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What is a Breast Pump? 

A breast pump is a special device (machine) used to extract the breast milk from a mother’s breast upon the absence of baby to remove the milk at breast. These machines are often used when baby is separated from the mother (such as NICU or return to work) and other situations such as breast milk donation, induced lactation or exclusive pumping.

Workings of a Breast Pump 

Breast pumps are machines that run on an internal battery or an external power source.  There are various types of breast pumps; but, all breast pumps use rhythmical movements to extract the milk from a mother’s breasts.  

Types of Breast Pumps 

The two main types of breast pumps: closed valve system and open valve system.  

An open valve system breast pump is one that does allow for air and/or bacteria to pass from the mother pumping, down the tubing and into the motor. This could enable whatever is housed in the motor to potentially come back out into the breast milk pumped.

A closed valve system breast pump is one that does not allow for air and/or bacteria to pass from the mother pumping, down the tubing, and into the motor. This is the most hygienic open for pumping mothers and is seen in the NICU setting as well as rental grade breast pumps.

Another term often used and heard by mothers is “hospital strength” and “rental grade” (multi-user) breast pumps. Hospital-strength means that the breast pump has a suction power of 250mmHg or higher. Rental grade means that the breast pump meets the suction power/strength of hospital strength and allows for more than one user/mother to pump with the breast pump (FDA approved to be multi-user).

Breast pumps can also be either single or double.  This refers to whether the breast pump can express one breast at a time (single) or both breasts at a time (double).

Manual Breast Pumps 

Manual breast pumps are powered by the mother and not any other power source.  You see these most frequently used when power is not an option or when the mother is simply desiring a more simplistic approach to expressing her milk.  It’s important that mothers have a “back up” pumping plan in place that includes a manual breast pump and/or hand expression in the event of a natural disaster or when power source(s) are not available, and mother is separate from baby.

Intrinsic Advantages of Manual Breast Pumps 

Many things in life are focused on external advantages: financial gains, tangible benefits or other such factors.  However, realizing that breastfeeding and pumping your precious mother’s milk for your baby has a lot of intrinsic advantages as well. Using both an electric and manual breast pump to express your milk for your little one (or, donating it to other babies) provides you a sense of accomplishment, new definition to your autonomy as well as personal competency.  You start to learn that you can excel at more areas in life than just what can be defined by material things! You now have an amazing Superpower!

One Hand Breast Pump 

This is another term for a manual breast pump by which you only need one hand to operate it.  Most manual breast pumps are “powered” by one hand and the mother extracts her breast milk by pumping one breast at a time. You can adjust the suction to your comfort level. Mom can be nursing baby on one breast and pumping the other breast or multi-tasking in another manner while pumping!

Cylinder Hand Breast Pump 

This is a two-handed breast pump option that uses a “bulb” (cylinder) to create the suction that is required to draw out the breast milk from the mother.  You can adjust the suction to your comfort level. You do need to pump one breast at a time.

Foot-Powered Breast Pumps 

These types of breast pumps are not as popular as they once were; but, they are still available to purchase.  These types of breast pumps are literally powered by the mother pushing or rocking the foot pedal back and forth.  The breast pump doesn’t require any electrical outlet or batteries. It can be a single or double breast pump and there isn’t a need to have the motor/breast pump unit on your desk.

Powered Breast Pumps 

Powered breast pumps is another term for electrical breast pumps that are powered by electrical outlets or internal batteries.  However, some individuals or healthcare professionals use this term to describe any breast pump that uses the “power” of mother (hand or foot), electrical outlet or battery to extract the milk from the breast.

Battery Powered Breast Pumps 

Breast pumps that run or powered by batteries only (such as AAs) are referred to as battery powered breast pumps.  Most of these breast pump types are single pumps, meaning that the mother can only pump one breast at a time.

Some refer to breast pumps that have an internal battery that is rechargeable as “battery powered”. This can be confusing to mothers and healthcare providers alike. So, ensure to investigate what specifically the definition means in each situation.

Electric Pumps 

Electric breast pumps are pumps/machines that are powered by batteries (such as AAs), electrical outlets or internal (built-in) batteries.  These breast pumps can be open-valve, closed-valve, single-user, multi-user and/or hospital strength.

Application and Type of Breast Pump as Per Requirement 

This refers to the use of a breast pump, the medical indications for the use of the breast pump and what circumstances are surrounding the mother using the breast pump device.  This is often referring to how an insurance company will be covering the cost of the breast pump or type of breast pump. It also includes is the baby was born premature, housed temporarily in the NICU setting, has a congenital anomaly that can interfere with the ability to directly breastfeed or other situations/circumstances that affect the mother or baby.  

