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There are a number of reasons why those who breastfeed might want to use a breast pump.

Maybe you’re going back to work and want to create a regular supply of milk for your baby to use at childcare. Maybe you’re looking to exclusively pump milk for your baby due to latch issues, health conditions, or personal preference. Or maybe you just want the ability to let somebody else feed your baby while you are away from home.

Whatever the case, there are many options to consider when choosing a breast pump. Read on to learn more about choosing, maintaining, and using a breast pump.

All breast pumps extract milk from the breasts. Some do so automatically, whether they’re powered by electricity or battery. Others are manual, meaning you use your hands to squeeze a lever to extract milk.

Pictures of different types of breast pumps

Manual breast pump

Manual breast pumps are held in place on the breast with one hand while milk is pumped with the other hand. This type of pump is inexpensive but requires that you do all the work. Manual breast pumps start at around $13 on Amazon.

A manual pump is a good choice as a backup to an electric pump or if you don’t need to pump often.

Electric breast pump

Electric pumps plug into standard wall outlets to automatically pump milk from the breasts. You can find both single electric pumps and double electric pumps.

This option can range in cost from about $30 to several hundred dollars, depending on the features of the individual pump.

Battery-operated breast pumps

Battery pumps use battery power to pump milk from the breasts. Running a pump on batteries is an option with some electric pumps.

Since a battery pump can be operated without the use of a cord, they can be used wherever you find yourself needing to pump. That said, you’ll need to make sure you have fresh batteries or that you use reusable batteries.

For example, the battery pack with the Medela Pump In Style Advanced uses 8 AA batteries, and can pump for around 8 hours.

Depending on the pump, you may need to purchase a battery pack separately.

Hands-free breast pump

Hands-free pumps, also called wearable pumps, can fit inside a bra or other shirt and extract milk — even while you’re on the go. These pumps can be quite costly, starting at around $140, because they’re especially discreet and quiet.

The convenience may be worth the price if you need a pump you can wear at any time while you go about your daily life.

If you’re getting a pump through insurance, your insurance provider may not cover the cost of a hands-free pump. Using a double electric pump with a hands-free bra may be a less expensive option if you find yourself mostly pumping in private.

Double breast pump

Double pumps are electric pumps that make use of two breast shields to extract milk from both breasts at the same time. This can reduce your pumping time in half, and may be a good option if you need to frequently collect milk for your baby.

You may not be able to use a double pump if you need a manual pump. That’s because these pumps are usually single pumps.

Hospital-grade breast pump

Hospital-grade pumps are powerful pumps designed for use by multiple people. They may be helpful if your baby is hospitalized or if you plan to pump full time.

Hospital-grade pumps are usually the most expensive type of breast pump, ranging from around $150 to several thousand dollars.

While you can find some hospital-grade pumps for sale on the consumer market, you may need to buy or rent one through medical suppliers or hospitals. If you rent a pump, you’ll need to purchase the equipment that attaches your breast to the pump.

It’s important to note that what you’ll find on the consumer market are generally “hospital-strength” pumps, which simply means they have stronger suction than other electric pumps. Check with medical suppliers for more information on hospital-grade pumps.

Passive milk collectors

Passive milk collectors aren’t technically breast pumps. Instead, they’re flexible silicone cups that attach to the breast during nursing sessions. You can use these cups to collect letdown on one side while the baby feeds or you pump on the other side.

These cups can be helpful if you don’t need a large supply of milk on-hand for your baby, or if you want to save all the milk you produce. Milk savers are generally inexpensive, and can be purchased for around $10 to $25.

It’s a good idea to start pumping before you return to work or school, or otherwise will need your pumped milk. This way, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with your pump and also give your baby practice feeding from a bottle.

