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How to buy the best breast pump

By Anna Studman

Get the best breast pump for you, to make expressing milk easier. We take you through all the essential need-to-knows before you buy. 

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How much do I need to spend on a breast pump?

This will depend on what type of breast pump you want. Manual ones cost from as little as £15 but involve more work, whereas an electric breast pump can cost anywhere between £60 to £250+ but they're easier to use and can be quicker. We test a range of breast pumps to suit most budgets and have Best Buy breast pumps starting from just over £50.

Find the perfect solution for you in our breast pump reviews

Is it worth paying more for an electric breast pump?

This will depend on how often you plan to express milk. If you're only going to express occasionally, a manual pump will probably suffice. However, if you plan on expressing a lot, many mums think the investment in an electric pump is worth it, and can save aching wrists.

If you have a baby in special care and are exclusively expressing while you wait to establish breastfeeding, it will probably be beneficial to invest in an electric breast pump to help keep your supply up, or look into hiring a hospital-grade breast pump.

Electric breast pump vs manual breast pump

Some mums prefer a manual pump because they’re cheaper, more discreet, quieter, and easily portable, so can be used if you're at work or while you're out. Others prefer the comfort and speed of an electric pump, as it will do most of the hard work for you.

Some may be put off by the speed of an electric pump, but all the ones we tested had variable speeds, so you can start off with a gentle pumping action and then increase the suction. Electric breast pumps also come as double breast pumps - so you can express from both breasts at once and save time.

When we've surveyed women, we found that most are likely to start off using a manual pump for their first child, then use an electric one for subsequent children, when using a breast pump isn't a new experience.

Find out more about electric breast pumps or manual breast pumps in our dedicated guides.

BPA free breast pumps

BPA is Bisphenol A, a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics, which some feeding bottles can be made from. Some studies have found that it’s potentially harmful to babies.

All the breast pumps we’ve looked at are BPA-free.

An EU directive came into force in 2011 restricting the use of Bisphenol A in feeding bottles that are intended for use by infants under the age of 12 months.

The manufacture of polycarbonate feeding bottles containing Bisphenol is banned, and, since 1 June 2011, the import into the EU and sale on the EU market of feeding bottles containing BPA has also been banned.

Can I buy a second-hand breast pump?

Second-hand breast pumps are available, although most mums prefer to buy a new breast pump. But some of you may choose to buy one second-hand, or are given a breast pump by friends or relatives.

Manufacturers advise against using a second-hand breast pump, and most instructions say the product is designed for a 'single user' only. Some manufacturers state that use by more than one person will void the warranty.

If you're considering buying a breast pump second-hand, speak to your hospital health visitor, local NCT group or breastfeeding healthcare professional for more advice or information.

What's the difference between an open- and closed-system breast pump?

You may hear the terms open-system or closed-system when looking at breast pumps. A closed-system breast pump is designed so none of the breast milk comes into contact with the breast pump or air while pumping. Most hospital-grade breast pumps are closed systems, and need to be used with a separate, sterilised, milk collection kit – this is the only part that the milk will touch. This means that a lot of women can use the same breast pump without their milk coming into contact with anyone else's.

Using an open-system breast pump means that breast milk can come into contact with the tubes of the breast pump and the air inside them. Most single-use breast pumps are open systems, as these are designed to be used by just one person.

All breast pumps need cleaning and sterilising after use.

Breast pump accessories and features

Variable suction or speed

Some electric pumps offer a variable suction or speed level which is designed to let you control the speed of expression. This allows you to start off gently and then increase the speed. Some pumps also offer the option of phased expression, which is designed to mimic a baby’s sucking (fast and light initially, then slower and deeper) which is also meant to help stimulate milk flow.

Breast shields

The breast shield is the plastic part of the breast pump that covers your breast and nipple. It’s sometimes called the cup or funnel. The plastic materials vary; some are rigid, hard plastic while others are softer and more flexible. Some shields are made of opaque material so your nipple can't be seen, which can make it hard to see when your milk has started flowing, while others shields are transparent.

It’s very important to get the right fit with a breast shield, as an ill-fitting shield will affect the suction and be uncomfortable and can cause pain.

Some manufacturers have guides online that will help you assess whether your breast shield fits correctly, and you can buy alternative shields for use with your pump.

We’ve measured the breast shields for the models we’ve tested. Sizes can be found in the technical specifications tab in each of our breast pump reviews.

Milk storage cups

Most breast pumps come with some sort of storage container. This can range from a spare bottle to a small pot. Spare lids and seals are often included to help prevent the storage pots leaking while being transported. We test all the bottles, storage containers or pots for leaking.

While most pumps come with storage, you can also buy most bottles and storage pots can also separately if you need replacements or spares.

Valve membrane

Each breast pump has a valve. The valve is made up of one or two pieces of small plastic and includes a valve membrane. This tiny bit of plastic doesn't seem much, but it's vitally important to the working of the breast pump – so don't lose it.

The valve and membrane stops expressed milk flowing back from the bottle into the pump mechanism.

On some models the valve is already assembled, but with other breast pumps you have to fit the valve and the membrane before you start expressing. This can be fiddly, as both pieces of plastic are very small.  

Although most pumps contain a spare valve membrane, it's really easy to misplace it or lose it while washing up and sterilising – especially if you're sleep-deprived – so make sure you always know where it is.

Baby feeding bottles

Not all bottles are compatible with all pumps. Our reviews provide you with all you need to know so you can choose the best pump – and then the bottles to suit it.

Find the best pumps in our breast pump Best Buys.

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Dishwasher safe breast pumps

Some breast pumps are dishwasher safe, which makes cleaning them much easier, but remember to check there aren't any pools of water lurking anywhere once they’re washed. And your breast pump will still need to be sterilised afterwards. Always check the instruction manual for information on cleaning and sterilising your breast pump.

Which best pump brand?

We've surveyed more than 1,200 mums who've used a breast pump to find out which they consider the best breast pump brand. Read our Tommee Tippee, Medela and Philips Avent breast pump reviews

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