What Is A Breast Pump? Start Here If You're Wondering What Breast Pumps Are

Wondering about breast pumps?

Are you wondering about breast pumps, whether you need one and how to choose a breast pump? Maybe you're wondering 'what is a breast pump anyway'? Maybe you're pregnant and intending to breastfeed (great), or have a new baby, and are wondering if a breast pump is something that would make life easier? Hopefully we can answer some of your questions, and if you have more - just ask!

What is a breast pump?

When you're breastfeeding, your baby relies on you for all of her nutrition, hydration and immune support. While breastfeeding your baby from the breast is the optimal way to feed, breast pumps can give mothers additional options on their breastfeeding journey. The breast pump fits to your breast and then uses suction to draw milk out from the breast. This is called expressing. There are variations between models and types of breast pumps, but they all operate by using a rhythmic pattern of suction to start the milk flow and then draw it out from the breast, just the way your baby does. The expressed breast milk can then be fed to your baby later on. There's a picture of our M1 Portable Electric Breast Pump in the image above. You can see it has a motor, and a breastshield (the bits that look like a funnel) that screws onto the bottle to collect breastmilk. The picture shows a single breastshield, but the M1 actually comes with 2 breastshield sets so you can express breastmilk from both breasts at once. The breastshields are placed on your breast and the nipples are drawn into the 'flange' (the tunnel bit on the breastshield). The motor creates vacuum which stimulates your breasts to start milkflow and draws milk out from the breasts like your baby does. The motor also 'pumps' rhythmically, simulating a baby's pattern of feeding. You adjust the settings of the breast pump to your own comfort level and to find what works best for you. (Hopefully that answers your 'what is a breast pump' question, if not, let us know in comments!).

What are some reasons for using a breast pump?

There are a few different reasons that mothers find using a breast pump useful. Here are a few:
  • Flexibility - so someone else can feed your baby, so you can pop out to the gym, for example, or so your partner can do a night feed.
  • To give your breasts a break, if you're experiencing nipple damage or other problems.
  • To build supply.
  • When baby can't feed for some reason, such as being a prem baby.
  • To relieve engorgement.
  • Attachment issues - baby is not latching on and feeding effectively (or at all!).
  • When you're returning to work.
If you're looking for a breast pump to help with low supply, attachment issues or feeding problems, be sure to get a great lactation consultant to help you overcome these challenges. The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) provides free help, too.

Is there anything to be careful of when using a breast pump?

Not really, but be sure that you are comfortable when using the pump (expressing). It's best not to give your baby a bottle until breastfeeding is established, as babies can develop a preference for the faster flow from a bottle (less work for them!). Remember too that a breast milk may not remove milk as efficiently as a baby, so you may not remove as much milk expressing as a healthy baby with a good latch does. The amount of milk you can express isn't an indication of your milk supply.

How do I choose a breast pump?

The best breast pump for you will depend on your needs and your budget. You need to think about your budget, of course - and Spectra will have a breast pump to suit yours. You also need to think about how often you will be pumping - some pumps are best for occasional use, and some for heavy duty use. You also need to think about where you will pump - do you need a portable pump, or is it okay for it to be plugged in? Work out why you need to express, how often, and what you're comfortable spending.

What do I look for in a breast pump?

There are a few things to look for when choosing a breast pump.
  • Suction strength (measured in mmHG) - the higher the number, the stronger the pump.
  • Does the pump have a letdown mode - a quick, fast, suction program designed to copy the way a baby starts milk flow.
  • Can the pump be used for double pumping, i.e. to pump from both sides. It saves time to do both breasts at once and often produces more milk.
  • BPA - it's important to many parents that components in contact with milk are BPA free.
  • Open or closed system - pumps with an open system don't have a physical barrier between the milk and the pump motor, closed systems do have a physical barrier, which is more hygienic.
  • Manual or electric - manual pumps are operated by your hand, whereas electric pumps are less work but require a power source (battery or mains).
  • Portability - how heavy / large is the pump, and does it need to be plugged into power.
  • Noise - if you need to pump at work, it might be important to you to have a quiet pump.

Hopefully this post has given you a good answer to the 'what is a breast pump' question and a start on understanding whether you need a breast pump and how to choose one. If you need more help, we welcome your questions, so just comment below or pop over to our Facebook page. Happy pumping!

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