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Before You Buy That Breast Pump, Consider This

Expert advice on everything you need to know

Pumping is a tough thing to wrap your mind around. (How to choose a flange size isn't exactly intuitive.) But with 25 years of experience as a Registered OB Nurse, Certified Nurse Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and mom, Shari Criso has the answers. We drilled her on everything a new mom needs to consider before purchasing a breast pump.

Shari, you know your stuff. What factors should be considered when choosing a pump? There are three main things—functionality, convenience, and value. Of those, functionality is the most important. That makes sense. But how can we tell how well a pump works without actually trying it out? Find a pump that meets these three criteria: it should have multiple flange sizes; separate controls for suction and speed; and a closed system. OK, let’s talk flanges first. That’s the cup that goes over your breast, right? Exactly. And it’s crucial that this fits properly. A mom’s comfort is the number one thing that will help her to express milk. It’s not a one-size fits all kind of thing. The same woman can require several sizes as her breasts change size and shape, and may even need two different size flanges for each breast. So you need a pump that comes with options. You don’t want to wait to discover that what you’ve got doesn’t work and there is no way to fix it. Got it. Now, how do the controls work? What should we be looking for there? You want to be able to control both speed and suction to maximize production with two separate controls, and as many settings as possible. A pump with 32 settings works better than a pump with 5 or 15. There’s also something called CPM (cycles per minute) to look at. A CPM of between 30-60 is most similar to the sensation of a baby nursing. By having independent control over your settings, you can initiate multiple let-downs during one pumping session. This is more like what your baby would do. Multiple let downs will increase the amount of milk that you pump, and also help to maintain your overall milk production when you are not able to breastfeed. One phase or even two phases will not be as effective as multi-phase pumping.  And what’s the difference between a closed and open system? In a closed system, there’s a barrier between the milk and the tubing for the pump itself—it’s a safer and more hygienic choice. In an open system, milk can splash or get sucked into the tubing, making it difficult (or even impossible) to clean out. If this happens, you run the risk of bacteria, mold, or viruses growing within the tube itself. I worked with Evenflo Feeding to develop a closed system pump that really checks all of these boxes. OK, now let’s talk convenience. Other than the size and bulkiness of the pump, what else is there to consider? Portability is definitely a big factor. Smaller size and the ability to take it out of the bag will make pumping at work, or even bedside more convenient. It’s also a plus if the pump takes batteries so that you’re not always reliant on an electrical outlet. Built-in bottle holders are a good thing to look for, too, as this makes it much less likely for milk to spill. Do you tell your clients to buy a pump while they’re pregnant, or to wait until the baby arrives? I always say to get it while you’re pregnant. Many women need the relief from engorgement during the first weeks with a new baby. The fullness of the breast can sometimes make it difficult for the baby to latch—if you can release a little bit of milk when you need to, it makes breastfeeding easier. A manual pump can also be good for this. It's a good idea to get familiar with the pump before you walk in the door with your newborn. That way, should you have the need, you are not struggling with it while you are exhausted. Any final words of wisdom? No matter what you’ve heard or read, I really don’t recommend buying or sharing a used pump—even from a close friend or family member. There’s a risk of bacterial or viral contamination, even if they think the pump is perfectly clean (especially true if it’s an open system). Also, read customer reviews online before making your purchase. If someone talks about power being low, or only being able to pump one side using a two-sided pump, that’s not a product you want to consider. If you start with the three main functionality features we talked about before, you should be headed in the right direction. Thanks, Shari!

Photo by Amy Campbell Photography.