If you've ever seen a woman shopping for a breast pump, you're probably familiar with that dazed look that's a cross between How do I know which one to buy? and You want me to do what with that thing? But choosing a breast pump is really pretty simple once you know what you need, and as for that second issue, well, that's just something that takes a little getting used to.

You may not even need a breast pump—especially if you're planning on going the formula route. If you'll be breast-feeding, it all depends on how much you'll be away from home. Working moms? Definitely. Stay-at-home moms? Not so much.

Pumps can be expensive—topping out at a few hundred dollars for advanced models—but there are choices for every budget. You do, however, get what you pay for, so consider how you'll be using it before deciding.

You may want to consider renting a machine to try before you buy, or if you have a short-term need for more capacity or more efficient pumping. Renting might also be a good solution if you start pumping later, since you won't be using it as long.


your basic choices

Breast pumps all work in basically the same way: they use suction to draw milk from the breast into a container. What varies is how powerful the suction is and whether it's provided manually or with a motor. There are three basic types of breast pump to consider.

full-sized motorized pump
These are the most powerful pumps, and they get the job done quickly and efficiently. They're more expensive than other pumps but probably worth the investment if pumping will be part of your daily routine.

portable motorized pump
These pumps are smaller and lighter than a full-size pump and made to go where you go. Some are battery operated, some are electric, and some offer the convenience of both.

hand pump
These manually controlled pumps are lightweight, small, and inexpensive—and really all you'll need if you just want an occasional backup bottle or to express milk to relieve pressure.

general guidance

When it comes to choosing your breast pump, the first question to ask yourself is how often you'll need it. Are you just looking for an occasional night out, or are you a working mom who has to store milk every day? The more you'll rely on your pump to keep up the milk supply, the more you'll want to spend. Ditto if you're planning on having more than one child and will be using it over the course of several years.

Don't be tempted to skimp. The better the pump, the easier pumping will be and the better you'll feel about it. And while some women are able to get a good flow going with any pump, most find that higher quality pumps help them produce milk more easily. However, if you're just looking for a way to store up a little milk for an occasional outing (maybe even a date night!), then an inexpensive hand pump should be just fine, as long as it fits comfortably and works reasonably well.


features to look for

  • AC adaptor. Battery-operated pumps are convenient, but an AC adaptor is a good extra in case you run out of power.
  • Adjustable suction and speed control. This feature allows you to ease into pumping in the early days, then maximize efficiency as your breasts get used to it.
  • Easy to clean. You could be pumping six or more times a day if you're working away from home, so look for easy-to-clean options when considering your pick.
  • Size/weight. Make sure your pump is portable enough, small enough, and light enough to work for you.
  • Double pumping. Breast-pumping takes about the same amount of time as breast-feeding, but a model that pumps both breasts at once should cut your time in half.

lifestyle considerations

Portability. Will you be carrying your pump around with you, or will you store it in the same place you use it? Make sure the model you choose is portable enough for your lifestyle. And if you're a mom on the go, make sure there are adequate power options (either batteries or a car's cigarette-lighter plug) so that you don't have to be chained to a wall plug.

Style. Does the case scream "breast pump," and, if so, do you care? There are plenty of camouflage styles that look like everyday briefcases, purses, and backpacks to help you be discreet.


usage tips

  • Pumping will probably feel weird at first, but it does get better. Start on lower speeds with less suction and build up to higher speeds after you get used to it.
  • Pumping might be uncomfortable, but it shouldn't actually hurt. If you find pumping painful, try adjusting the suction; if that doesn't work, consult your doctor.
  • Like breast-feeding, most people now realize that pumping is a fact of life. Where and when you pump is a matter of personal preference (and modesty), but you certainly don't have to hide in a bathroom stall to do it.
  • If you're a working mom, you'll need to gauge the appropriateness of pumping at your desk, as well as your comfort level in doing so. Fortunately, most larger companies now have pumping stations to allow nursing mothers their privacy.
  • A nursing poncho lets you go about your business without having to hold a blanket over yourself with one hand.

accessories

  • Breast products. There are breast creams that heal chafing, bra pads to prevent leaking, and plastic shells that form a protective layer when your breasts are too tender even for your bra.
  • Milk storage. Whether it's extra bottles or disposable bags, you'll want extras for stocking up.
  • Breast pump wipes. Quick and convenient, this is a great solution for cleaning your breast pump, and you can take them along anywhere.
  • Microwave bags. For quick and simple cleanup of your breast pump and feeding accessories, microwave bags are quicker than boiling and more effective than dishwashing. Just add water and heat in the microwave.
  • Freezer storage. When you need to stock up on extra breast milk, try freezable containers that are compatible with your pump, or a breast-milk storage tray that looks like an ice tray with a lid.
  • Bottle storage bags. If you're away from home or need to keep your breast milk cool in transit, get an insulated bag for easy storage.
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