Consider renting. To save money (midweight, personal-use automatic pumps can retail for as much as $350), think about renting a pump. “I rented one from a medical supplies store near my home,” says Elisabeth Elman Feldman, a mother of one from Old Bridge, N.J., who breast-fed for three months for a total cost of $150. If you plan to breast-feed longer than three or four months, however, buying is the way to go. But check with your rental vendor. Many offer a price break the longer you rent. For information on pump rentals in your area and referrals to lactation consultants who can advise you on the type of pump you need and where to rent it, contact the International Lactation Consultant Association or La Leche League. The hospital where you delivered your baby may have a lactation consultant on staff.
Shop around. You can find deals on new breast pumps online, and at hospital birthing centers. You also can consult a La Leche League leader in your area (check the group’s Web site for a leader near you). A little research reveals that there are deals to be had in the online breast pump marketplace once you know what kind of pump you want. (Not sure where to start? Simply type in “breast pump” on a search engine like Google.)
Browse at the hospital. Many hospitals and birthing centers are now in the breast-pump business, offering competitive prices on a variety of pumps, plus advice that can help ensure success. You can also get a recommendation from your hospital’s lactation consultant as to the right type of pump for you.
Now that breast-feeding has made a comeback (some hospitals organize human breast-milk banks for babies who, for some reason, can’t physically breast-feed), the options in breast pumps are dizzying. The major brands, in alphabetical order, are: Ameda, Avent, Evenflo, Medela, Playtex, The First Years, Whisper Wear, and Whittlestone.
Breast pumps come in these basic types: large, hospital-grade, dual-action models, which typically aren’t available for sale (you rent them from the hospital where you deliver or from a lactation or rental center); midweight, personal-use, automatic models that are comparable to hospital-grade pumps and can travel with you; small electric or battery-operated units that double- or single-pump; one-handed manual pumps; and “hands-free” pumps that you wear in your bra that pump while you work or do errands.
Here’s the lowdown on each:
Hospital-grade breast pumps
These electric powerhouses are about the size of a car battery and can weigh 5 to 11 pounds. Manufactured for users in hospitals and for those who choose to rent, they have sensitive controls that allow you to regulate suction rhythm, intensity, and pressure. Some have a pumping action that’s almost identical to a baby’s natural sucking, which can help build and maintain your milk supply. A hospital-grade pump can cut pumping sessions in half—to just 15 minutes with a dual pump, which empties both breasts at once. These are expensive to buy, but you can rent them from hospitals, medical-supply stores, lactation consultants, drugstores, and specialty retail stores.
Pros: They’re fast and efficient. Many are also light, comparable to a midweight, personal-use automatic pump.
Cons: Even though some come with a rechargeable battery and an adapter for use in a vehicle, many don’t come with a discreet carrying case. You wouldn’t want to lug one to and from work every day because they can be awkward and heavy.
Price: Expect to pay around $45 a month to rent one. You may also need to purchase your own breast shields, containers, and tubing, which can run an additional $35 or so.
Choose this option if: Nursing is difficult because your baby has trouble latching on; you’re not sure how much you’ll need a breast pump, but you want one on hand just in case; you plan to pump for three months or less; you must dramatically increase your milk supply and need the power of a hospital-grade pump.
Midweight, personal-use, automatic breast pumps
Usually no bigger than a briefcase and weighing around 8 pounds or less, these electric breast pumps typically are lighter and slightly less efficient than the hospital-grade models. Like a hospital-grade pump, a personal-use automatic can slash pumping time because it has a powerful motor and serious suction. Many personal-use automatic pumps have suction that mimics a baby’s natural sucking, which typically begins with rapid, high-frequency suction and changes to a slower, suck/swallow pattern. They’re designed to mimic a baby and thereby foster faster milk flow, although some use a constant vacuum, with self-adjusting suction settings. Intermittent action better imitates a baby than a constant vacuum—and it’s probably easier on you, too. Some electric breast pumps come with a manual breast pump, so you get two for the price of one.