The fact that you are searching for a breast pump is already a positive step. In my experience, most mothers feel so daunted by the task of expressing milk that they don’t even attempt to try it.
Of course, going back to work is not the only reason women express. It may be that you are separated from your baby as your baby has been admitted into the NICU. If your baby is having latching difficulties you may need to express to stimulate your supply and provide baby with expressed breast milk to drink. For various reasons, some women choose to express and bottle feed rather than to feed directly from the breast.
Whatever your motivation, with a little flexibility and determination most women will be able to at least partially supply their babies with the milk they need. And every drop of milk is worth gold, so why not be open-minded and start thinking about how you can make expressing breast milk work for you.
To a large degree, your expressing success will depend on a good quality breast pump. I know that some women manage surprisingly well with hand expressing or with a fairly cheap pump. And if you only want to express for the occasional evening out, these options may well be sufficient. However, in my opinion, most women will express easier and faster with the correct pump.
But with so many pumps on the market, how do you choose one? I have seen many women pick a pump off the shelf, only to struggle so much that they end up stopping completely.
Factors to consider when choosing an electric breast pump:
A good quality breast pump is expensive, and ultimately you have to spend within your means. However, if you take the cost of formula feeding into account you will make up the money spent on a pump within a few months.
Breast milk also contains antibodies that can protect your baby from disease, something that is especially valuable if your baby is in day care. Giving your baby expressed breast milk rather than formula can potentially save you medical fees and the need to take time off work.
If you purchase a pump with a NAPPI code, you may be able to claim it back from your medical aid.
Single versus double
A double pump can literally half the time you spend expressing, which is a very big factor to consider in a work environment. Research also shows that most women express larger volumes of milk when using a double, rather than a single pump.
The strength of the pump motor
You need a pump with a motor strong enough to maintain a minimum amount of suctions in a minute, in order to maintain your milk supply. Most ‘off-the-shelf’ pumps are not able to do this. You may do better with a good quality hand pump than with an electric pump without enough suction power.
Does the pump have two-phase expressing?
Most high-quality pumps express in two phases:
- A ‘stimulation phase’ – suctions are light and quick to stimulate the nipples and to create a let-down reflex.
- An ‘expressing-cycle’ – deeper, longer suctions express milk.
Does the pump have the correct flange size for your nipple?
This is a factor that most mothers and professionals are not even aware of. Not all women have the same nipple size. A flange that is too large will not pull the nipple in deep enough and will fail to extract the milk, while one that is too small will cause painful expressing and nipple damage.
You should measure the diameter of the base of your nipple, and add on 2-3mm to determine your flange size. Ideally, select a pump that will allow you to order a different size if necessary.
If you are always going to express in the same spot close to a power outlet you may do well with a pump using AC power. However, with South Africa’s power supply problems and with expressing away from home, most women will benefit from a pump using batteries.
Some pumps need disposable batteries, while others have built-in rechargeable lithium batteries.
Pump size and noise levels
Depending on your commute, you may want to take into consideration the size of your breast pump. If you are expressing in an office environment lower noise levels will be appreciated. Unfortunately, all pumps make some noise.
Spare parts and customer care
Are there spare parts available for the pump that you are purchasing, and will the company be able to assist if you are experiencing problems?
Fortunately, online reviews make it almost impossible for any company to hide poor service and lack of customer care these days.
What about silicone suction pumps?
These are not actually breast pumps, but rather milk collectors. They create a vacuum and slowly extract milk due to the negative pressure. While they may work well in the early weeks, there is currently not enough evidence to show they will provide sufficient stimulation to help a mom maintain a milk supply when away from her baby for longer periods of time.
Can I buy a second hand pump?
It is never recommended for women to share breast pumps, as harmful germs can potentially pass to the baby. Also, if a pump has been used frequently, its motor is not likely to successfully last a full term for a second mom. In addition, the warranty will probably have expired, leaving her without support should it need repairs.
Christine Klynhans is a nursing sister and South African Certified Lactation Consultant (SACLC). She currently works at Parentwood Baby and Family Wellness Centre in Pretoria as a well-baby clinic sister and antenatal teacher. She also has a breastfeeding practice and a Breast Pump Demo Centre. She is passionate about supporting parents on the journey of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the early childhood years. Learn more about Christine Klynhans.