Specifics surrounding what breast pump to use and when should be discussed with the mother and baby’s physician(s), IBCLC (Lactation Consultant) and insurance provider.  

Types of Electric Breast Pumps 

As discussed in a previous definition, electric breast pumps are usually ones that do rely on a power source to function and extract the breast milk from the mother.  

The power source required for an electric breast pump depends on the model and type of breast pump:

  • Battery powered: uses batteries (such as AAs)
  • Wireless (internal battery) powered: uses a rechargeable, internal battery that needs to be charged when the battery is depleted; but, allows the mother to pump “wirelessly” for up to so many hours
  • Power source dependent: uses an electrical outlet to power the breast pump
  • Hospital-Grade Breast Pumps 

This is a type of breast pump is also known as a Multi-User breast pump or Rental Grade breast pump.  It is a closed-valve breast pump (nothing from the mother can enter the motor of the pump and vice versa), has the suction strength of 250mmHg or higher and is FDA approved as a multi-user breast pump.  

These breast pumps are usually provided in very specific situations such as a premature and/or hospitalized infant in the NICU.  Other situations and/or circumstances can warrant the use of such a breast pump type.

Personal-Use Breast Pumps 

The most common type of breast pumps on the market are personal-use breast pumps or single-user breast pumps.  These are breast pumps that should only be used by one mother during the life of the breast pump and has been FDA approved to be only used by one mother.  These pumps are used during temporary separation of mother/baby.

Hands-Free Pumps 

This refers to the ability to pump a mother’s breasts and have her hands “free” to be doing other tasks besides holding the flanges while pumping.  Hands-free bras can allow for this capability with most breast pumps on the market. However, there are breast pumps that are now designed specifically to allow for hands-free pumping where no specific bra is required to have the mother’s hands-free of holding the breast pump in place while pumping.  

Table-Top Electric Breast Pumps 

This is another way to refer to breast pump models that are placed on a “tabletop” while pumping is taking place.  Most breast pumps are this type of breast pump. Excepts to this type of breast pump would be manual breast pumps, foot pedal breast pumps, or truly hands-free breast pumps.

Buying Breast Pumps: Main Features to Lookout For 

When purchasing a breast pump, it’s important for a mother to discuss what she should be looking for with an experienced pumping mother or a healthcare professional, such as an IBCLC (Lactation Consultant).

Many factors need to be considered when a mother is purchasing a breast pump: will she be returning to work or school?  Will she be pumping full-time or part-time? Does she have a dedicated area to pump her breasts that is close to an electrical outlet? If not, does she need to consider getting a breast pump that has an internal battery?  

If planning on returning to work full-time or exclusively pumping, the type of breast pump the mother should be considering should include a breast pump that is hospital strength (250mmHg) or higher in suction power.  

Another aspect to consider is the customization of the breast pump: can the settings be changed based on preference? Can I find the buttons I need in the dark of night?  Does the pump auto-shutoff at a certain point while pumping?

What about warranty? If something happens to the breast pump, will it be covered by the company? What is the process for fixing the pump or replacing the breast pump if something happens?

There are many aspects and features that should be considered when choosing a breast pump and not all can be addressed here. Do your research, ask other moms and then make your own list!

Cycles and Suction Settings 

Cycles refer to the speed of baby at breast.  This is often referred to as “cycles per minute”.  When a baby goes to breast to elicit the let down of milk, the baby will be faster (more cycles per minute) to get the milk flowing.  Once the milk lets down (releases from the breast), the baby will start to slow down (decreased cycles per minute) at breast.

Suction refers to the strength of baby at breast.  This is often referred to as vacuum strength. So, the setting of suction would be how strong that baby is at breast and the pump should reflect that in comfort level. It should NEVER hurt! “If ow, turn down

Example Chart of Cycles and Suction Settings for S1 Plus & S2 Plus

Mode Cycles per Minute (cpm) Suction (Vacuum)
Massage 70 1-5
Expression 38-54 1-12

Single versus Simultaneous Pumping 

This refers to pumping one or two breasts at a time.  Single pumping means expressing milk from one breast at a time. Simultaneous, or double, pumping means expressing milk from two (both) breasts at a time.

Portability and Availability of Spare Parts 

Portability of breast pumps and their corresponding accessories used to express the breast milk is often very important for mothers.  This is because many mothers must return to work or school when baby is born or have other children to take care of in addition to the new baby.  

Availability of spare pump parts (accessories) is also important to pumping mothers because mother cannot simply rely on having only one set of pump parts.  For those mothers who are returning to work or school, having spare accessories is important if a part is forgotten, broken or lost.

