Q: I’m a new mum and I want to express breast milk for my baby to take when I go back to work. I’ve heard different stories from different mums about what to use to express. Which is the best tool?
The best tool depends on the size of your breasts, your budget and your consistency in applying your selected tool. You have three options to choose from – you can use an electric pump breast (single or double), a manual pump (single) or you can use your hands.
A double electric pump pumps milk from both breasts at the same time, a single one does it one breast at a time. Most manual pumps in the market also do one breast at a time. The electric pumps are also battery-operated, and can be converted into a manual pump. Depending on the brand, a single electric pump costs between 13,000shs and 15,000shs. A double electric costs between 30,000shs and 35,000shs. A manual pump costs between 4,000shs and 6,000shs.
A double electric pump costs the most on the onset but saves you time in the long run because it would take you half the time to express, compared to if you were using a single electric or manual pump. Also, you will get more milk because the breasts stimulate each other during a session.
One mum said when she wanted to express breast milk with her single electric pump it gave her time to relax, “My pump allowed me to sit back and enjoy some me-time or surf the Internet on my phone while the machine ran.” Another said she didn’t like the sound from the motor, “I couldn’t express breast milk discreetly in the middle of the night, or when I was at work. And I had to have my batteries ready for when there was a power cut.” With the electric pumps, some of the parts start to wear out with continued use; you may not get as much milk in the same time as when you started using it. Depending on the brand, again, some of these worn out parts can be replaced, other brands don’t sell spares.
A manual pump takes some practice to get the hang of. Some mums said it is tiring and not as effective as an electric pump. Other mums say it’s more efficient because you can determine how fast or slow to work the lever. “I used a manual pump for both my babies and I loved it,” said one mum. “I actually used the same pump. I never had issues with it.” Some mums I spoke to said they get to express more breast milk in a shorter time from a single electric pump than they get from a manual pump. Others say the reverse.
The size of your breasts is an important factor to consider when selecting the pump to use. Women with large breasts won’t be able to get as much milk from a double breast pump as a woman with smaller breasts would. Why? Well, with bigger breasts, you would need to use one hand to support the bottom of your breast and the other to hold it in place so that it stays firmly in the flange when you are expressing. One mum with large breasts and a double electric pump said she noticed a remarkable increase in her output when she expressed one breast at a time, no matter the time she took. A woman with small breasts can effectively use a double breast pump – a double electric or, a single electric on one side and a manual on the other.
You can also use your hands to express breast milk. It costs nothing and is equally effective. But it takes plenty of practice and patience for you to master the technique. The size of your breasts doesn’t determine its effectiveness. Some mums I spoke to swear by this method. One mum in particular had a terrible experience with breastfeeding, her baby had to exclusively bottle-feed breast milk from the time she was four months old. “What put me off the pumps,” she said, “was washing and assembling the parts. Once I learned how to hand express, it was a breeze. I did it until my baby turned one.” One mum said she combines all three: “I hand express on my right breast, then use the manual or electric pump on my left breast.”
An important thing to remember is to massage your breasts and compress the area around the areola during the session to get more milk.
Research shows that you can get 48% more milk by doing so. Whichever tool you settle on, be committed to being consistent: consistent in applying your tool, consistent in the time you express, and consistent in taking water, hot chocolate, uji and other galactagogues to stimulate the production of your milk. Our Info Centre has a list of lactation specialists who offer advice and help to breastfeeding mums.