Medical Devices

Types of Breast Pumps

All breast pumps consist of a few basic parts:

a. Breast Shield: a cone-shaped cup that fits over the nipple and the circular area surrounding the nipple (the areola).

b. Pump: creates the gentle vacuum that expresses milk. The pump may be attached to the breast-shield or have plastic tubing to connect the pump to the breast-shield.

c. Milk Container: a detachable container that fits below the breast-shield and collects milk as it is pumped. The container is typically a reusable bottle or disposable bag that can be used to store the milk or be attached to a nipple and used for feeding a baby.

Types of Breast Pumps

Picture depicting manual, battery-powered, and electric breast pumps

There are three basic types of breast pumps:

  • Manual pumps
  • Battery-powered pumps
  • Electric pumps

A breast pump is typically held in place by hand or by a nursing bra, a breast pumping bra or a band.

Breast pumps extract milk from the breasts by creating a seal around the nipple and applying and releasing suction to the nipple, which expresses milk from the breast. Each suction and release combination is called a cycle.

Manual Pumps

Once the breast-shield is placed over the nipple and areola, a handle or lever is squeezed to create suction and express milk from the breast. The breast milk is then collected in an attached container.

Some manual pumps have a small tube which is pumped in and out of a larger tube to create a vacuum that expresses milk and collects it in an attached container.
Another type of manual pump, called a bicycle horn pump, consists of a hollow rubber ball attached to a breast-shield. Some experts discourage the use of bicycle horn pumps because they may be difficult to clean and dry.

Battery-Powered and Electric Pumps

A powered breast pump uses batteries or a cord plugged into an electrical outlet to power a small motorized pump that creates suction to extract milk from the breasts. It may have one or more long tubes connecting the breast-shield to the electric pump. The pump has a control panel with a dial or switch to control the degree of suction.

Some powered breast pumps can be adjusted to create different patterns of suction. Some manufacturers claim the adjustable suction allows the user to find a setting that closely mimics her nursing baby, including features with phases such as let-down. Let-down is the natural reflex which starts the release of milk when the nipple area is stimulated, such as by breastfeeding or breast pumping.

Because these breast pumps rely on a power source, women who use powered breast pumps should be prepared for emergency situations when electricity or extra batteries may not be available. If breastfeeding is not an option, having extra supplies for pumping and a back-up method, such as a manual breast pump, may help a woman maintain her breast pumping schedule during an emergency.

FDA offers information on using medical devices in an emergency.

Pumping Types

There are two different pumping types: single and double.

Pumping Type How it Works Types of Breast Pumps
Single Extracts milk from one breast at a time. Most manual breast pumps are single pumps.
Most battery-powered pumps are single pumps.
Double Can be used to extract milk from both breasts at the same time.
A separate breast-shield can be attached to each breast to stimulate both nipples at the same time.
Some electric pumps are double pumps.

 

Page Last Updated: 09/25/2013
Note: If you need help accessing information in different file formats, see Instructions for Downloading Viewers and Players.