How to buy the best breast pump
By Lisa Galliers
Make expressing milk easier by getting the best breast pump for you. We take you through all the essential need-to-knows before you buy.
Whether you’re choosing a breast pump because you’re returning to work and you’re still breast feeding, or your baby isn’t fully weaned, or because things haven’t gone exactly to plan and your baby is still in hospital, we have a wealth of useful information about breast pumps to help you work out which type to go for.
How much do I need to spend on a breast pump?
This will depend on what type of breast pump you want. A manual breast pump can cost from as little as £15, but involves more work to express milk, whereas an electric breast pump can cost anywhere between £60 to £250 plus, but they’re easier to use and can be quicker.
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 your wrists from aching.
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.
82%mums who found a breast pump useful**
Some may be put off by the speed of an electric pump, but usually they have 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 first surveyed mums about breast pumps back in 2011, we found most started 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. However, in our latest survey, over half of mums use an electric pump for their first baby.
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.
Need a steriliser? Head to our best steriliser brands page to find out which one to buy.
Breast pump accessories and features
Variable suction or speed
Some electric pumps offer a variable suction or speed level that 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, so all of these are worth looking out for.
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.
1 in 6 mums* found their breast pump uncomfortable.
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.
Breast pump bras
A breast pump bra is a bra top that allows mum to express milk hands-free, and is commonly used when expressing from both breasts at the same time. The pump shields tuck inside the bra, to express, and the rest of the pump remains attached to the front.
Our survey shows that while not many mums are using them, just 8% of those we asked, those mums that do use them find them really useful. 7 in 10 mums* found them useful to use.
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.
You can also buy most bottles and storage pots separately should you need replacements or spares, but, as we’ve mentioned before, it really is worth looking out for breast feeding packs that come with a pump and storage containers included.
Baby feeding bottles
Not all bottles are compatible with all pumps, so check which bottles you can use with the pump you’ve chosen before you buy them. The last thing you want is to end up with a large number of bottles and storage pots that don’t fit your pump.
If you do end up with bottles that aren’t compatible with your pump, you can always express milk into the collection container that comes with your pump and transfer to your chosen bottle brand before feeding.
Dishwasher safe breast pumps
Some breast pumps are dishwasher-safe, which is something worth looking out for when buying a pump, as it makes cleaning much easier. Remember to check there aren’t any pools of water lurking anywhere once they’re washed. Your breast pump will still need to be sterilised afterwards, too. Always check the instruction manual for information on cleaning and sterilising your breast pump.
Which is the best breast pump brand?
We've surveyed more than 1,000 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 to find out which ones mums rate as good value for money, comfortable and would recommend to family and friends.
* Figures based on a Which? survey in February 2017 of 1,046 parents with children under the age of five
** Figures based on a Which? survey in January 2018 of 1,008 mums who have used a breast pump
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.