Choosing a Breastpump

Not all nursing mothers need a breastpump. If breastfeeding goes smoothly and a mother chooses to take her baby with her wherever she goes (or if the baby nurses at predictable intervals so that the mother can slip out for a time without having to worry about missing a feeding), she may never feel the need for a breastpump. During my nursing years I only used a breastpump once: when my youngest was one year old and became so congested from a head cold that he could not breastfeed for an entire day. I borrowed a manual breastpump from a friend, used it several times to relieve my fullness, and went back to breastfeeding after his sinuses cleared. However, not all breastfeeding experiences go so smoothly, and not all women are willing or able to stay close to their babies. If mothers and babies are separated at feeding times or if a baby is not nursing well, an effective breastpump can make it possible for mothers to avoid the expense and health risks of formula.


What is the best type of breastpump? The answer depends upon the mother’s need. One of my roles as a lactation consultant is to help each woman select the best equipment for her situation and to give her the information she needs to use the breastpump optimally. Fortunately, there are many excellent breastpumps available today. But let the buyer beware: there are also many painful and ineffective breastpumps. Before investing in a breastpump, it pays to know what to look for and what to avoid.


An automatic double breastpump is no doubt the easiest, fastest, and most effective breastpump available. The mother just puts the breastpump’s breast shields to her breasts, adjusts the suction control to her comfort level, and turns it on. A full pumping takes 10-15 minutes, and when used optimally, these breastpumps are effective enough to establish and maintain a full milk supply even if a baby is not nursing. (If you’re a client, we can provide the specific information via e-mail on how to do this successfully.) In general, automatic double breastpumps provide suction and release at a rate of about 48 per minute, similar to a baby actively nursing. As a rule of thumb, the more suction and releases per minute a breastpump provides, the more effectively a breastpump stimulates milk supply and the more comfortable it feels.

Although automatic double breastpumps are the fastest and easiest to use, they may be more than some mothers need. They are no doubt the best choice for a mother working full time or a mother who is pumping and bottle-feeding her milk instead of breastfeeding, but they may be overkill for a mother who just wants to pump an occasional bottle for her baby.

The most commonly available automatic double breast pumps are Ameda Egnell and Medela rental breastpumps. Among rental breastpumps, different features are available among different brands and models, and one breastpump may be better suited to a mother than another. For example, Ameda Egnell’s Elite is the only rental breastpump that starts at zero suction, making it ideal for mothers who find the minimum suction levels of other breastpumps uncomfortable. The Medela Lactina Select and Ameda Egnell Elite alone feature adjustable speed, which helps trigger milk flow faster for some mothers. (See our Rental Pumps page under our Chicago Area Services section for photos and more detailed descriptions of the different models of rental breastpumps.)