Electric pumps

Should I buy an electric pump?

There are many things to consider before buying an electric pump. If mothers decide they need one, they will have to choose between a single and a double pump. It’s important to have good control of the suction strength, which varies among models. So does the control of cycle speed, the speed at which the suction increases and decreases. Some pumps lock the suction strength and cycle speed together; the higher the suction, the faster the speed. If mothers want a double electric pump, they may be able to rent one, but will have to buy the breast pump shields and any other parts that are in contact with their breast or milk. Single electric pumps are generally available only for purchase and are best used for occasional and not regular pumping.

A) Describing electric breast pumps

Pumps may be expensive or ineffective. Review your needs and pump choices if you are considering using one.

Electric pumps remove milk from the breast by creating suction. The suction strength cycles, increasing and decreasing.

They can be single or double and have a range of functions. There is little independent research that compares brands (Burton et al. 2020; Fewtrell et al. 2019).  

B) Choosing an electric breast pump

There are many types and brands. Consider: 

  • The choice of a single or double pump
  • Function buttons
    • Suction strength
    • Cycle speed
    • Quick express
  • Standard breast pump shield size:
    • Options for using different shield sizes
  • Other functions
    • Timer
    • Night light
    • Display readability
  • Systems (open or closed)
  • Noise levels
  • Type of power (rechargeable battery, plug-in)
  • The brand
  • Can it be used hands-free

1) Single or double 

In general, single electric pumps are cheaper and smaller compared to double electric pumps but tend to offer fewer functions. Some mothers may find that manual or constant suction pumps are just as effective and more portable than electric pumps when they pump occasionally. Most breastfeeding specialists recommend double electric high-grade pumps for mothers who are highly reliant on pumping.

Some mothers have a single electric pump but find that they want to express both breasts at the same time. If they find their pump effective, they can get a second one and use the two together or can use a hand or constant-suction pump. This may be cheaper than buying or renting a new double electric pump.

2) Suction strength

Electric pumps have a range of suction strengths. The ideal suction strength is between -150 and -250 mmHg but some models have been reported as high as -320 mmHg. (A mmHg is a millimetre of mercury and is a unit of pressure.)

Controlling the suction is critical. If it is too strong, you may feel pain; if it is too weak, you may not express enough milk. The amount of suction required depends on the mother. 

3) Cycle speed 

Electric breast pump cycle speeds (how quickly suction is held and released) range from 30 to 80 cycles per minute and can affect how much milk is expressed.

Many pumps have a stimulation phase, a period of faster cycles at the start of expression to stimulate a let-down, followed by a slower expression phase, wherein the milk is removed from the breast.

Pumps may:

  • Be programmed with a set number of minutes of stimulation and expression phases.
  • Have a button that provides one minute of the stimulation phase.
  • Have adjustable cycle speeds.
  • Increase the suction strength in the expression phase.

Some hospitals have double electric pumps for mothers of premature babies with cycle speeds specifically programmed for this group.

4) Noise levels

Electric pumps can be noisy with some being as loud as a normal conversation (60 dB). This may be distracting, may add to household noise levels, or may be unwanted in a work environment.

C) Open or closed system; hospital grade

Most pumps have an open system in which the motor is exposed to milk. Other pumps have closed systems. Ideally, pumps that have more than one user have closed systems. There is little research on the risks of an open system, but theoretically the motor may host bacteria.

The term hospital-grade is used by some manufacturers, but this is not an official designation. Rather, it generally refers to pumps that are durable or use a closed system.

D) Buying or renting

1) Buying or renting

Double electric pumps can be bought or rented by the week or month. If you rent a pump, you will have to buy the breast shields and any other parts that are in contact with you or your milk. This is called a pump kit

Some mothers may try to interchange pump kits from different manufacturers. This can result in excessively high or low suction strengths (Jackson 2019). The former may cause pain and the latter may result in poor milk removal.  

If you are pumping regularly but only for a few weeks, renting a double electric pump may be cheaper. If you prefer using a double electric pump over a single electric or manual one or will be pumping for a long time, you may save money by buying one.

Single electric pumps are generally available only for purchase. 

2) Second-hand pumps

If you want to buy a second-hand electric pump, you should contact the manufacturer first. A second hand pump may:

  • Not have servicing or spare parts available.
  • Have been stolen.
  • Not work.
  • Have contain bacteria that can contaminate the new owner’s milk if it is an open system pump.

References

Burton P, Kennedy K, Ahluwalia JS, et al. Randomized trial comparing the effectiveness of 2 electric breast pumps in the NICU. J Hum Lact. 2013 Aug;29(3):412-9
 
Jackson BA, Pawlowski CM, Weiner GM, et al. Interchanging Breast Pump Kit Brands Alters Breast Pump Suction Pressure. Breastfeed Med. 2020 Feb;15(2):79-83
 
Fewtrell M, Kennedy K, Lukoyanova O, et al. Short-term efficacy of two breast pumps and impact on breastfeeding outcomes at 6 months in exclusively breastfeeding mothers: A randomised trial. Matern Child Nutr. 2019;15(3):e12779