What You Really Need To Know About Breast Pumps

8 October 2012

They don't hurt. There you go, that's pretty much everything you really wanted to know about breast pumps isn't it? So I can go home now and this is the shortest feature ever.

Except of course it never quite works out that way. The truth is, they don't hurt ... for the most part. And they're not exactly comfortable to use at the start. But it does get easier.  I've used a couple of different kinds and they certainly weren't as hard on my nipples as  the baby was. But if you've got any sorts of nipple problems at all (and if you're walking around with cabbage leaves stuffed in your bra you know what I mean) they won't be the most comfortable thing you've used.

The pluses are many though. You can make up bottles (and breast milk can be frozen) so you can actually go out (gasp!), allow your partner to take on some of the feeds, go back to work but continue breastfeeding, and even use them to up your own milk production.

Expressing milk is the phrase used when talking about mums taking milk from breasts using anything other than the baby. Other benefits of doing this include being able to give milk to a baby that is having trouble breast feeding (this can be a common problem with premature babies for example). Some women find they over produce, and expressing can be a way of stopping their breasts from feeling too uncomfortable.

It is possible to express milk manually using your hands. Mostly though, you'll want to use a breast pump. There are two types that you can buy - manual pumps and electric. There's also hospital style pumps but we won't cover those here. These can be hired if you need one - talk to your midwife or local NCT.

Manual Breast Pumps

These things look positively medieval I know. But don't be put off - that's just how all breast pumps look and the electric ones aren't any different. A pump is going to try and replicate the sucking action of a baby to get the milk out. So you'll have this big suction cup that goes over your nipple and breast.

With a manual pump, also known as a hand pump, you create the suction yourself using an apparatus that you squeeze, or push, and let go or release, then squeeze and let go. And so forth. Milk goes into the bottle attached.

These are cheaper and smaller than electric pumps, and are much quieter. Can be handy to keep one around to take out with you. On the downside, I was never able to get a proper rhythm going (and that's a complaint echoed by many mums I asked), and also it is tiring. Especially if you have zero bicep muscles like moi.

I personally didn't find manual pumps kinder to use than electric, whereas mum of three Brenda told me she preferred her manual pump as she found it much gentler.

Electric Breast Pumps

Also known as automatic breast pumps, electric breast pumps come in a bewildering variety. Plus they're not that cheap. I baulked at the price tags and just got the manual pump to start with. I'm glad I did as I found it handy to have both types, but my milk flow was so slow I ended up being forced to buy an electric pump.

Kerry, who second daughter was born prematurely, told me though that her's was a big waste of money. She absolutely hated it, and disliked the sensation of having a machine express the milk. Kerry soon ditched it in favour of the manual pump, even though she was filling up to 10 bottles a day! I have to say though, she was way, way fitter than me.

As well has having a lot more models and types to choose from, so you can be more sure of finding one that suits you, electric breast pumps are faster. I think that's what overcome my reluctance to use one. My flow as so slow, what could take 40 minutes using the manual pump only took 10 minutes using the electric one.

Storing milk

Just a little bit here on the guidelines issued by the NHS for storing expressed breast milk. The guidelines state:

  • 5 days in refrigerator (place at back, 4 degrees or lower)
  • 2 weeks in freezer compartment of refrigerator
  • 6 months in a freezer (must be minus 18 degrees or lower)
What would be your top tips for expressing and storing breast milk?



  • pruney
    I attended a free return to work breastfeeding workshop and they showed you on a balloon how to massage the breast to encourage the milk to flow before you even start pumping, I found that helped massively. They gave you a helpsheet to take home and after that, I was able to express much more than before when I used to just put the pump to the breast.
  • LynleyOram
    that sounds brilliant Pruney. I wish that I could have gone to one of those. And I wish that they had them available for more than just going back to work.
  • pruney
    I'm lucky, they also ran a free breastfeeding workshop for expectant parents which we also attended. I certainly found that knowing how breastfeeding works helps enormously as there's so much misinformation out there. Like some people think that they don't make "good milk", or that other people's are higher calorie than theirs, or milk just runs out. These are all suggestions that were made to me, that my milk was good because I rested well, that maybe I wasn't producing enough because she fed very frequently or that I'd ran out! The support in my area is great and in turn now, I try and support other new mums I meet that are breastfeeding because it really isn't easy sometimes.

What do you think?

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