To provide the greatest health benefits to mom and baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all moms breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their baby's life.
Thankfully, the existence of breast pumps -- in their many, many varieties -- has made giving baby an exclusive diet of breast milk possible, even if mom is headed back to work.
Every family's unique lifestyle impacts a mother's choice about the most effective breast pump for her. Is this your first baby and you're at stay-at-home mom? A manual breast pump may be all that's needed. Do you have other young children who require your attention and you don't have time to be the only one feeding your baby? An electric breast pump could be your saving grace.
Then there are the moms who are headed back to work but still want to ensure that their little one is able to reap the benefits of a breast-milk-only diet -- they typically have a limited amount of time to express their milk daily while on the job.
No matter your situation, efficiency is key for every mom. Single breast hand pumps are small and convenient to just toss in your bag, but they're not the most effective and are more time-consuming, says Madeline Arkin of The Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington. "It's about function -- you spend so much time with that breast pump, you have to like it."
Depending on your breastfeeding goals, it can be very effective to have an electric pump. "You can build up and freeze the milk. You can wean your baby and still have a few months supply in the freezer," Arkin explains. "Some moms exclusively pump for whatever reason -- some babies can't latch or some moms work and only pump. You may be a mom who, for whatever reason, can't breastfeed but want to provide your child with breast milk -- you could exclusively pump."
The cost of breast pumps (anywhere from $50 for a manual pump to $400 for a hands-free, dual, electric pump) makes the trial and error method of choosing the right piece of gear nearly impossible, therefore making research very necessary.
"There is no one right breast pump to meet every mom's needs," says Colleen Prorok, R.N., International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with Lactation on Location. However, "Issues to consider include anticipated frequency of use, whether or not mom is returning to work, cost, ease of use and perhaps most importantly, efficiency of the pump." She also recommends visiting breastfeeding websites to identify which brands (Lansinoh, Medela, Ameda and Hygeia are some of the most well-known) are favored by moms who are pumping.
What one mom considers the "best breast pump" may not work for another. "A mom who is pumping regularly at work would want to use a double electric pump so she can pump both sides at once," advises Prorok. "A stay-at-home mom may decide she only needs a single hand pump for the infrequent times she needs to pump. Or she may decide to invest in one of the higher-end pumps, anticipating that she will be using it for future babies. Some moms find that hand expression of milk works fine for them and they don't need a pump at all."
To avoid the cost of buying a pump that may not work for them, some moms will opt to rent hospital-grade breast pumps. For sanitary and sterilization purposes, "A mom would purchase her own attachment kit for use with a rental pump," explains Prorok. "Pumps should be rented from a reputable source, where the mom can be sure the pumps are cleaned thoroughly between users and that the pump suction levels are checked regularly."
Often these high-grade pumps are a better choice for a mom who is having difficulties establishing her milk supply or trying to increase the supply, she adds, or a mom who is pumping for a preemie who is not yet breastfeeding.
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