Find out how breast pumps can help you when breastfeeding, including advice on how to choose between manual and electric breast pumps and the realities of using them.
For some new mums, a breast pump a life-saver that gives them a much-needed break from feeding, while other new parents think the mechanics of expressing breast milk is too much of a trouble when also looking after a newborn. Whichever camp you fall in – and you may not know until after your baby’s born – we’re here to guide you through the breast pump options out there.
If you’ve already decided you’d like to buy a breast pump, head over to our 2018 guide to the best manual and electric breast pumps to find the right breast pump for you.
Should I buy a breast pump?
Expressing milk can be very handy if you want your baby to have the benefits of your breast milk even when you’re not there to feed them. For example, your partner can feed your baby if you’re out for dinner if there’s some expressed breast milk ready, or you can store milk for feeding if you go back to work.
On the other hand, some parents are less keen to use breast pumps because it’s essentially twice the work: first you have to pump the milk and store it, then wash bottles and warm up the milk. If you’re the mum, you’ll also need to express milk while you’re away from your baby when they’re young, both to avoid getting engorged and to keep up your milk supply.
Having the right breastfeeding support in early days after the birth can be crucial to establishing your breastfeeding. Look up your local maternity units using our Birth Choice tool and check out their ‘Baby Friendly’ status to see how much support you can expect to get from the hospital or birth centre where you’re planning to give birth.
Getting started with breast pumps
If you’re planning to breastfeed and are keen to use a pump, it can be a good idea to familiarise yourself with breast pumps before your baby is born.
Breast pumps aren’t the easiest products to try before you buy, but you might find it handy to borrow a friend’s or even have them talk you through how it works. How and when to use a breast pump may also be covered in your NHS or private antenatal classes alongside other breastfeeding advice.
In our survey of parents, we found that it’s normal to find expressing milk tricky at first:
Although I found it hard expressing milk, everyone is different. What I did manage to express was worth the rest.
It could take a few goes to get the hang of any breast pump, but you can help your chances by choosing a simple-to-use model with clear instructions and diagrams to help you get started and read our advice on how to express breast milk to feel a bit more prepared.
Electric or manual breast pump?
A manual breast pump simulates the sucking action of a hungry baby, collecting milk into an attached container. You manually pump a handle to stimulate milk flow until you’ve collected enough milk.
The main advantages of a manual breast pump are lower prices (usually around £15-£35) and increased portability. Although some may be quieter than most electric pumps, they still make a noise. Some mums in our survey found manual pumps to be slow, but everyone produces milk at different rates. That’s why it’s important to choose a pump that’s comfortable to use.
Electric breast pumps automate the expressing process and tend to come with more options, such as adjustable suction levels or the ability to pump from both breasts at the same time. They are usually faster, too. All of these advantages come at a higher price than a manual pump (around £60-£150), and a mains-operated electric pump cuts down on portability. There are some battery-powered pumps if you need to express on the go.
Find out more about manual and electric breast pumps in the 2018 Which? guide to choosing a breast pump.
Breast pump problems
Any pump can cause soreness, especially if you need to use it frequently, and manual pumps can lead to tired hands. A parent in our survey told us:
It was hard work and made the breast very sore. I felt I could have been pumping all day just to get half a bottle’s worth of milk out!
To get around the soreness, try to find a pump that fits you well, or consider trying an electric model to save on extra work.
Some pumps have small pieces that can be fiddly to use and clean, and that can easily be lost. A tiny piece of plastic can easily go missing when you’ve got a million and one things to do:
The smallest piece was difficult to keep track of when washing. We lost one, but fortunately a second one was supplied!
Choose a model that comes with a few spare parts and clear instructions for cleaning. Read our breast pump reviews to find out which ones came out top for easy cleaning.
Every woman’s body reacts differently to a breast pump. You may find that you’re able to express ounces of milk very quickly, or that nothing much comes out at all.
A baby is far better at extracting milk than even the most advanced breast pump can ever be, so how much milk you can express (or not) says nothing about whether your baby is able to get enough milk directly from your breasts.
Even if you’re unable to express any milk, as long as your baby is gaining weight as they should and seems content after breastfeeds, they’re likely to get enough milk from you.
Finding the best breast pump
Which? uses expert lab tests to discover the best breast pumps, checking out factors including noise, comfort and ease of use.
Our tests our tough, but we also gather experiences from the toughest testers of all – parents. Half of our test rating comes from the customer score, so you can see how much each model is loved by the people who have tried one out.
Head to our guide to buying a breast pump to find out how some of the most common breast pumps performed in our tests and decide which one is right for you.