Pumping or expressing a mother’s milk while separated from baby is important.  So, having the parts and accessories needed to express her breast milk is vital.  Availability of these parts is just as important if she needs to run out and obtain them instead of waiting by the mailbox for them to arrive.  

Key Factors Impacting Breast Pump Purchase 

Factors that are essential in making a breast pump purchase go beyond the aspects that are involved in what is needed for a breast pump (such as returning to work or school, full time or part time use, etc.).  Other key elements in play would be the impact of insurance coverage of the breast pump, the cost that would be involved out of pocket and the ability to obtain the breast pump within a timely manner.

Factors that could also have an impact on the mother’s decision when purchasing a breast pump would be the ability to obtain spare parts (accessories), the breast pump warranty, reviews from other mothers and the type of breast pump models that are offered by a company (such as size, weight, closed vs. open valve systems, etc.).

Ranking of Factors Affecting Purchase Decision 

Though every mother (woman) has a different structure of beliefs and values, there are some static factors that can be seen in affecting her decision on which breast pump to choose.

  1. Cost out of pocket or insurance coverage
    1. Check to see what breast pumps your insurance will cover
    2. Do you want or need to “upgrade” to a different breast pump model?
      1. This is needed if you desire the more advanced model of breast pump and will require a cost out of pocket.
  2. How do you plan to use the pump?
    1. Pumping in addition to breastfeeding?
    2. Returning to work or school?
    3. Full-time or Part-time?
  3. How much time will it take you to pump?
    1. Examining how much time you will have during your day or workday will also help you determine what breast pump to select.
    2. How long will each break be in allowing you to express your milk?
    3. Will a single or double pump work best?
  4. Are the pump’s instructions easy to understand?
    1. It is important that you feel comfortable and confident with your breast pump when it becomes time to use it.
    2. When you return to work, school or separated from baby, it’s not the time to figure out the instructions on how to operate your breast pump.
  5. Where will you be using the pump?
    1. Will you need an electrical outlet to power the breast pump?
    2. It may be easier to use a manual or battery-powered pump in smaller spaces.
    3. Larger spaces and/or pumping rooms may be easier to use an electric breast pump.
  6. Do you need a pump that is easy to transport?
    1. If you are traveling back and forth to work, it may be easier to have a more portable breast pump.
    2. A breast pump that is more lightweight might be easier to transport back and forth as well as having a dependable bag to transport the breast pump, breast milk expressed, and accessories needed to pump.
  7. Does the breast pump have flanges (breast shields) that will fit your needs?
    1. It is very important that mothers have the proper fitting flanges when pumping to allow for maximizing pumping yield and preventing damage to the nipple, areola or breast tissue.

Relevant Issues Related to Breast Feeding 

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding (2011) identified specific barriers to breastfeeding in the United States.  These barriers would be considered the relevant issues that are related to breastfeeding and breast pumping success for mothers in the United States.  These barriers include lack of knowledge, social norms, poor family and social support, embarrassment, lactation problems, employment and child care, and barriers related to health services.

Though we cannot possibly investigate all aspects of each of these barriers, it is important to understand why these areas are barriers to breastfeeding and providing mother’s milk to infants during any length of time within the United States.

     1. Lack of Knowledge

“Most women in the United States are aware that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants, but they seem to lack knowledge about its specific benefits and are unable to cite the risks associated with not breastfeeding” (McCann et. al, 2007)

Though mothers may acknowledge that breast milk is the best food for baby, they are not sure of where to obtain the evidence-based information on how to provide it to their little one and often, the education is not readily available.  Unfortunately, healthcare providers and internet sources alike all seem to provide various information which leaves mothers even more uncertain as to what is fact.

      2. Social Norms

“In the United States, bottle feeding is viewed by many as the ‘normal’ way to feed infants…widespread exposure to substitutes for human milk, typically fed to infants via bottles, is largely responsible for the development of this social norm” (Office of the Surgeon General, 2011).  

With the widespread marketing of breast milk substitutes (formula), along with artificial teats (bottle nipples and pacifiers), has been shown by many studies to have a negative impact on breastfeeding rates.  Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) implemented the Code which restricts the sale and marketing of human milk substitutes and artificial teats. Spectra Baby USA sees how important breastfeeding is to not only babies but, their mothers and society.  Therefore, Spectra Baby USA prides ourselves on working to change the social norm of bottle feeding to breastfeeding and upholds the WHO Code of Marketing as a company.

      3. Poor Family and Social Support

“Women with friends who have breastfed successfully are more likely to choose to breastfeed.  On the other hand, negative attitudes of family and friends can pose a barrier to breastfeeding” (Office of the Surgeon General, 2011).  

