If someone had told me two years ago that I would one day be a geek for breast pumps, I would have laughed and hinted that they were suffering from micro-nutrient deficiency. Having a child was nowhere near the realm of my reality, much less being food for one. Besides, don’t you just whip one out let the little bugger have a go at it every so often? To quote my friend Alky of Alky’s Random Thoughts when I mentioned the topic for this week’s article, “Let-down tech? Are those clothing that will allow you to pop out a boob in public?”
Years ago, I probably knew less about breastfeeding, and any technology associated with it, than my aforementioned friend. Then one day, at the baby-friendly hospital where I gave birth, the resident pediatrician told me that my baby had a “good latch”, so of course I should breastfeed. I wasn’t fully convinced at first -I’ve heard horror stories of bleeding nipples and saggy skin – but the doctor assured me that the benefits for the baby outweigh my dream of having my own topless Playboy centerfold one day, so I reluctantly agreed. “Besides, it’s free. You’ll save so much money,” the good doctor said. Right.
It is easy to assume that one of the benefits of going exclusively au naturel is so that you don’t have to spend on food for your baby during the first six months of life. But the reality is that, as natural as it is, breastfeeding can be a very cumbersome endeavor. It is even trickier for working moms like me who want to breastfeed exclusively even after returning to work.
During the first few weeks postpartum, milk production is governed more by hormones than the law of supply and demand. Beyond this time, and incidentally around the statutory culmination of maternity leave, the body adjusts to the rhythm of your baby’s needs.
Working moms though, have a harder time settling into a more predictable cycle since they have to be away from their babies for 9-10 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. Hand expression, or the technique of expelling milk using the thumb and forefinger, is an impractical option because it can take between 30-45 minutes to empty both breasts, and who has the time in between meetings, deadlines, and short breaks?
Without help from technology, it would be next to impossible for working mothers to maintain adequate milk supply to continue feeding their newborn with only mama’s milk. They would have to mix-feed, as in supplement with infant formula while they are away. This, in turn, causes natural milk supply to dwindle, which is why in hardcore breastfeeding communities, mix-feeding is considered the beginning of the end.
Enter the breast pump. Despite my resolve to milk my milk for all it’s worth, I realized a few weeks into my journey, and after I had done a bit of research, that I would have to contribute to the big-bucks business that is breastfeeding technology.
Throughout my baby’s first year, I invested in no less than four types of breast pumps, and in this article, I will talk about the pros and cons of each one, in the order in which I acquired them.
Precious Moments Portable Breast Pump (SRP P1700.00) – This product does not get enough fair reviews online. Some customers even claim that it was the worst pump they ever used. Well, to each his own I guess, because I used this little dynamo for about three solid months. At first, we could only squeeze out about an ounce in between feedings. As my supply increased, so did the milk yield, and soon I could fill out a small feeding bottle in one session, just enough for a quick trip to the gym or grocery store. About two weeks before my leave ended, I could already save about two feedings-worth of milk a day. By my first day back at work, I had built a considerable freezer stash, enough to allow me to finish a shift guilt-free.
Pros: Portability – it can run on four double-A batteries for pumping on the go, but also has the usual (and preferred) DC setting. The control suction is also adjustable, so that you can start sessions with the recommended “let-down setting” for a few minutes before going on full pumping mode. A big plus for me is how incredibly easy it is to clean – none of the milk gets into parts that cannot be washed and sterilized right away. When you have to pump at work three times per shift, being able to clean the pump parts easily is a huge advantage.
Cons: This device is not for late-night pumping, especially if your baby sleeps next to you at night (if you’re breastfeeding, she probably does). The motor is annoyingly loud, especially when plugged into the wall. While I was still building my freezer stash and pumping late at night, I had to do so in the living room. This is also not a pump to be used at its highest setting, because although my baby has never caused my nipples to bleed, this product has.
I traded up after a few months, but this pump will always be my favorite of all time. It was easily the best P1700 I spent, with the biggest bang for my buck, especially considering how much I spent on my next breast pump.
