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Expressing Your Milk - Helpful Equipment

Which breast pumps are best to use?

Mothers who plan to be away from their babies for some feedings, or whose babies aren't able to vigorously feed at the breast yet, will need to rent or purchase an appropriate pump. While it is possible to hand-express milk, a pump can be useful to help empty the breasts and maintain adequate milk production.

Many types of pumps are available, and your choice will depend on your needs. Some are simple handheld pumps that are useful for very infrequent pumping. These are operated manually. Several good small electric or battery-operated pumps also can be purchased; these are especially useful for full-time working moms.

If you need to express your milk very frequently, especially if you are separated from your infant for a prolonged period of time or have a premature or sick infant, you may need to rent a hospital-grade electric pump to maintain full milk production. These pumps automatically cycle suction with release of suction—similar to a baby's sucking action. Hospital-grade pumps express milk most efficiently and don't burn out from frequent use. Because they are much more expensive, these pumps are usually rented, not purchased.

If you have a double-electric pump, you can pump both sides at the same time. Double pumping is often recommended because it cuts pumping time in half. Usually, the total pumping time for each session is only 10 to 15 minutes. This may make it easier to schedule breaks at work.

Your health insurance will often cover the purchase or rental of a pump, so be sure to ask.

What are milk collection kits?

Milk collection kits include:

  • The flange (also called a breast shield)

  • A funnel that's placed on your breast valves

  • Bottles to collect your milk

  • Tubing that connects the kit to your pump

You can use your own collection kit with another pump (such as in the workplace or NICU) if they are made by the same company.

Flanges come in different sizes. If they are too large or too small, there is a risk of injury as well as low milk supply. Your nipple should move freely within the flange opening without rubbing on its sides. Check with a lactation consultant if you have concerns about the proper fit.