A breast pump is a device used by women to either induce lactation or express milk from their breasts. Some of the situations that a woman would use a breast pump instead of nurse directly would include occasional separation from the baby, working outside the home, to relieve engorgement, to increase milk supply and in special situations when the baby is unable to suckle and nurse efficiently.

It is possible to express milk from the breast by hand, the same way you can milk a cow by hand. It requires proper technique that is a learned skill and for most women, hand expression is not nearly as efficient (or comfortable) as using a pump.

The modern day breast pump was designed by Swedish engineer Einar Egnell in 1956. It is largely based on the same design principles as the first cow milking device patented by John Hartnett and David Robinson 1893.

Breast pumps come in three main types, manual, electric or hospital grade. All pumps have the same main components including a flange or horn, a bottle, and some type of device to create suction. The best guideline to follow when selecting a pump is knowing how often and long you will need to use it, how long each pumping session will take, noise of the pump, adjustability of the suction and cycle, and cost.

Personal use manual pumps create suction either through the use of a bulb, piston, lever or handle that must be pulled or squeezed by hand or through the use of a foot pump. This type of pump is most frequently used by women who only have to use the pump infrequently. Occasional use would include expressing enough milk to reduce engorgement or to provide a bottle to a baby if you are gone for more than 2 hours. Most women report that it is more difficult to pump using a manual pump, because your hands and arms get exhausted and it is time consuming. However, some women report that the Avent Isis manual pump allows them to express an amount equal to or greater than what they can express using an electric pump. The petal design of the flange massages the breast during suction stimulating let down and milk ejection.

Personal use electric pumps create suction through the use of an electric motor. There are a wide variety of electric pumps manufactured by Medela, Avent, Ameda, Evenflo and Playtex. Cost for these varies from around $30 up to $350. The biggest thing to remember is that you usually get what you pay for. Each pump will have slightly different features. Some pumps can adjust the suction and the speed of the suck-release cycle while other cheaper models may only have a single preset suction with a suction release button that must be pushed manually to recreate the action of a baby suckling. Some breast pumps are singles, pumping only one breast and some can be expanded for double pumping, allowing the user to pump milk from both breasts simultaneously. The most popular pumps are the Medela Pump in Style and the Ameda Purely Yours. Both of these pumps are two of the better personal use pumps. They work quickly, comfortable and can be used by working mothers who need to pump multiple times during the day.

Hospital grade electric pumps create suction through the use of an electric motor. They differ from personal use electric pumps in that all of the parts can be sterilized and used by more than one person. These pumps are very expensive, usually starting in the price range of $1,100.

  • "Is the Breastpump the New Blackberry", Emily Bazelon, Slate Magazine; http://www.slate.com/id/2138639/
  • http://www.medela.com