Newsletter #44: Milk Talk – Breastpumps, A Guide by Mums

By BMSG Editorial Team

NOTE: 

BMSG adopts the ethical code of practice from the World Health Organization with regards to marketing of breastmilk substitutes. This means that as an organisation, we will by no means be able to provide any form of marketing or encourage the use of breast pumps. However, throughout the years and more so recently, our counsellors have been receiving a significant number of queries about pump usage and recommendations for pumps. We also recognise that a large number of breastfeeding mums are also mothers who pump exclusively by choice or who require a pump upon returning to work as they feel that it helps them to continue providing breastmilk for their babies.

In this article, we summarise the responses from a survey that BMSG had conducted earlier this year on breastfeeding mothers via our Facebook page and group. We wanted to understand mums’ preferences in considering a pump. Mothers are advised to use the information here to their own discretion and to always make an informed decision when making important choices such as choosing and buying a pump.

At the end of the day, we strongly encourage mothers to attempt latching first once their babies are born, and to consider hand expression next, in the event that babies require supplementation. A pump is an accessory that a breastfeeding mother may or may not need, and it is entirely her own decision to make if she needs one.

All opinions and feedback highlighted by mums in this article are purely their own. The survey responses do not reflect the opinions of BMSG as an organisation.


For many breastfeeding mothers, choosing a breastpump can be confusing and overwhelming. Breast pump rental is also not readily available in Singapore, possibly due to hygienic reasons.

In our counselling work, we encounter questions about pumps regularly. Recently, we decided to conduct a survey to ask mums on our closed Facebook group and page about their preferred brand(s) of pumps and their feedback and opinions about these pumps. We received 190 responses from mothers about the pumps that they have used and what they liked or disliked about the pumps which they own.

We also tracked the individual needs of the mums; whether they were exclusively pumping, pumping occasionally or doing a mix of both latching and pumping (usually working mums). The breakdown of these are as follows:

The categories of mums and their pumping needs. [Source: BMSG Singapore]

Considerations in Choosing Pumps

From the responses of the 190 mothers who took the survey, we identified the common factors (in no particular order or importance) that mothers considered when deciding on a pump:

  1. Efficiency – Most mothers considered the speed of milk extraction (or how long a pumping session took to empty breasts efficiently) as an important aspect of their decision-making process. Understandably so, since most mothers who pump are racing against time. Battery life, in-built batteries, charging capabilities and how long a pump could last on batteries were things that mothers who responded highly emphasised.
  2. Portability – A significant proportion of mothers who did the survey pump at work. Portability, weight, and how quickly the assembly of the pump took, were important considerations for this factor. For a mother who is rushing for time at work or who needs to also look after young babies while needing to pump, a pump which can be brought around and is easy to put together may trump other bulkier options even if suction levels or outputs may be slightly compromised.
  3. Comfort – Suction levels seem to be one of the more important factors that mums consider when deciding on a pump. A significant number of mothers said that they prefer pumps which did not hurt their breasts, particularly the nipples. The loudness of the motors was also important to some mums especially those who pump in the vicinity of others. Choosing the right flanges and suction levels were also some important considerations for mums.
  4. Price – Understandably, price was also a very important factor for the respondents. Some mothers voiced their regret that despite spending a lot of money on their pumps, they were not able to obtain a satisfying Returns of Investment (ROI) and had wished that they were able to test out their pumps before buying. Interestingly, some pumps which have lower price points are popular with mothers as they rate high in terms of efficiency and portability. Hence, the high price point of a pump does not equate to it being more preferred.

    The breakdown of mothers who responded to the survey and their pumping needs. [Source: BMSG (Singapore)]

  5. Different Needs of Breastfeeding Mothers – We also noted the needs of the mothers who responded as mentioned previously. The graph above showed the popularity of the pumps and the breakdown of the mothers’ needs. We tracked whether they were exclusively pumping, pumped and latched or occasionally pumped while mainly latching and the brands of pumps that they were using.

So, how did the pumps fare based on the above factors?

 

Most Popular, Most Efficient

From the survey, the Spectra Series, especially the S1+ model, received positive reviews by mothers. Of the 190 respondents, 100 mothers said that they use the Spectra pump. However, while it was the most popular, all of the mothers agree that the Spectra S1 model is very bulky and challenging to bring around. It would most probably make a good pump parked permanently at home or at the office.

The Spectra S1 pump [Credits: thebabyswag.com]

MODEL: S1

+: Superior suction + customisable suction levels; fast milk extraction; quiet motor; rechargeable in-built  batteries with significant battery life; easy to assemble; closed system; LED display; night light practical for pumping middle of the night (MOTN)

-: Big; bulky; difficult to bring around; flanges come in standard size 28; other sizes need to be bought separately; some mums report that the pump does not remove milk efficiently for them*

*Note:
Removing milk efficiently is an important part of ensuring a pump will help mum extract milk optimally. This is usually due to a fitting problem; pump flanges that do not fit you well will not result in satisfactory outputs even if the pump’s suction is working well. It is therefore important that mums learn how to find the best fit flanges. We will talk about this at the end of the article.

 

Value for Money

Two particular brands stand out in this category. The Pumpables Milk Genie Plus and the Real Bubee are pumps with affordable price points yet showed commendable performance albeit with some limitations.

