, and several attachment components), which usually costs around $70-$100.

Where can I buy a breast pump?

Breast pumps are medical devices, so it’s important to make sure you’re buying a reputable product. This isn’t worth going to ebay for a bargain. Baby supply stores will have a wide range of pumps, but you can also find them at department stores, some appliance stores, and some chemists.

Can I use a second-hand breast pump?

Absolutely not. Never buy a second hand breast pump, or use a hand-me-down beast pump from a friend or relative. Even if it’s been well cleaned, it’s not worth the risk of bacteria and viruses being transferred to your baby. Tiny particles of milk will have contaminated parts of the device that can’t be cleaned or sterilised. Furthermore, as motors lose their strength and seals deteriorate with age, an older one is likely less effective.

Rental hospital pumps are carefully designed so that no breast milk can get inside the pump, unlike personal-use ones. If you use a rental beast pump, as long as you use your own brand new collection kit, it will be safe.

How do I use my breast pump?

Read the instructions that come with your breast pump, as different breast pumps work in different ways. A good idea is to practice in advance so you’re fully prepared to meet your new baby’s needs.

An important question is when and how often you should express milk. It really depends on what you’re using your breast pump for, and your comfort. Some people find they can quickly get a lot of milk expressed every few hours, while others find it easier and more comfortable to express small amounts more frequently. The most important thing is to follow your comfort. It also takes practice, so don’t be stressed if you struggle at first.

how to store breast milkHow do I store expressed breast milk? 

Freshly expressed milk can be safely kept at room temperature or colder for 6-8 hours at most. If you have access to a refrigerator, you should store it there instead. Breast milk can be kept in the fridge for up to 72 hours.

It can be a good idea to freeze an emergency supply. How long it keeps will depend on how cold your freezer is. Milk can be kept for two weeks in a refrigerator compartment inside a fridge, up to three months if your fridge has a separate freezer section, and six to 12 months in deep freeze (i.e. below -20°C).

Milk thawed in the refrigerator should be used within 24 hours, and within four hours if thawed outside of the refrigerator. Do not refreeze breast milk – if it’s thawed but not used, it should be thrown away.

Once an infant has begun feeding from a bottle of breast milk, any remains should be discarded and not stored for later use.

How do I clean my breast pump?

The pump parts must be cleaned thoroughly after each use, although this doesn’t necessarily mean sterilising them every single time. Refer to your pump’s instructions to see which parts need to be cleaned.

Wash with warm soapy water, then rinse with hot water for 10 to 15 seconds before leaving to air dry on a clean paper towel. Your pump’s manual will include specific cleaning instructions. Not all components should be cleaned – for example, don’t clean the tubing unless milk gets into it. If you notice water droplets in the tubing after pumping, just turn the pump back on for a few minutes to dry it out.

breast pump guideReady to pick your pump?

Remember to balance your needs with your budget. Questions you should think about when looking for a breast pump include:

  • Where will I be pumping? Do I need something light, compact, or portable?
  • How often will I be pumping?
  • How much do I need to pump? Will pumping be the main way of feeding my baby?
  • Do I need a double pump to get more milk expressed in a shorter amount of time, or would I prefer to pump one breast at a time?
  • How long do I expect to be using a breast pump?

Your needs may change. For example, you may find that at first you need a strong, reliable electric double pump which you mostly use at home, but then may need a small manual pump to carry with you on the occasional day out. Regardless of what kind of pump you want to use, we recommend shopping around to get the best deal and the right set to take the stress out of feeding baby.

Everyone has different experiences and different needs, so never let anyone shame you for using a breast pump. Australian law protects you from discrimination for breastfeeding or expressing milk at work. It can be both more convenient and more comfortable for you to express milk throughout the working day.  Your employer must provide reasonable accommodations for you to breastfeed or express milk, although unfortunately legislation is not specific on this.

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