The concept for every breast pump is one and the same. Each uses suction at the breast (that mimics the way a baby feeds) to pump milk into bottles or storage bags. That said, not every pump operates in the same fashion or attends to the same particular set of needs. Before you settle on a pump, ask yourself these important questions:
Why are you looking for a breast pump?
Are you having trouble lactating? Do you have a busy schedule that prevents you from being home for every feeding? Is your baby a preemie or in the NICU? Is baby simply having trouble latching on? Not every pump caters to every issue -- determine why you need to express your milk and go from there.
How often will you need to pump?
Maintaining a steady supply of breast milk means you'll need to pump several times a day -- sometimes even more! If you need to pump quickly and efficiently at work, for example, look for a machine that's easy to carry, lightweight, and double pumps (both breasts at the same time) in a quick cycle. But if you need to express only occasionally, say to help prevent engorgement (common when your milk has only just come in a few days after the birth of your baby), then perhaps a hand-held pump is all you need. If you are multi-tasking and would like to be able to do something else while pumping, try a hands-free pump, just remember you will also need a hands-free bra.
Where will you be pumping?
Not every new mom is lucky enough to pump in the privacy of her own home. If you have to pump at work, consider a machine that's small, quiet and battery operated so you don't have to find a discreet place to pump that also has an outlet. There are even breast pumps with AC adapters so you can express in your car via the cigarette lighter.
How long will you have to pump?
Looking to pump on your coffee break? You'll need a machine that gets the job done in a minimal amount of time. Pumping cycles can vary from 15 to 30 minutes (or sometimes even longer if you're using a manual pump). That may not seem like a lot of time, but it could mean the difference between spending your lunch hour pumping and having a few minutes to grab a salad before that afternoon meeting. Moms with a busy schedule might also want to look into purchasing a pump with an LCD display that you can program to remember your preferred pumping patterns.
What size breast shields do you need?
The breast shield is the piece of the pump that is placed directly over the nipple. There is a standard size for shields, but many manufacturers have smaller or larger options available, because a proper fit ensures creation of a vacuum lock that will help you express the most milk most efficiently. How can you tell what size is right for you? The nipple should move freely in the shield while pumping is in progress. If it doesn't move at all or rubs against the side of the shield, you need a larger size.