Manual pump

  1. Make sure your pump and its parts are clean. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Place the breast shield over your nipple and areola, making sure it makes contact with the skin of your breast all along the outer edge.
  3. To stimulate letdown, gently squeeze the lever or handle to create suction. It’s helpful to make these motions quick, simulating how your baby begins suckling at the breast.
  4. To collect milk, squeeze the lever in longer, more powerful strokes. Eventually the flow of milk will slow and you may follow these steps on the other breast.
  5. Clean all pump parts that come in contact with milk and let dry completely before storage.

Electric or battery pump

  1. Make sure your pump and its parts are clean. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  2. Plug your pump into the wall (if electric) or turn it on (if using battery). Hold the breast shield in place or attach your shields to your breasts using a nursing bra.
  3. Many pumps have control panels that allow you to change the level of suction using a dial or switch. Begin pumping using a gentle suction setting, simulating how your baby suckles, to help achieve letdown.
  4. To collect milk, switch to a higher setting for the rest of the session until all milk is drained from the breasts. Then repeat on the other breast.
  5. Clean all pump parts that come in contact with milk and let dry completely before storage.

Tips for success

How often and how much you’ll pump will depend on how much milk you need. Try pumping at the same times your baby normally feeds. The amount you pump may increase over time as your baby grows and drinks more milk.

If you find you’re not able to pump as much as your baby needs, consider adding a pumping session to help boost your supply. It may be helpful to pump for 15 minutes on each breast every few hours.

If your primary pump is an electric pump, you may want a backup method in case of a power outage or other situation where power isn’t available. A manual pump may be a good choice in case of emergency.

If you have trouble getting milk to flow from your breasts, try to relax. Pump in a quiet place while thinking about your baby. Massaging your breasts or using warm compresses may also help.

It’s also important to stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water or other caffeine-free liquids, such as herbal tea or milk, throughout the day.

All types of pumps have parts that come in contact with your breast milk. All of these parts and accessories should be cleaned with each pumping session using dishwashing soap and warm water. That includes:

  • bottles
  • breast shields
  • valves
  • other parts

Washing your pump regularly will help keep your pumped milk safe for baby and help you avoid infection.

You may be able to clean some pump parts on the top rack of your dishwasher, but refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines before washing pump parts this way.

The basic cleaning steps are:

  1. Rinse pump parts with cool water immediately after pumping.
  2. When you have time to wash, disassemble your pump and then focus on each individual part and lather with dish soap and warm water. Be sure to rinse each piece with hot water for between 10 and 15 seconds.
  3. Let pump parts air dry on a clean paper towel or drying rack. Cloth towels are not a good choice because they may harbor germs and bacteria.
  4. Reassemble your pump once its parts are fully dry before storage. Avoid touching the cleaned parts of the pump that come in contact with your breast milk.

How to sterilize

Sterilization isn’t always necessary to keep your pump clean and safe for use. That said, you may want to sanitize your pump if your baby is under 3 months or if your baby has a compromised immune system. You should also sterilize before using the pump for the first time.

To sterilize:

  1. Clean your pump well with soap and water.
  2. Place all parts that are safe to boil in a large pot of water.
  3. Bring the water to a boil for 5 minutes.
  4. Remove parts using clean tongs.
  5. You may also sanitize parts using a microwave or plug-in steam system.
  6. Let all parts air dry before storage.

If you can and want to wash or sterilize your pump parts in the dishwasher with hot water and a heated drying cycle, this should also be sufficient.

Tips and precautions

Be sure to read any manufacturer instructions about your specific pump before cleaning. This will help you determine the specific parts of your pump that need to be washed, as well as the best way to remove those parts for cleaning.

Breast pump tubing that doesn’t come in contact with breast milk doesn’t need to be cleaned. Instead, you may see water droplets from condensation after you’ve finished pumping. To remove the condensation, turn on your pump for a few minutes to let the tubing dry.

If you do wash breast pump tubing, let it air dry fully before using it again with your pump.

What about cleaning while away from home?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against simply storing your pump in the refrigerator between pumping sessions if you’re at work or someplace else. This new guideline has come about after an infant died as the result of drinking contaminated milk from an improperly cleaned pump.

