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Types of Breast Pumps

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Many moms will need to express their breast milk at some point during lactation either to relieve engorgement, to return to work or after medications and/or alcohol consumption. Hand (manual) expression can be very effective in removing milk and some moms find it more effective than using a pump.

While hand expression is very effective at milk removal, breast pumps can be a useful tool. However, deciding what type of breast pump to purchase can be quite a task.

When looking for a breast pump, the first thing to do is decide how often you will need to express your milk. Breast pumps are categorized into three different categories: manual, electric and hospital grade. Learning about the types of pumps will help you narrow your search results to find the perfect breast pump for your situation.

Manual Breast Pumps

  • Manual breast pumps are hand-operated and work by repeatedly squeezing or pumping the handle to express milk.
  • The advantage to using this type of pump is that it is small and affordable.
  • These pumps express one breast at a time and can be very time consuming.
  • It is best to use a manual pump if you only need to pump periodically.

Electric Breast Pumps

  • Electric breast pumps are operated automatically and powered by battery and/or electricity.
  • Electric breast pumps can be single or double pumps. Single pumps extract milk one breast at a time, while double pumps extract milk from both breasts at the same time.
  • Double pumps are fast, efficient and easy to use.
  • Some pumps allow for control over both the strength of suction and the speed of expression.
  • Personal use electrical pumps are readily available and can be purchased from hospitals, baby stores, retail stores and through on-line retailers. It is important that you avoid using second-hand pumps or sharing pumps since diseases can be transmitted from one user to the next. (Note: Hygeia pumps can be used by multiple users as long as each mother provides and uses her own accessory kit).
  • Electric pumps are pricier than manual pumps and can range from approximately $200 and up.
  • Most come with a carrying case which makes transporting the pump easy.

 Breast Pump Buying Advice


Hospital-Grade Breast Pumps

  • Hospital-grade pumps are cleared by the FDA for use by multiple women. Each mom must have her own personal accessory kit.
  • Hospital-grade pumps are very effective. The suction strength and speed of expression can be adjusted accordingly. Some may even be programmed to cycle rapidly with a light suction for the first 2 minutes of pumping to elicit a let-down; then suction strength increases while speed of expression slows. This patterns mimic how a baby naturally nurses.
  • These pumps are larger, bulkier and not as easy to transport as personal pumps.
  • They are also very expensive and generally not as readily available for purchase. They can be rented for the day, week or monthly through hospitals and other pump rental stations (either found locally or on-line).

Once you have decided on the type of pump that you will need, it's time to do some research on the brand of pump to purchase. There are many different brands to choose from which makes making a decision difficult. Medela and Ameda are the two most popular and can be found very easily. Hygeia offers breast pump which can be recycled and are able to be used by more than one user. Be sure to talk to other nursing moms and see what they liked about their pump, also read reviews on breast pumps.

Whichever type of breast pump you choose to use, it is important that you have the correct breast shield (flange) size to ensure optimal milk transfer and comfort. Breast shields come in a variety of sizes which vary slightly between pump manufacturers. Sizes are expressed in millimeter measurements and refer to the width of the opening where the nipple is inserted. Sizes range from 21 mm to 40 mm.

It is estimated that over 50% of moms will need another flange size than the one provided in the standard accessory kit and that 75% of moms will need a larger flange size two weeks after pumping has started1. How do you know if your breast shield is the right size?
Watch your breast during a pumping session and look for the following: 

  • Space is visible around your nipple when inserted into the breast shield.
  • Your nipple should not rub against the side of the flange
  • Your nipple should move freely within the tunnel.

If you are having issues with a low milk supply or your nipples are sore during or after a nursing session due to rubbing, a larger flange will most likely be needed. Remember, a lactation consultant can be a great resource if you are not able to determine which flange size is best for you.


1.  Texas Department of State Health Services Nutritional Services and Texas Association of Local WIC Directors. Lactation Counseling and Problem Solving Syllabus, pg 41. Attended January 2011.

Higgins, K (2005). The Nursing Mother's Companion (20th edition). Boston: The Harvard Communications Press.
Texas Department of State Health Services Nutritional Services and Texas Association of Local WIC Directors. Principles of Lactation Management. Attended May 2010.
Walker, M (2011). Breastfeeding Management for the Clinician (2 edition). Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.





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