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Electric breast pumps

By Lisa Galliers

Electric breast pumps tend to be faster than manual models and have more features – but they are more expensive. Are they worth spending the extra cash?

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Electric breast pumps are fast, easy to use and usually offer more options than manual breast pumps. For example, you'll find pumps with adjustable suction levels and settings, travel-friendly versions, and ones with double-pump capacity.

Unlike with a manual pump, once the cup is in place on your breast, the work is automatically done for you, at your choice of pace – saving you from aching hands or hard-to-maintain rhythm patterns.

82%of mums found their electric breast pump useful*
Most electric pumps are mains-operated, but a battery-powered version will allow you to express milk when you’re not near a plug socket. Electric breast pumps are more expensive than manual alternatives, ranging in price from around £60 for a mini pump to £250 for a top-of-the-range model.

Electric breast pumps: pros and cons

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Faster than other methods of expressing milk
  • Multiple settings
  • More choice of models, including double breast pumps
  • Can be rented.

Cons

  • More expensive than manual breast pumps
  • Noisy
  • Electric breast pumps with lots of parts can be fiddly to sterilise
  • Can be bulkier to transport – although lightweight options are available
  • Mains-operated breast pumps are dependent on you being near a plug socket.

Find out which are the best breast pump brands.  

Reasons for using an electric breast pump

Electric breast pumps – what to look for

With lots of types and models on the market, it can be difficult to know which electric breast pump is going to be best for you, or whether a manual breast pump would be more suitable.

Electric pump speed

A good electric breast pump should allow you to adjust the speed and vacuum at the touch of a button and offer a range of settings to allow you to find your optimum rhythm. Some mimic the flow of milk during breastfeeding.

Expressing milk while out

You may need to express milk when you're out, or at work – so a discreet and travel-friendly breast pump may be worth considering. While electric pumps tend to be heavier and more cumbersome than a basic manual pump, new electric pumps are designed to be convenient whether you're at home or not. Some also come with handy carrying bags and ice packs to keep expressed milk cool.

If you're comparing models in a shop, pick them up and check how heavy they are, and whether they'll fit easily into your bag.

Does a it hurt to use a breast pump?

Comfort is a top priority for mum's expressing milk. Using a breast pump shouldn't hurt – but some women can find the suction sensation uncomfortable.

Look for an electric breast pump with extra features designed for mum's comfort, such as adjustable vacuum settings, cushioned cups, sensors that quickly work out your optimum pumping rhythm and pumps designed to encourage a quicker 'letdown' (this refers to the reflex when your milk is ready to flow easily).

Double electric breast pumps

Double or dual pumps offer two-pump functionality – allowing you to express milk from both breasts at the same time, which can help to boost your milk production and is less time consuming. On the downside, this type of pump is more cumbersome than smaller single-pump models and it might not be worth the extra investment if you don't need to express milk regularly.

Mains or battery operated

If you have a mains-operated breast pump, you’ll be limited to using it near an electric socket, so if you're looking for a more portable option you could choose a battery-operated model – or, ideally, one that offers both mains and battery operation.

Hospital grade breast pumps

You can hire hospital grade breast pumps (such as the Carum from Ardo pictured above) to use at home, on a monthly basis from the NHS, some local pharmacies and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), a UK parenting charity. They're usually larger, more powerful machines with double pumps, and are designed for very frequent use. If you have to stay in hospital for a longer period than usual, or have a baby in special care, you will probably use one there.

You'll need to buy sterilised milk collection kits separately to use with the hired pump. Milk only comes into contact with this kit, rather than the rest of the pump.

*Which? survey of 1,046 parents with children under five who have used or were given a breast pump within the first two years of their child's life.

Coronavirus update 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has said there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be carried in breastmilk. Mothers with suspected or confirmed coronavirus can continue to breastfeed.  

The RCOG says that the main risk of breastfeeding is the close contact between mother and baby, which could lead to infection through airborne droplets. They recommend discussing the risks and benefits of breastfeeding with your family and maternity team.

If you choose to breastfeed your baby, the following precautions are recommended:

  • Wash your hands before touching your baby, breast pump or bottles
  • Try and avoid coughing or sneezing on your baby while feeding at the breast
  • Consider wearing a face mask while breastfeeding, if available
  • Follow recommendations for pump cleaning after each use
  • Consider asking someone who is well to feed expressed breast milk to your baby
  • Sterilise all feeding equipment according to NHS guidelines
  • If you are expressing milk in hospital, a dedicated breast pump should be used

Content last updated 23/03/2020. Please check out Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for any more recent updates.

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