Pumping. It seems like it should be easy, but there are so many pumps out there, how do you know which will be right for you? Even the top lists of 2017 have pumps on them with questionable reviews and reputations. So, it really boils down to how you plan to use it, and what your insurance will cover. Whether you are an exclusive pumper (e-pumper), a back to work mom, a mom who is separated from her baby, or an expectant mom who is still trying to figure it all out, your baby thanks you! Pumping is hard work!
What kind of pumper are you?
For the exclusive pumper: If you are planning to exclusively pump, or if you are separated from your baby after delivery for a medical reason like pre-term delivery, the best option is a hospital grade pump. These pumps are available by rental because the retail price is typically in the thousands of dollars range. These pumps cycle quickly, mimicking the way a baby sucks, and the motors are built to last. Unfortunately, many insurance providers will not pay the cost of a hospital grade rental, which leads us to the next best thing, a personal pump.
For the regular pumper: A personal pump for home is what most people have access to through their insurance. There are so many on the market, so the best place to start is to find out what type of pump your insurance will cover. By calling the customer service number on the back of your insurance card, they can tell you not only what pumps are covered, but where to get it. Some companies send them directly to you by mail; others send you to a medical supply store.
Most insurance will NOT reimburse you for a pump that you pay for out of pocket, so it pays to do your research before the baby arrives. Once you know what kind of pump they cover, do your research. Check online resources for reviews, talk to your friends, compare features and decide what you absolutely feel is necessary for your life and expected use. Also, know that not every pump will work the same for every woman–the pump that your best friend loves, may not be the perfect pump for you.
For the minimal pumper: For some women, even a personal pump isn’t necessary. If you are not planning to go back to work or be separated from your baby very often, a hand pump may be the right choice. Hand pumps are simple to use, have fewer parts and require no external power source. Because of their simplicity, they take up very little space, making it ideal for travel and storage. They typically cost much less than the hospital grade and personal electric pumps.
Going pump-free: Regardless of what type of pump you choose, every breastfeeding woman should learn how to hand express her milk. If the power goes out, if you forget your pump parts or your pump breaks, this can be a life saver. As an added benefit, hand expression does an excellent job of helping you to make more milk, especially if your baby is slow to get started with feeding after birth.
Understanding pump features
Pumps for personal use can be divided into two categories: closed systems and open systems. A closed system pump has protection, such as a valve, to prevent milk from backing up into the tubing and motor. Breast milk is extremely sticky stuff, so when particles get into the motor or its case, motor function can be affected, and mold and bacterial growth can be expected. A closed system, in theory, can be used by multiple people without the risk of mixing milk particles. Open system pumps can function just as well for any single user as a closed system, they just don’t have this added layer of protection.
A breast pump should have variable cycle speeds, to help stimulate your milk let down and imitate the way the baby sucks. It should also feature variable suction strength, so that you can choose the amount of suction that is most comfortable for you. The highest suction should be the level that is most comfortable to you–you do not need to put it on high to get more milk out, especially if it hurts!
Pumping, like breastfeeding, should not be painful. If the flange (the cone that goes over your breast) is too small, it will cause your skin to rub and will hurt. Some pumps come with larger flange sizes, but others require you to buy a larger size separately, and insurance does not always cover the cost of extra parts. Another important reason to have the right size flange is to get out more milk–a pump that is too tight cannot remove milk as effectively as it could.
Beyond these basics, there are actually some fun features with some pumps. Carry bags, freezer packs, battery operation, let down buttons, voice recorders to record your baby’s voice, night lights, LED displays, built in timers, Swarovski crystals embedded in the motor case, hands free pumps, apps that track milk production, super quiet motors, wireless, tubeless…all may be fun, but are definitely not needed to get the milk out.
What a pump can’t do
No pump can get all the milk out by itself. Research tells us that especially in the early days, for moms that are separated from their babies or e-pumping, hands on pumping that includes breast massage and breast compression, will do a better job of stimulating milk production than moms who do not do these things. Moms that are back to work, who include breast compression and massage into their pumping routines will also yield better milk production. So, while hands free may seem like a great idea, pumping does require some “hands on” time to be most effective.
Most pump manufacturers offer a one- or two-year warranty, meaning after that time, your pump may not function as well as it did when it was new. You can bring your pump to the Mom and Me Boutique at ProMedica Toledo Hospital, to have your pump function checked.
Depending on how much your pump was used with your last baby, how your pump was stored, whether it is a closed or open system, are all factors for deciding if you need a new pump for each baby that you have. It’s always a good idea to check with your insurance provider before deciding whether or not to get a new pump–some have rules regarding how often you are eligible for a new pump.
Angie Bauman is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Parent Instructor for ProMedica and a former Labor and Delivery nurse at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. Click here to read previous columns from her breastfeeding series, Let’s Spill the Milk!