The Pumpables Milk Genie Plus [Credits: pumpables.co]

MODEL: Pumpables

+: Some mums reported that the Pumpables yielded better than even the S1; suction level is notable; mothers felt that it extracted well for day-to-day use; in-built batteries; relatively noiseless; small, light and portable;  available in single or double pumping modes; has memory mode; tip-top customer service; mobility a bonus: one mum mentioned how she had used it while hiking with her students and yielded a good amount of milk

-: Battery life lasted at most for 3 pumping sessions according to 1 mum; does not allow charging on-the-go or through a powerbank; some mums felt that the design of the collection bottle could be adjusted to prevent wastage; suction decreases when batteries are low

 

MODEL: Real Bubee

+: Extremely affordable – about $25 or more on Singapore websites and shopping portals; extremely efficient milk remover – one mum commented that despite not having customisation of speed and suction, she could extract as much as when she had used her S1; easy to assemble and use; some mums were able to achieve 4 to 5 letdowns in a single pumping session; allows USB charging so ok for power banks

 

The nifty Real Bubee costs as little as SGD25.90 on some websites at the time this article was published [Source: Shopee SG]

For the Traditionalists

If you are the sort who prefer to go with big brands that come with a hefty price tag, Medela seemed to fall into this category. Several Medela models were mentioned in the survey: the Medela Swing, Swing Maxi, Freestyle and the ever-popular Pump in Style Advanced (PISA) are still favourites for some mothers. It is also worth noting that some of the mothers who recommended Medela have owned their pumps for a significant period of time, hinting at how this range of breast pumps can last you through multiple children. We highlight two of the more popular ranges from the Medela series which were popular with mums:

The PISA is known to last mums through multiple children. The accompanying carrier has also evolved through the years. [Credits: medela.us]

MODEL: Medela PISA

+: Clears the breast well for most mums who use it; works very quickly to express milk; some mothers who used many brands claimed that Medela was the fastest to extract breastmilk

-: Some felt it was a little loud; tubings, as with all other brands, need to be cared for – moulding can happen if tubes are left unchanged for a long period of time.

MODEL: Medele Freestyle

+: Comfortable, portable, lightweight; massage mode helps to trigger letdowns well; yield is good despite its portability; few parts to clean; tubings were secure

-: Does not allow customisation of suction strength; higher price point compared to other pump; suction felt harsher to some mums compared to the other brands of pumps; fixed flange size

The lightweight alternative to Medela PISA: Medela Freestyle Double Breast Pump [Credits: ebay.com]

The Other Pumps

The following are other brands of breastpumps or milk extraction tools which were owned by smaller percentages of mothers who responded:

Here are some features of these breast pumps which mothers mentioned (note that we did not list all the pump brands due to space constraints in this post):

MODELS:

  • Cimilre
    +: Portable and lightweight; useful for breastfeeding while travelling or on-the-go; compact; has an LED screen; easy to use
    -: Short battery life; lasts till the 4th nursing session according to one mother; narrow necks for bottles
  • Imani
    +: Aids in hands-free pumping; lightweight; small and portable; clears breasts relatively well
    -: Difficult to monitor the output via the flange as it is hard to see the flow of milk from there; if machine is not connected well to collection cups, suction and extraction may be compromised; a lot of pump parts to wash; a little loud and no volume markings on the cups; mum not able to totally empty all the milk collected
  • Ameda Lactaline
    +: The slightly more affordable alternative to more expensive pumps for mothers before Spectra came about; reliable and long-lasting; suction was comfortable for the one mother who reviewed the Ameda; does not hurt nipples; efficient milk extraction
    -: Motor can be a little noisy; suction deteriorates after a few years of use
  • Elvie
    +: Easy to put on; can be worn on-the-go and yet does not look very obvious; silent; lightweight, slim, portable; connected to an app which user can control pump with
    -: Output not as potent as hospital-grade pumps; need to align cups well as otherwise, it would undermine its performance
  • Hegen
    +: Convenient; lightweight; easy to store and feed; battery-powered; can be charged via USB; no need to change bottles when feeding baby; easy to wash and assemble
    -: Slightly more on the higher price points
  • Avent (Classic Single Electric Pump)
    +: Simple and straightforward, easy to use; not too bulky to bring around; suction level is just right; option to use charger or batteries; cable charger is long; affordable
    -: Some parts are not available at stores and can only be obtained through the service centre; 1 mum did not like the vibration of the pump when in function
  • Freemies
    +: Very portable; quite silent enough to be used at work; cups were able to function well for hands-free pumping
    -: 1 mum felt milk removal was not sufficient and had to hand express after; suction was not strong enough
  • Unimom 
    +: Affordable (Minuet); portable; fast-charging; good suction
    -: No screen to let you know how long you have been pumping

The Unimom Minuet pump. [Source: Qoo10]

Choosing the Right Breast pump

If you are still confused over what pumps to use, you may also want to consider the following tips and guidelines when choosing a set:

  1. Opt for closed-system pumps for hygiene reasons: These are pumps which prevent milk from getting into contact with the pump parts such as motors and tubings. This is a hygienic issue that ensures baby’s milk remains safe for consumption.
  2. Consider having two pumps: If you don’t know whether the affordable pump can yield as well as the more expensive hospital grade pump, you may want to consider having one permanently in one location while the other is always in your bag. This also gives you peace of mind as you will always have a portable pump within reach.
  3. Choosing the correct flange size: A lot of mothers do not realise that it is important to get flange sizing right. When a flange fits you well, it prevents complications such as friction from rubbing of the nipples and areola (which can cause discomfort and pain). If the brand of your choice does not provide a range of flanges, you may want to consider buying extra flanges at the time of your purchase so that your walking will not be compromised. You may also need a different size flange for each breasts.This is an example of how to find the right size of flanges from Medela. You may wish to check with individual brands for respective size guides as these may differ from brand to brand.

How to measure the correct fit for your flanges. Do check with the brand that you use for exact measurements. [Source: extrapetite.com]

We hope that this article has been beneficial in helping you make key decisions when purchasing your pumps. We welcome any feedback! Do write to us at nabila@breastfeeding.org.sg.