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Breast Pumps 101

10 tips for expressing and storing breast milk quickly and easily.
By
WebMD Feature

Many breastfeeding mothers who are nearing the end of maternity leave want to continue giving their babies breast milk when they return to work, but the concept of pumping and feeding the baby from a bottle may be foreign to them. After all, nursing doesn't require any paraphernalia.

If you're about to embark upon this transition, you're probably wondering what equipment you'll need. The most important item, naturally, is the breast pump.

"Mothers returning to work after their milk supplies are established will need a pump that withdraws milk as effectively as possible but is also portable and convenient," says New Jersey-based lactation consultant Diana West, IBCLC, coauthor of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th Edition.

Read on to determine what features to seek in a pump, how often to use it, and what else to buy.

Finding the Right Pump

Electric or manual? Single or double pump? These are some of the choices that you'll encounter when shopping.

If you're heading back to a full-time job, a high-quality, double electric pump ($150 and up) will help you express your milk most efficiently.

"Double-pumping can save time," West says. "And in most cases, electric models work more reliably and effectively than battery-powered models."

Breast pumps are manufactured to mimic the nursing habits of babies and shouldn't hurt when properly attached. You can adjust an electric pump's speed and suction levels to suit your needs. If you only plan to pump occasionally (for example, if you work half days or you have a home office), you may only need an inexpensive manual breast pump ($20).

You shouldn't need a hospital-grade pump, which are large and heavy, but they're available to rent from many hospitals. They're commonly used by mothers of babies who spend time in the hospital NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) who aren't able to nurse right away and want to establish their milk supplies.

"Mothers returning to work who have full-term babies and established milk supplies do not usually need them," West says.

Whatever model you choose, use it several times during your maternity leave, so you don't have to figure out how to work a breast pump on your first day back at the office.

New versus Old Breast Pumps

Are the breast pumps on the market today superior to the ones your friends used a few years ago? Probably not.

"Actual pump technology has not changed significantly in the past decade," West says. “Milk generally cannot be removed more quickly or easily from today's pumps than pumps of many years ago. The most significant improvement is decrease in pump sizes and weights that make them more portable and convenient to take to work."

Although a new pump may not be better than an older model, don't take a hand-me-down breast pump from a friend or relative. Unlike professional-grade rental pumps, which are designed to be used by many women, the design of individual-purchase pumps allows imperceptibly tiny milk particles to contaminate parts of the machinery that can't be cleaned or sterilized. They're not intended to be shared between mothers.

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