Updated: Aug 1, 2021
by Alissa Pemberton – Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant & Holistic Sleep Coach www.motherandmilk.co.uk
With so many brands and types of pumps on the market, it becomes yet another overwhelming decision to make before your baby arrives. Of course, cost, will also play a part in your decision.
Keep reading for all you need to know about how different types of breast pumps work, which might be most effective for you and the best budget friendly options. Keep in mind your breastfeeding situation might change, and if you're having significant difficulties with low supply it's worth seeking support from an IBCLC or breastfeeding supporter, and also considering hiring a hospital grade pump if this is recommended to you.
Manual Breast Pumps
Most brands will have in their range a manual breast pump. These models are usually fairly cheap, they are light and easily portable and can be used for occasional expressing if you are away from your baby. Manual pumps don't have the same strength of suction as electric pumps, so for mums with a large milk supply and a quick letdown they may find a manual pump works well. Some mothers find however that manual pumps just don't have strong enough suction to remove much milk, and it can become tiring as you have to constantly use your hand to compress the pump throughout the time you're expressing.
Pros: Lightweight, easily portable, doesn't require batteries or mains power, cheap. Cons: Suction isn't strong enough to be used to increase milk supply in case of low supply, can become tiresome and is slow to use if expressing multiple times per day.
Best for: Mums will well established supply who want an easy portable pump for occasional expressing.
Silicone Breast Pumps (also called milk collectors)
A fairly new addition to the market is the silicone breast pump. The Haakaa pump was one of the pioneers of this type, and many other brands have now followed. These pumps work on suction, and are all one complete unit made from food grade silicone. They are simple to use (simple compress the bottom half of the pump, place over your breast and let go, the suction will then hold it in place and start drawing milk out). Some will say these are just for collecting milk from one breast, whilst baby is feeding on the other, but they can also be used to express outside of feeding times. These pumps will work well in the first 4-5 months of breastfeeding, whilst your supply is higher, however beyond this point once your supply has dropped and your body is naturally producing just enough milk to replace what your baby is removing it can become tiresome and ineffective to use a silicone pump as the suction is just not strong enough to extract much milk. They are a great option in the early months, particularly if you're travelling as they're super light weight, can be compressed to fit into a suitcase and are very easy to clean. They're also one of the cheapest options.
Pros: Lightweight, very cheap (around £10), doesn't require batteries/mains power, very easy to clean. Completely silent making it easier to pump in more public places if needed. Cons: Suction is unlikely to be strong enough to be effective beyond the first few months of breastfeeding. These are useful for occasional expressing, or collecting milk from one breast whilst baby is feeding on the other, but suction isn't strong enough to use for regular expressing when trying to significantly increase milk supply.
Best for: Mums wishing to express occasionally, or mums who find they leak alot of milk whilst baby is feeding. Mums travelling in the early months and looking for an easy and portable way of expressing.
Electric Breast Pumps
Electric pumps are one of the best options for long term pumping, from day 3-4 when your milk 'comes in' to 12/18/24 months down the line - these pumps will do the job! Electric pumps do all the work for you, making pumping less stress and easier, particularly if you're pumping a lot to increase your milk supply or using the pump over a long period of time. There are many brands of electric pump on the market (see below for info on single pump vs. double pump) and most are fairly similar. One great feature to look for is an electric pump with biphasic expression (also known as 2-Phase Expressing). These pumps try to mimic what a baby does at the breast - beginning with a rapid, quick suction to stimulate letdown, and then switching to a longer, slower suck to extract milk. This has been shown to be more effective when expressing than pumps with a single phase suction. Electric pumps are significantly more expensive than manual pumps, but you do get what you pay for. They have much stronger suction, are more effective at removing milk and more effective at increasing milk supply. The speed at which you express will vary between mums but generally electric pumps will extract milk much quicker than manual pumps. They will take some time to clean as parts have to be disassembled but this is with many pumps like the Medela Swing pictured above, not a particularly complicated process. Look for a pump that will operate on mains power and with batteries if you think you'll be travelling or want to have the option of easily pumping whilst out and about or in different areas of the house where you might not be sat next to a power point. Electric pumps come in single or double models, and vary from consumer grade to hospital grade. Hospital grade pumps are brilliant for mums who need to increase milk supply, are pumping long term or for premature babies. They are much more efficient (and about 10 times the price - hence the reason most mums will hire one for a short period of time).
If you are struggling with low supply please seek support from an IBCLC, and consider hiring a hospital grade double pump.
Pros: Strong suction, very effective and able to help increase milk supply. Quicker to express than manual pumps. Cons: More expensive than manual pumps, bulkier and require a power source.
Best for: A long term investment to allow pumping throughout your breastfeeding journey, good for mums who are needing to build their milk supply or planning to continue breastfeeding after they return to work etc. and want a quick and efficient way of pumping.
Single pump or double pump? Most electric pumps come in a single or double model. Which you choose depends on your personal circumstances. For the average mum using her pump to: - express and store breastmilk - pump for short periods whilst separated from her baby - express milk once she returns to work - boost milk supply in the short term a single pump is usually satisfactory. It will take slightly longer if you are expressing both sides as they need to be done one at a time, but for most uses the single pump is perfectly sufficient. A double pump may prove useful for mums who are solely expressing and feeding via a method other than the breast, wish to be able to express both sides at once, or would find it more efficient to express in a shorter period of time once returning to work. Research has also shown that expressing both breasts at once can be more efficient and produce more milk than expressing one at a time.
Having a good quality breast pump on hand soon after your baby's birth can be handy if you have any difficulties with breastfeeding, but it's not essential. You may like to wait until your baby is born to see where your breastfeeding journey takes you and then decide which pump might be suitable for you. In the early days before your milk comes in, pumps are very inefficient at expressing colostrum and you'll probably find hand expressing to be the most effective option. Check out our blog Why every mama should know how to hand express Check out the links below for some good options for consumer/hospital grade electric pumps... https://www.medela.co.uk/breastfeeding/products/breast-pumps https://spectrababy.co.uk/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMItv-kn-v65AIVVuDtCh2ndg-7EAAYASAAEgLARfD_BwE *Please note - these suggestions are provided based on my professional experience with a variety of different brands of breast pump. I do not endorse a particular pump nor make any commission from the sales of these brands.
Meier PP et al. Breast pump suction patterns that mimic the human infant during breastfeeding. J Perinatol. 2012;32(2):103-110. Prime DK et al. Simultaneous breast expression in breastfeeding women is more efficacious than sequential breast expression. Breastfeed Med. 2012;7(6):442-447.