How a Mum feeds her baby is a very personal thing. If you have chosen, and found yourself able, to breastfeed, you’ll know that while it is the loveliest thing to do (once you’ve got past the sore nipples and clusterfeeding), it can also be quite restrictive in terms of catching a break. Ever.
It’s also presents a challenge for Mums who go back to work but want to continue breastfeeding – both for creating a breastmilk stash to give to grandparents or childcare providers, and maintaining your supply while you’re away from baby.
There’s also the chance that you haven’t been able to breastfeed, but have decided to exclusively pump your breastmilk to bottle feed your baby.
All of these scenarios is when a good breast pump is a Mum’s best friend. Current guidance suggests waiting until your supply is well established (when baby is about six weeks) before introducing any pumping sessions, but decide what works for you and your baby, and always look up local breastfeeding groups for advice if you need to.
What features do I need?
When choosing a breast pump, the first question to ask yourself is whether you want electric or manual. And to decide that, it’s worth considering your main reason for pumping.
If it’s to relieve engorgement while out and about, a manual pump might suffice, but an electric pump will be better for those hoping to exclusively pump, combi-feed or build up a freezer stash of milk for when they can’t be with baby.
Manual is simpler too, can be easily done from anywhere and is much cheaper, but electric is usually faster and more efficient. Some people do have both for different situations, which is always something to think about.
Another thing to consider is whether a single or double pump will suit your needs. Choosing a double will reduce the time you are pumping for, as you can pump both breasts at once, but there are extra costs for the convenience.
Some features to look out for in an electric model are a two-phase programme that features a “let down mode”, which stimulates the breast in the same way a baby would to encourage your let down.
You might also want to consider those that are, or can become, wireless – so you aren’t tied to a plug socket several times a day, while electric pumps with timers are handy for keeping an eye on the length of your pumping session.
How do I use a breast pump?
First off, get yourself some snacks and a big glass of water, and then get comfy.
Next, ensure the shield (usually cone shaped) is covering your nipple and areola and be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions on picking the right sized breast shield for you – some manufacturers supply more than one in the box, but you can seek out more sizes online if you require them.
This is important as the wrong size shield can have a real affect on the amount you manage to pump.
That said, it’s also important not to overthink the amount you’re able to pump and compare it with what baby is getting from you. Babies are more efficient at getting milk from breasts than pumps are, so it is rarely ever comparable.
Once everything is in place, start pumping. With a manual, you’ll be squeezing a lever, and if you’re using electric, you’ll want to find the right suction for you – don’t be tempted to whack it up to the most powerful setting, it should feel comfortable at all times.
How do I store breast milk?
Once you have pumped, breast milk is able to stand out at room temperature for five hours, at the back of a cold fridge for five days and in a freezer for up to six months. You can buy special breastmilk storage bags for this, which are double sealed for peace of mind.
Here are our picks of the best breast pumps you can buy.
Can we describe a breast pump as revolutionary? The Elvie pump certainly feels that way, as it does away with all wires, is almost entirely silent in use and slips into your bra to allow you to pump whenever you want, wherever you are.
Charge it up and it should last for around two hours of pumping before needing a recharge, with the specially designed bottles that attach to it able to collect up to 5oz/150ml at a time.
As well as buttons on the hub unit itself, the companion app connects via Bluetooth to allow you to control pumping, suction strength and side selection (to stimulate the let-down mode) from your phone, as well as gives you an idea of how long you’ve been pumping for and how much you’ve expressed.
You get two shield sizes in the box – 24mm and 28mm – with a 21mm available to buy separately, and two collection bottles. At £250 for a single pump and £450 for a double, it’s a fair investment to make, but when it takes away almost all the pain points of pumping, it may well feel like money well invested.
From £250, Elvie
Medela Swing Flex
Medela is one of the most established names in breastfeeding, first introducing the Medela Swing breast pump in the 1960s.
The Swing Flex (also available as the double Swing Maxi Flex) is the latest edition to the Swing family, and features a unique oval-shaped breast shield that can be rotated 360 degrees, helping you find the best position for your shape.
In addition, the breast shield has a wider 105 degree opening, which helps to relieve pressure and allow milk to flow more freely.
In testing across more than 1,000 pumping sessions, the new shape shield not only delivered
more comfort, but was significantly more efficient, yielding up to 11% more
milk per session compared to the standard breast shield.
As with the regular Swing model, the Flex can be run on batteries for up to one hour or via the mains, and offers two-phase pumping to mimic baby’s feeding technique, as well as a range of suction levels, which you can adjust on the main unit. There’s no display here though, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the clock to know how long you’ve been pumping.
The Swing Flex comes with one bottle and a shield in 24mm and 21mm.
Lansinoh Double Electric Pump
Coming from another big name in breastfeeding, the Lansinoh Double Electric pump is a pretty appealing package that ticks all the boxes.
Not only does it offer a hospital-grade performance, with a special let-down mode, three different pumping styles and eight suction levels, it also features an LCD screen and the ability to run it on batteries if needs be.
Perhaps one of the best features though, is the ability to place Lansinoh’s newest breastmilk storage bags onto the pump and express directly into them. Less faff, and more importantly, less sterilising.
It comes with two bottles, two size of breast shield (24mm and 27mm), and two bottle stands, as well as a bag for keeping it all together when travelling. It’s a really good price for a quality double pump.
Philips Avent Natural Comfort Breast Pump
Philips has done a lot of work on the design of their breast pumps, allowing Mums to sit more comfortably while they express. That means you’ll notice less leaking from this compared with other manual pumps and you won’t have to lean forward the whole time either.
The pump features the soft Philips Avent shield, which has been designed to feel warmer and softer against the skin than hard plastic, to be more comfortable and to stimulate milk flow.
The shield is also on the smaller side compared with others, with larger shields available to buy separately – a refreshing approach, as the majority of women actually need smaller shields than they think.
The included 4oz Philips Avent bottle screws into the pump, which can then be used with the included teat for feeding, or can be stored using a storage lid instead.
It forms one of just five parts of the pump, which makes it really easy to clean, and is also plenty compact for taking with you out and about.
NatureBond Silicone Pump
This silicone pump from NatureBond is a little different to the other pumps on the list, as it collects milk using natural suction pressure and nothing else.
This is particularly handy for collecting your let-down from one breast, while feeding your baby on the other, saving leaking and above all, wasted milk.
You use it by squeezing the pump and attaching to your breast, creating a vacuum and a natural pressure. It takes a little getting used to, but once you have, it’s really comfortable, not to mention hands free.
This is easily the cheapest, most compact and most portable pump you can get – it isn’t going to help you build a freezer stash with any haste, but for collecting the milk that would otherwise end up soaking a breast pad, it is very useful indeed.