Five Tips for Picking a Breast Pump

Every so often someone asked me what the ‘rules’ are for buying a breast pump. Rather than saying “I have no damn clue” over and over again, I decided I’d ask Wendy from the 16 Minute Club because she really knows her boob stuff. 


Remember the days before pregnancy and motherhood when you would shop for the perfect pair of shoes with great determination, spending many hours searching and comparing for the right color, heel height, etc.? Who would have thought you would put the same amount of effort into choosing a breast pump?! When it comes to making milk, every drop is precious gold, so it is essential to find the right pump for your nursing needs. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are picking a breast pump.

1/ How Well Do You Pump?

Not everyone can afford a hospital grade breast pump. Thankfully, not every mom needs one either. Some moms will express milk very easily with any type of breast pump, while other moms may use the top of the line pump and still only get an ounce or two at a time. Remember, how much milk you pump is not a strong indicator of how much milk you actually make. A typical baby can remove about 70% of the milk in a breast during one feeding, pumping for the same time period will remove only about 30% – a big difference!  If you are one that can pump several ounces quickly without any issue, then you can use almost any kind of pump. However, if you have issues with pumping milk or with your supply, stay far away from cheaper machines. The lower-end models of breast pumps have smaller motors and have fewer suction-and-release cycles per minute. The higher-end models (electric double pumps) and hospital grade pumps will have stronger motors, stronger suction, and have more suction-and-release cycles per minute and are going to be the most effective.

2/ Figure Out Your Needs

You can also determine what type of pump you will need by simply answering the question, “Why am I pumping?” If you will be away from the baby only occasionally and your milk supply is well established or if you are pumping on the side just to build up a supply for your freezer, then any pump will do. You are primarily breastfeeding your baby, which means they are getting the nutrition they need, and you do not have to worry about the wrong pump messing up your supply. Even a hand pump and/or hand expression can help you quickly express an extra ounce or two each feeding to store away in the freezer.  With a hand pump you simply place a cone-shaped shield on your breast and squeeze the handle to express milk.

If pumping is being used to replace breastfeeding, establishing or boosting your supply, or for when you return to work, then a high-end double electric breast pump is needed. A baby is very effective at getting milk out of the breasts and boosting your supply to their needs. So if you plan to pump in place of having a baby on your breast, then the pump needs to remove milk as efficiently as possible. Generally, the hospital grade pumps available for rental are the best ones for this job. Keep in mind that you will also be pumping a lot. Therefore, a double, electric pump is the fastest and most efficient way to stimulate supply and pump. It is wise to carry a hand pump in your purse to for a quick pumping session you can do anywhere when you get slightly engorged and cannot bust out your electric pump.

3/ What About Accessories?

Breastfeeding and pumping alike can take up a lot of time. If you plan on using your pump frequently, then there is a good chance that you will want as many accessories as possible to make the process easier and more enjoyable. Some brands of pumps do not have a lot of accessories with them or it is hard to find replacement parts for them. Medela and Ameda are the companies that dominate the pumping market and because of that, there are so many accessories and parts available, and they are easy to find at most stores. Shop around for what type of accessories you might want or need and find a pump that will work with them. Some great pumping must-haves are a vehicle power adapter and a hands-free pumping bra so that you can do something else while pumping. Different sized breast shields are also a must if your breasts are larger or smaller than the pump’s “standard size”.   Your nipple should not rub against the shields as your pump – if it does, go up one size.   Cleaning products, cooling bags and breast pump bags are also very helpful if you will be pumping outside the home.

Here’s a great post on what to pack in your pumping bag for work too.

4/ What Will Insurance Pay For?

In the US the Affordable Care Act requires health insurers to now cover personal use breast pumps.  In Canada, each plan differs but most seem to cover up to $200 for a pump.  Review the selections your plan offers and select the one that matches your need.  If they only offer single side pumps or hand pumps and you are returning to work or are exclusively u – you may need to invest in a higher quality pump.  A doctor’s note explaining your pumping needs can help. If your baby was premature, many times insurance covers the cost of a pump rental. Yes, pumps are expensive, but compare it to the cost of formula. Most moms who purchase formula will spend $30-80 per month in formula costs. Multiply that times a year and that comes out to an added cost of $360 – $960 a year. In many cases, a good pump can save you money and the stress of having to buy and use formula.

5/ Try Before You Buy

You can read Amazon reviews left and right, but all pumps have their pros and cons – their lovers and their haters. It is hard to choose a pump without first testing the ropes. If it is possible to try one at the hospital or borrow a friend’s pump before you buy one, then do it. You will just have to buy a replacement parts kit to use the pump. You can also choose to rent a pump before buying. Trying before you make the commitment to buy can help you avoid purchasing the wrong pump. Unfortunately, most retailers will not accept pump returns once they have been opened due to sanitary reasons. Remember to try the pump out after your sweet baby makes their premiere, you don’t want to cause early labor!

Editor’s note: I did a little research and found a range of breastpumps that get really good ratings if you wanted an idea of where to start. Happy pumping!

– Amy

Pregnant Chicken Recommendations:

Spectra Baby – $120
Medela Sonata Smart Pump – $400 (you can also check out our review here.)
Medela Pump In Style – around $200
Ameda Purely Yours – $120
Medela Swing – $155


Medela Harmony Manual – $26 Great ‘just in case’ manual pump


Simple Wishes Hands-Free Breastpump Bra – $30
Freemie Collection Cups – $60

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