Monday, December 27, 2010

An ode to the hand pump

Breastfeeding is a wonderful part of being a new mother.  Unfortunately, breastfeeding usually necessitates pumping, which is not so wonderful.

[For those uninitiated:  you have to pump for 3 reasons.  1) To store milk that can be used the next time you want to leave your baby with someone who isn't lactating, 2) to keep up your supply; breastfeeding is like Econ 101, all about supply and demand, so if you don't empty your breasts as often, they will start making less, and 3) because your breasts will get so full of milk after 3 or 4 hours that they become quite uncomfortable.  Not to mention leaky!]

The amount of equipment that it seems necessary to acquire before you pump for the first time is unbelievable, and I found it quite intimidating.  There's the breast pump itself, which can run to hundreds of dollars for a good electric model.  Then you need something to pump the milk into--a bottle--which may or may not be the same as the container you store the milk in, which, believe it or not, may not be the same as the bottle you use to serve the milk to the baby.  And you really would not believe the number of different kinds of bottles that are out there.  Plastic, glass, standard cap, wide-mouthed, slow flow, medium flow, upturned nipple, broad-based goes on and on.

So, I got all that stuff.  And for the first 4 or 5 months, I used my electric pump.  But for the last month or so, I've been able to do most of my pumping at home, and since I wasn't so pressed for time, I started to use this little manual pump that I was given for free at the hospital.

To my surprise, I've found that it's almost as fast as, if not faster than, my big electric pump.  My 'let-down' (the time it takes for milk to start coming out more quickly, in a stream, rather than drop by drop) seems to happen much more quickly with the manual pump than with the electric model.  This is probably because it is less awkward.  I can sit in any old position, or even walk around, with the manual pump, whereas with the electric pump I'm tethered to the machine by the plastic tubing.  The manual pump is also virtually silent, except for the soft clicking that the handle on the pump makes.  The electric pump, on the other hand, makes this PHWOOSH--PHWOOSH-PHWOOSH noise.  The noise alone probably scares my breasts into not letting down milk as quickly.

Comparing my manual pump to my electric model makes me think of riding a bicycle versus driving a car.  There's a little more physical effort, to be sure, and you might not go quite as fast on your way.  But just like upkeep and parking is much easier for a bike than a car, the manual pump doesn't require nearly as much set-up--you don't need a nearby outlet, for one--or as much upkeep--there are no tubes to stow away, or pockets to zip back up, when you're done with the manual pump.

So, I'm thinking about continuing to rely on a manual pump when I go back to work next month.  It's more portable, more convenient, and just about as fast.   I'll let you know how it goes!  I'd encourage other moms to give it a whirl--you may find that a manual pump works better for you, too.

For comparison:
Hand pump
Electric pump


  1. I will never forget rising in the middle of the night, to use the electric pump, so that my breasts would keep making milk while my son was in the hospital. It was so loud, and it made me feel very much like a cow, which is to say IMPERSONAL. I bet the hand pump would've been better!

  2. I wish I had a manual pump when I had to leave for 5 days. Several reasons:

    On the first day, my electrical pump broke. Just a small piece to fix but of course it was on Sunday night and I had a very important appointment in the morning. It was a nightmare, I was in pain and of course I was checking for leaks even though I wore 3 layers!
    Then on the flight back, the batteries died. How could I know that brand new batteries would last only 24 hours??!!! So again, 21h without pumping!
    Never again without a manual pump!!!

  3. i remember that! must've been terrible. they are definitely super good for traveling, both for reliability and because they can actually be used discreetly under a cover...

  4. I'm enjoying your blog, but I have to chime in on this post as someone who has had precisely the opposite experience. I started with a hand pump (the same one you posted) when my son was about 4 weeks old and found it just awful. It took forever, hurt my hands after a while, and I ended up with very little milk to show for it. After a few sessions, I picked up an electric pump (the cost of which was covered by my insurance!) and I am so glad I did. Yes, it is noisy and "impersonal" but, for me at least, the convenience outweighs everything else - it takes me about 15 minutes to pump both sides. I've also figured out a way to pump and still have my hands free to type. It would be impossible for me to pump enough to keep up with my son now that I am back at work full-time if I had to rely on the handpump. (I still took the handpump only on some recent trips but each time I started using it again, I gave up after an ounce or two and just fed my baby from the source for the rest of the trip!)

  5. That is definitely worth hearing, Judith! And since I haven't actually tried using the hand pump at work yet--although I will tomorrow!--I may well have the same experience. Although I've honestly found that it only takes me about 20 minutes to pump both sides with either the hand pump OR the electric pump--but since I won't have to search out an outlet at work if I use the hand pump (I don't have an office), that may actually save me some time, I'm hoping...