What's the difference?
Before I start I have to make a little disclaimer – at no time am I saying that every woman needs to express – this is a personal choice. Some express to increase their supply, for some it is a preferance, and for others it is necessary for going back to work. Many LC’s will say there is no need to buy a breast pump before baby arrives. I agree with this, but would add that you should know about the different types and where to get one quickly, should the need arise.
I often get asked what the difference is between the pumps that I sell/rent? I usually start by saying "2 are ‘hospital-grade’ and one is for occasional expressing". Most people then ask ‘what does hospital grade mean?’. And now there is a 3rd option, just to complicate things further!
Definition of 'hospital grade'
There is no official definition of ‘hospital-grade’ (so be cautious with companies who use this to describe their pump/s) but among those in the breast pump business and IBCLCs, it usually means this: a pump that is a closed system so no milk will get into the motor of the pump, can be shared between multiple users, and it is capable of initiating and maintaining milk supply, without the baby ever having to latch to the breast, and potentially increase the supply.
The Spectra® Dual S, S1, S2 meet this definition. Spectra® also class their Dew 350 as ‘hospital-grade’ but it does not have a let down function, which a lot of women need. Other brands of hospital grade pumps are the Medela® Symphony, and the Ameda® Platinium*. Mamivac® (a German based company) also make hospital grade pumps.
The Spectra 9 Plus and M1 are closed system pumps, but are usually not capable of initiating, maintaining, and increasing supply (some have used them to exclusively express, but many who have used both types note that the 9 Plus is not as strong). These are usually defined as 'personal' or 'occasional' pumps. Other examples include the Medela Swing, the Pumpables, and other small portable pumps
This is not to say that the 9 Plus or M1 or other 'personal' pumps are not good - they can be great if breastfeeding is well established and you need to express for going back to work or if you want to leave the baby with someone for a period of time (eg a 'date night' or long hair appointment).
When should a hospital grade pump be used?
They are used primarily when baby cannot directly latch to the breast. For example:
Baby is admitted to a Special Care Nursery/NICU and either cannot be fed directly, or their mother cannot be with them 24/7 to feed directly.
If the mother is unwell and cannot be with her baby for an extended period of time.
If the baby has a medical condition that does not allow him or her to latch (such as a cleft lip, or cardiac condition). Or is unwell and cannot latch for an extended period of time
If the baby is not interested in feeding (and yes, that can happen) or is struggling with attachment
Or it can be a personal choice not to have the baby latch directly.
Another reason is to increase milk supply - the baby might be latching, but not transferring enough milk and therefore mum might not be making enough (this should be 'diagnosed' by an IBCLC**). Using a hospital grade pump to express after a feed can help increase supply.
What if I have an oversupply?
I sometimes get asked “what sort of pump should I use if I have an oversupply?” I usually ask how old baby is and why exactly they want to express. The answer to the second part is usually “for relief”. My answer usually depends on the answer to the first part.
For the first 6-12 weeks milk supply can be controlled by hormones. If she has an oversupply in this time, it can lead the woman to believe that she doesn’t need to feed or express as often (or the baby does not want to feed frequently). When the hormones drop off, milk supply becomes about supply and demand. If there hasn’t been much of a ‘demand’ then her body may think it doesn’t need to make as much as it has and her supply drops dramatically. Using a non-hospital grade pump in this time may have the same effect – it hasn’t really be expressing the breast milk, but rather the milk has just been flowing out by force, and then when her supply starts to drop the pump is not ‘good enough’ to increase her supply again.
So what is my recommendation?
If you need to do a lot of expressing, you need to increase your supply, or maintain it because the baby can’t, then get a hospital grade pump.
If baby is more than 12 weeks old, is feeding well, and you need a pump for going back to work, leaving the baby for a few hours, etc then a personal pump will probably do.
If you have an over-supply before 12 weeks then the choice is up to you – a hospital grade pump will work well to relieve pressure and hopefully ensure you don’t lose any supply, but once your supply has estabilised it may not be necessary and it could potentially increase the supply further. On the other hand, getting a non-hospital grade pump before your supply has stabilised may work to relieve the excess, but if your supply drops it probably won’t be strong enough to help increase it again.
Make sure you check your flange sizing - this can be quite important if you are trying to increase your supply. Click here to find out more on this
If you are struggling with breastfeeding it is really important to find a good IBCLC and to surround yourself with people who are supportive of your decisions. And remember, some women just cannot make enough breastmilk regardless of what they try to do to increase it.
As always, I am happy to answer any questions you might have. Please keep in mind that I can only rent or sell Spectra® breast pumps in Perth. All other products on my website can be posted Australia-wide - click here to find out more
*There may be other brands, these are the ones I have heard of.
** IBCLC stands for 'International Board Certified Lactation Consultant' - anyone can call themselves a 'lacation consultant' but only those who have met the requirements of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (education in 14 health sciences, at least 90hrs of breastfeeding specific education, clinical hours, and passing an exam) can all themselves an IBCLC
Spectra® 9 Plus
Portable, 'occasional' pump
Yes, 1 speed
Speed changes with vacuum
Yes, 5 levels in Massage mode, 10 in Expression mode
*The 'Plus' on these do not mean much - they added the word in about 2018, but not much changed vs the S9 and 9 Plus are different pumps