We as mothers and women are already facing a lot of challenges when it comes to parenthood.  It’s important that we have the support and encouragement we need to be successful in whatever we choose to do.  Breastfeeding and pumping are no different. Unfortunately, the United States doesn’t seem to reflect a lot of families or social support towards breastfeeding.  This can certainly be a barrier to success.

Find a friend or family member who can be your advocate when it comes to breastfeeding or pumping.  Rely on them for encouragement, information or simply a listening ear. Check out our Facebook Mom Groups (Exclusive Pumping; Pumping Moms) where you can find support from other moms who are going through things just like you!

      4. Embarrassment

Some “situations make women feel embarrassed and fearful of being stigmatized by people around them when they breastfeed” (Gill et. al, 2004) due to the national public opinion not reflecting more than 43% of U.S. adults that believe women should have the right to breastfeed in public places.  

How is this right to tell mothers that “breastfeeding is best”; but, yet our nation’s population and environments don’t necessarily support the act of breastfeeding.  Yes, there are more advances in recent years to supporting nursing pods, breastfeeding marches and Latch On movements. But, the fact remains that women do often feel embarrassed to have to breastfeed in public or even pump at work.  

      5. Lactation Problems

“Frequently cited problems with breastfeeding include sore nipples, engorged breasts, mastitis, leaking milk, pain, and failure to latch on by the infant” (Moore et. al, 2007).  

Success of breastfeeding duration (length of time breastfeeding) can be affected by any of the situations or conditions above.  Women should seek immediate help from an IBCLC (Lactation Consultant) or her Healthcare Provider if she is experiencing any of these conditions.  Spectra Baby USA does offer LC help via FB Messenger or by phone at 1-855-446-6622 (M-F, 8am-5pm EST).  

      6. Employment and Child Care

“Employed mothers typically find that returning to work is a significant barrier to breastfeeding. Women often face inflexibility in their work hours and locations and a lack of privacy for breastfeeding or expressing milk, have no place to store expressed breast milk, are unable to find childcare facilities at or near the workplace, face fears over job insecurity, and have limited maternity leave benefits” (Guttman, 2000).

The United States has a long way to go when it comes to supporting the mother breastfeeding when she must return to work or school.  But, the mother can really work to make the barriers to her being successful with breastfeeding less by speaking to her HR department before returning to work.  Creating a plan for when she returns to work that covers where she will pump, when she will pump, and how she will be supported by her employer is a very important place to start!

      7. Barriers Related to Health Services

There are many aspects that can negatively impact the breastfeeding relationship when it comes to the birth of the baby within the hospital environment (including the inappropriate use of supplementation).  However, every mother and family can help combat this by having a birth plan in place, being armed with a doula (birth assistant) and surrounding themselves with supportive healthcare providers.

Cleaning of Breast Pumps 

It’s very important to practice proper personal hygiene (such as washing your hands before and after pumping) to avoid spreading any germs onto your breast pump or accessories.  Another element to keep in mind are the new CDC guidelines (PDF) for cleaning your breast pump and breast pump parts.

After you pump, it’s important to store your breastmilk safely, clean your pumping area, take apart your pumping kit, rinse your pumping kit and clean your pumping kit. Wiping down the outside of the breast pump is also a good practice to get into.

To clean your pumping kit, use non-antibacterial soap along with warm water.  Scrub the pump parts with a dedicated pump brush. Rinse the parts under running water, or by submerging these parts into a separate basin.  It’s the best to allow these parts to air dry on an unused dish towel or paper towel.

Avoid putting your pump parts in the dishwasher or boiling to prevent warping of parts.  Using a microwave steam bag or steam system machine to allow for sterilization of parts for additional protection against germs.  

Pre-owned Breast Pumps 

Many moms ask if its ok to purchase or obtain a used breast pump.  Spectra Baby USA is concerned for the health of our pumping mothers and their babies.  Therefore, we recommend that it is best to avoid purchasing or obtaining a pre-owned breast pump.

Unless the breast pump is FDA approved as a multi-user breast pump, such as a rental grade breast pump obtained at a hospital (which none of Spectra breast pumps are at this time), it is safest to not get a pre-owned breast pump.   

Breast Pumps Aid Breast Milk Donation Programs

Breast pumps do allow for ease of breast milk removal when mother is separated from baby.  Another perk of using a breast pump would be allowing for removal of mother’s milk that will or can be donated to other babies in need.  

Using Spectra breast pumps to remove your breast milk for the purposes of breast milk donation can be not only quick and comfortable but, very efficient in nature!

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