Avent Dual Electric Breast Pump (SRP P29,999.00) – This one is, without question, the big boss of all breast pumps. That hefty price tag comes with the promise of ultimate convenience and maximum yield. The starter package also has all the essentials, including insulated milk pouches, reusable thermo pads for storing on the go, extra storage cups, and a tote bag in which to properly carry the pump and all its parts. The main machine itself, which aptly looks like R2D2’s bust, is a robot in its own right – it “remembers” preferred let-down settings for future use. The dual pump cuts session time in half, and supposedly also increases yield via simultaneous stimulation – more milk in less time! By purchasing this device a month after returning to work, there was no turning back – I was in the breastfeeding big leagues.
Pros: Apart from the benefits already mentioned above, comfort is the main selling point of this breast pump. While most devices make do with a relentless pump-out motion to draw as much milk as possible, this model simulates the gentle sucking rhythm of a suckling child. You control that rhythm at first, and the pump remembers it. This is the perfect pump for working moms who have some flexibility of time in the workplace. It is also the kind you buy when you’re planning to have more children, because it is most definitely something that can last a couple more pregnancies.
Cons: Traveling with this pump is like having a small carry-on luggage with you everywhere. It’s definitely not something you can use on the road, or even in a public bathroom. Assembling and cleaning can also be cumbersome, because the set has no less than 10 parts, excluding the tubes and main machine, all of which need cleaning after every session. I had to bring a small microwave sterilizer at work for these. No wonder the package also comes with a manual hand-controlled pump for that important portability option.
Avent Manual Breast Pump (SRP P3800.00) – This pump came with the dual electric package, so it was a welcome added value, but I don’t really have a lot to say about the product. I’ve only used the manual pump in very few occasions, usually not to express for storage, but just to pump and dump when there are no means of immediately storing expressed milk.
The pros are obvious; I know of moms who prefer the simplicity of a hand-controlled pump. No batteries or messy wires, very easy to clean and sterilize all parts, and they are a lot cheaper than their electric same-brand counterparts.
The clear drawback is that hand-controlled pumps require more manual effort to express than electronic ones, and are really just a notch above hand expression in the time factor. My biggest issue with this manual pump is that it requires the use of both my hands while expressing. When you’re cooped up in a room for 15 to 30 minutes while pumping milk, you definitely need at least one hand free to check Facebook on your phone.
Medela Mini-Electric Breast Pump (SRP P5000.00) – Soon after I purchased the Avent Dual Electric package, a friend and fellow breastfeeding mom asked me if she could borrow my portable. She had a hand-controlled at home and wanted a pump she could leave in the office. At that time, I was no longer using the portable, and giving it away seemed to make sense. However, a few months later, I realized that I wanted a portable at home so I could leave my bulky dual electric in the office, so I bought a mini-electric pump from breastfeeding tech giant Medela.
Pros: Marketed as a pump to be used for occasional expression, this electronic pump, just like my Precious Moments portable, also has convenient AC/DC power settings and adjustable suction pressure. However, it also has the gentle sucking rhythm of Avent electric, thus the higher SRP.
Cons: Unfortunately, this pump was next to useless as soon as I tried to express milk with it. Whether battery operated or plugged into a wall, the pumping cycle was just too weak to really get much of anything. The pump parts also have a number of tiny crevices which I found very difficult to clean. At one point, after sterilizing, I found a small piece of curdled milk inside one of the folds that I had to pry off with a q-tip. I expected better performance from a pricier pump, but honestly the manual was so much better at the task.
Since my daughter started eating solids full-time and drinking cow’s milk when she turned one, I now do not have to use my pumps while away from her. I still breastfeed, but only directly now.
I don’t miss the pumping life at all – it was tough. But for any mom who wants to breastfeed and still be able to work or spend some time away from the baby, some tech is necessary in seeing the ultimately rewarding journey of breastfeeding all the way through.
Because as cliché as it may sound, it is all worth it.