Instead, the CDC explains that the safest thing to do even when on the go is to clean your pump with running water and soap between each use.

Besides your pump, you may want to purchase a bag to carry the pump and accessories to work, on the road, or wherever else you find yourself pumping.

You may also want to get some extra pump parts. Then you can have a spare set to use while the other set is drying. You can also leave a spare set at your office or anywhere else you regularly pump so that you’ll have a backup in case you forget a part.

If you use an electric breast pump, a car adapter can be handy if you’re on the road

You may also want to consider purchasing other items in addition to your pump, such as:

Some pumps come in a kit that contains things like extra bottles, a carrying bag, and car adapters.

How to determine breast shield fit

The breast shield is the part of the pump that comes in contact with the breast and fits over the nipple. A breast shield fits well if you’re able to center your nipple, not the entire areola, inside of it comfortably.

Many pumps come with shields in just one size, but you can often order different sizes or even textures to suit your needs through the manufacturer.

How frequently to change out parts

Dirty or damaged tubing or flanges can affect your milk supply. You should take note of their condition before pumping and replace immediately if you notice any rips or tears.

You should also replace tubes that have moisture from condensation. Consider keeping an extra set of these parts on hand at all times, just in case.

As for the pump motor itself, check your warranty. Issues charging, poor suction, or a dip in your milk supply may be a sign that your motor is not working properly. If any part of your pump fails within the warranty period, you can contact the manufacturer for a free replacement.

Expressed or pumped breast milk is considered safe:

  • up to 4 hours when stored at room temperature (77°F/25°C or colder)
  • up to 4 days when stored in the refrigerator at 40°F (4.4°C)
  • within 6 months (best) or up to 12 months (acceptable) when stored in a freezer (0°F/-17.8°C or colder)

Bags or bottles?

You may choose to pump:

  • into bottles and then freeze the bottles
  • transfer the milk into bags for freezer storage
  • directly into bags

Both bags and bottles can be frozen, so how you store your milk is up to you.

Depending on your freezer space, milk storage bags may be a convenient choice for the freezer because they freeze flat and can be stacked. Bottles take up more space.

Regardless of what method you choose:

  • DO use milk storage bags or clean food-grade bottles or containers that have tight-fitting lids.
  • DON’T use bottles or other containers with the recycle symbol number 7. This means it contains BPA.
  • DO label whatever container you use with the date the milk was pumped.
  • DON’T store milk in bottle liners or plastic bags not specifically intended for breast milk storage.

The cost of a breast pump is related to the pump’s features or accessories.

In general, breast pumps cost between $20 and several hundred dollars. Hospital-grade pumps may be in the thousands, but are available for rental.

Double electric breast pumps are a common choice for working moms, and usually range between $100 and $300.

Hands-free models are a bit more costly than traditional electric or battery-powered pumps, and typically run between $300 and $500.

Manual breast pumps are the least expensive option, with prices falling under $30.

Are pumps covered by health insurance?

Health insurance providers in the United States must offer coverage for breast pumps. You can contact your provider for more information about your individual coverage.

Usually you’ll just need a note or prescription from your doctor to receive a pump. You may also work through a medical supplier for help with this process.

When you buy your breast pump is entirely up to you. You may want to plan ahead and place one on your registry. But check first with your insurance company to see if you can get one for free through your benefits. Some insurance companies will give you a specific window of time when you can purchase one through your coverage.

Otherwise, it may be better to wait until after your baby is born. That way, you’ll know exactly how you plan to use the pump and that can help you choose the type that’s right for you and your lifestyle.

Choosing a pump and getting the hang of expressing milk, cleaning pump parts, and knowing whether your milk is safe for your baby may feel overwhelming at first. If you’re having trouble determining the type of pump to purchase or figuring out any other part of the process, consider contacting a lactation consultant for help.

Many hospital obstetrics departments employ lactation consultants, and you can ask your doctor or child’s pediatrician for a referral.