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WHAT IS A BREAST PUMP? HOW DOES IT WORK? 

Breast pumps are medical devices used by women to extract breast milk.  There are various types of breast pumps, but all breast pumps use rhythmical movements also known as cycles to extract the milk from a mother’s breasts.  All breast pumps consist of a few basic parts: Breast Shield, Pump, Milk Collection Container.

TYPES OF BREAST PUMPS 

There are three common types of breast pumps:

  1. Manual Pumps
  2. Electric Pumps
  3. Battery-Powered Pumps

Pumps can further be broken down into two categories: closed valve system and open valve system.

An open valve system breast pump is one that may allow for air and/or bacteria to pass from the mother pumping, down the tubing and into the motor. This can not only ruin a breast pump, but also pass bacteria and chemicals housed in the motor and onto the breast milk pumped.

A closed valve system breast pump also known as a “hospital strength,” “multi-user,” or “rental-grade” 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 option for pumping mothers and is used in NICU as well as rental-grade breast pumps.

Most 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 used by only one mother.

Breast pumps can provide two types of pumping: 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).

 HAND PUMPS OR MANUAL BREAST PUMPS

With a manual breast pump, the sole source of power is the mom. These pumps are most frequently used when power is not an option or when the mother desires a more simplistic approach to expressing breast milk.

Most manual breast pumps are “powered” by one hand and the mother extracts her breast milk by pumping one breast at a time.

It’s important that ALL 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.

ELECTRIC BREAST PUMPS 

Electric breast pumps are powered by electrical outlets to extract breast milk.

The power source required for an electric breast pump is an electrical outlet.

BATTERY POWERED BREAST PUMPS 

Battery powered breast pumps are powered by batteries (such as AAs). 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.

  • 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

CYCLES AND SUCTION SETTINGS 

Cycles refer to the speed of baby at breast.  This is often referred to as “CPM” or “Cycles Per Minute.”  When a baby goes to breast to elicit the letdown of milk, the baby will suckle 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.” The strength of suction level should mimic how strong the baby suckles but should always be kept at a comfortable level. Pumping should NEVER hurt!

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

Mode Cycles Per Minute (CPM) Vacuum Strength
Massage 70 1-5
Expression 38-54 1-12

 SINGLE VERSUS SIMULTANEOUS (DOUBLE) PUMPING 

Single pumping means expressing milk from one breast at a time. Simultaneous or Double pumping means expressing milk from both breasts at the same time. Double pumping is preferred by many moms as it saves time and increases breast stimulation.

 PORTABILITY AND AVAILABILITY OF SPARE PARTS 

When returning to work or school, when caring for other children, or when traveling, portability of breast pumps and the accessories used to express the breast milk is important for mothers.

The availability of these parts/accessories is vital in situations where spares are needed due to inability to clean parts in between use, parts are lost or forgotten at home, or even when parts malfunction.

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.  The CDC has updated guidelines (PDF) for cleaning your breast pump and breast pump parts.

Prior to initial use, be sure to sterilize your pump parts as advised on our Blog:  “How to Clean Your Spectra Accessories” (https://www.spectrababyusa.com/cleaning-spectra-accessories/). After each use, it’s important to properly clean your pump and pumping kit, clean your pumping area, and store your breastmilk safely. To clean your pump, wipe down the pump with a damp cloth.

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 is best to allow pump parts to air dry on an unused dish towel or paper towel. *NEVER wash or wet your tubing as it does not come into contact with breast milk. If condensation is observed, hang up to dry to prevent mold from forming. *

Avoid putting your pump parts in the dishwasher, sterilizers, microwave bags, or constant boiling to prevent warping and premature wear of parts.

BUYING BREAST PUMPS

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

Breast pump are available at most hospitals, baby supply stores, DMEs, retailers near you and even online!

Key elements to consider while buying a breast pump are:

  • Insurance Coverage
  • Out of Pocket Costs
  • Accessibility of Spare Parts/Accessories
  • Pump Features
  • Reviews

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

Prior to buying a breast pump, check the manufacturers website to review purchase policies, warranty policies, and instructions on using their pumps/accessories.

PRE-OWNED BREAST PUMPS 

Because Spectra Baby USA is concerned for the health of our pumping mothers and their babies, we recommend that moms avoid purchasing or obtaining pre-owned breast pumps.

Unless the breast pump is FDA approved as a multi-user breast pump, such as a rental grade breast pump obtained at a hospital, we do not recommend the use of a pre-owned breast pump.

BREAST PUMPS AID BREAST MILK DONATION

A perk of breast pumps is that they allow for breast milk expression. This allows moms with excessive breast milk, or moms who no longer breast feed to donate expressed breast milk to babies in need. The CDC teaches that there are milk banks which accept donations for adopted children or those who are not able to get their mother’s milk.

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