Two breast pumps on a background of icons like a question mark, piggy bank and timer

If you’re well on your way to your new baby’s arrival (or the little peach has already arrived!) and you’re going through your list of must-haves, you may be thinking about your feeding options. Do you hope to exclusively breastfeed, mix in some pumping sessions, supplement with formula or use formula on its own? Deciding which route to take really comes down to what’s best for you and your lifestyle.

And if you do choose to pump (at least some of the time), you’ll want to find a breast pump that’s comfortable and effective. To help your search, we’ve answered some of the most common breast pump questions with the expert advice of Melissa Alexander, registered nurse, lactation consultant (IBCLC) and co-founder of Little Nursing Company in Edmonton, Alta. Discover what to look for in a pump so you can choose the best breast pump for you.

Already know your stuff? Check out our roundup of the best breast pumps.

Questions to ask when buying a breast pump

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1Do I need a breast pump?

No, you don’t need one, but a breast pump is often a good thing to have if you:

  • Have a busy lifestyle (including multiple kiddos at home)
  • Are returning to work soon after having your baby
  • Want your partner to take over some of the feeds (especially in the middle of the night)
  • Want to offer breast milk but are struggling with latching or feeding
  • Have found that exclusively breastfeeding isn’t possible or isn’t your goal
  • Have issues with milk supply (using a breast pump may offer a boost)[1]

2What are the main types of breast pumps?

Breast pumps primarily fall into two categories—manual or electric:

  • Manual pump: Manual breast pumps typically have a bottle that looks like it’s topped with a spray nozzle. The nozzle suctions onto the breast and you pump the nozzle to help express the milk. There are also silicone milk catchers, which you can attach to your nipple to catch milk letdown while you’re nursing with the other breast. Both pump types are low maintenance and inexpensive but tend to involve more manual labour than electric pumps. They’re great if “you want to go out and just need a bottle ready,” explains Alexander, but may be more work than they’re worth if you pump frequently.
  • Electric (single or double): Electric is the most common type of breast pump used by moms because the machine does most of the work. Cone-shaped parts called flanges or breast shields attach to your breasts (either one at a time for a single electric pump or both in the case of a double electric breast pump). These flanges are attached to a bottle that catches the milk, as well as a machine that controls the pressure and speed of the pumping. Single electric breast pumps take longer to use than double pumps, but they also tend to be more affordable.
A manual pump on the left and an electric double pump on the right with the word “vs” in the middle
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Shopping Tip
Stock up on milk bags or another form of freezable breast milk storage—especially if you’re planning to pump frequently or exclusively. Fresh breast milk lasts for up to four hours at room temperature, four days in the refrigerator and up to 12 months in the freezer (though under six months is better).[2]

3What is the best breast pump?

Finding the best breast pump for you “is about having the right flanges and fit,” says Alexander. “You need to make sure you have a pump that fits your nipples, that there’s no friction and you know how long to keep the pump on and when to take it off.”

That said, a certain style of breast pump may be better for you depending on your lifestyle:

  • If you mostly breastfeed: Go for a manual pump. They’re low cost, easy to clean and lightweight—perfect for someone who doesn’t plan on pumping often.
  • If you exclusively pump or need to increase your supply: Choose an electric double pump—the most popular option for moms.[3] Alexander even suggests renting a hospital-grade electric double pump, at least for a few days or weeks while you’re establishing your milk supply. “You can also buy them, but they’re expensive”—even upwards of $1,000, she notes.[3] It’s basically the mother of all pumps (pun intended) with the most power and the highest milk payout.
  • If you want to pump on the go: Try to find a pump that’s listed as wearable or portable. Of course, you can buy a special bra to turn a heavy duty pump into a wearable one (there are even hacks online to make a regular nursing bra into a pumping bra), but machines that are specifically designed to be portable tend to be lighter and more compact.
  • If you crave a hands-free experience: Look for a smart wearable pump. You can tuck this pump into your bra and control it with an app on your phone to take the guesswork out of pumping. Though wearable pumps tend to be more expensive than other electric pumps,[3] they offer you the freedom to do pretty much anything while you’re pumping.
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Shopping Tip
Most electric pump are a bit noisy. It’s possible to find a model that’s more discreet—but it’ll cost you.
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4Should I buy a closed-system or open-system pump?

