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10 Fast Facts You Didn’t Know About Breast Pumps

Woman using a breast pump.

Breast pumps might seem fairly straightforward. You find the one you want, you pump, you feed the baby. Right? Not so fast. I’ve explained before why it’s important to find the right pump for you, but there are plenty of facts you probably didn’t know about breast pumps.

1. The pump may explain sore nipples  

We often think that sore nipples are due to poor latch. And, that’s usually the case. However, there are variety of reasons for sore nipples when pumping.

2. Single-user, multiple user

It makes a big difference if a pump is intended for a single user or multiple users. Don’t miss out on my post explaining the difference.

3. Closed versus open systems

A closed system pump has a barrier between the collection kit and the actual mechanism of the pump.

An open-system pump, however, does not have such a barrier. See my post on the main differences between these types of systems.

4. Not all pumps are made by Code compliant manufacturers

This is more complicated than most people have time to dive into, but I’ll give a brief overview.

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes prohibits advertising bottles and artificial nipples to parents. Hence, if a pump company also sells those items, they might be in violation of this Code.

For many people this is an ethical issue. How you deal with it is up to you.

5. “Hospital grade” and “multi-user” are not necessarily the same

Let’s start with some definitions and descriptions.

Despite multiple searches over many years, I’ve never been able to find an official, government-approved definition of a “hospital-grade” pump. The FDA does not recognize the term “hospital-grade” pump.

All I can say is, I’ve worked in several hospitals, and I know one when I see one.

Typically, a hospital-grade pump is fairly expensive, offers sophisticated features, and is used by many hospitalized individuals over many years. It’s for sure a “multi-user” pump.

A popular model is the Medela Symphony.

A multi-user pump can be defined as a pump that is designed to be used by multiple people. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies pumps as multi-user or single-user.

In all cases, the “hospital-grade” pump is a multi-user pump. But a multi-user pump is not necessarily referred to as hospital-grade.

6. Pump motors can and do wear out

Just like with all mechanical devices, it’s possible for a motor to wear out. Working and moving parts do fail, so make sure your pump is functioning normally.

7. Pumps are sometimes stolen from hospitals

I know this sounds bizarre, but it’s not terribly uncommon for people to steal a breast pump from the hospital. You’re saying HUH, how is that possible?

Sure, they look big because they’re wheeled around on a stand that is about waist high.

But the pump itself weighs several pounds and could be carried out of the hospital unnoticed under the right circumstances. (The staff is busy, the thief is wearing a large shawl to camouflage it, or whatever.)

Be careful before you purchase a used hospital-grade pump. If the hospital reports the serial number of the stolen pump you purchased, you could be in trouble.

Your best bet is to purchase your pump through a reputable retailer or through your insurance company.

8. Manufacturers have instructions for cleaning

Be sure to look at your pump’s instructions for the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning. They are all a little different.

9. Some pumps last for decades

Designed by the brilliant engineer, Einar Egnell, the Egnell SMB™ pump debuted in 1942.   

In one hospital where I worked, two SMB pumps were presumed to have been bought in the early 1960s. Since then, they have been in service every day and continue to go strong.

And, yes, I have an SMB in my own office!

10. You might be able to recycle your pump

Many pump manufacturers offer recycling, including Medela. Contact your pump’s manufacturer to see if they accept pumps for recycling. You may also be able to take the pump to an electronic waste facility.

I’m betting there’s something here you didn’t know about breast pumps. Let me know which of these facts surprised you the most!

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