Some electric breast pumps, known as open-system pumps, have no barrier between your breast milk and the machine.[4] Others with closed systems have a barrier (either between the tubing and the motor or between the breast shield connector and the tubing) that prevents milk from overflowing into the pumping mechanism.

Generally speaking, it’s better to get a closed-system pump so that you don’t run the (rather small) risk of contaminating your milk or affecting the motor. Plus, closed-system pumps are easier to clean—which is especially important if you’re renting from a hospital or buying second-hand. There is one perk of open-system pumps: They’re usually cheaper.

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Safety Tip
If you find tears, moisture or mould in the tubes of your electric pump, stop your session and replace them before you pump again. Otherwise, you may contaminate the milk or cause damage to the machine.

5How do I use a breast pump?

The first step with pretty much everything kid-related is to wash your hands. Now take a deep breath and be patient! Most experts will tell you that a breastfeeding or pumping session with a high milk output starts with sitting in a quiet room or doing something that allows you to relax.[5] Your next steps will depend on your pump type. 

  • How to use a manual pump: Place the flange on your breast with your nipple centred, ensuring a good suction when you let go. Pump the handle of the nozzle (or squeeze the bottle) until your milk starts to come in, then pump at an inconsistent rate to mimic a baby’s sucking. Switch breasts after about five minutes, giving each breast a total of about 15 minutes.[6] (There are also plenty of helpful YouTube tutorials if you need visual cues for your specific brand and model of pump.)
  • How to use an electric pump: Place the flange on one breast (or both if you’re using a double pump), centring your nipple to prevent any damage or discomfort when you turn the device on. Turn on the machine, starting slow. Some machines will increase speed automatically once your milk starts flowing, but you can always adjust the speed to make sure you’re comfortable.[7] Like breastfeeding, pumping should never be painful.

Once your milk flow slows, remove or turn off the pump.

A woman in a pink shirt sits in an arm chair with a single electric pump attached to one breast.

6Is it safe to buy a used breast pump?

“Many people do it,” says Alexander. “I think it’s safe. Just disinfect it and buy any replacement parts” like breast shields, valves, back-flow protectors and collection bottles. Also thoroughly inspect the pump for cracks, mould and moisture and opt for a closed-system pump if at all possible.[8]

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If you aren’t completely sure if breastfeeding or pumping is for you, consider renting a breast pump from your hospital on a trial basis. It typically costs about $2 or $3 per day, plus the cost of your pumping kit (about $50 to $100). If you decide pumping isn’t a fit after a month, you’ll have saved money. However, if you think you’ll want to pump for several months, you might be better off buying a breast pump—particularly if cost is a factor.[9]

7How often should I sterilize breast pump parts?

You should clean your breast pump after every single session—yes, seriously! Check your model’s manual to see if the parts are dishwasher safe. If they are, you can wash the parts on the top rack. Otherwise, follow these steps:

  1. Rinse each part that comes in contact with breast milk in cool water as soon as possible after you pump.
  2. Wash the parts in warm soapy water, then rinse thoroughly with hot water.
  3. Allow the parts to air-dry completely.
  4. Many manufacturers also suggest boiling the parts in water for 10 minutes or using a sterilizing machine to sanitize your breast pump parts once per day.[10]

8Will insurance cover the cost of my breast pump?

Some private insurance providers in Canada will cover a portion of the cost of a breast pump, though a doctor’s prescription is often required.[11] Call your insurance rep to find out the exact details of your plan before making a purchase—especially if you’re looking at an expensive model.

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