Breast Pumping Supplies: What to Buy and What to Skip

Breast pumping supplies

Shavel Ludmila / iStockphoto

When it comes to breastfeeding your baby, you don't need many supplies; all you really need is your breasts. But if you plan to return to work, want to involve your partner or caretaker in feedings, or you just desire an occasional night off, pumping your breast milk provides you with a way to ensure your baby is still getting breast milk even when you're not available.

Gauging what supplies you need can be overwhelming, though. After all, there are multiple breast pumps to choose from, as well as milk storage bags, breast pumping bras, and more to consider. Whether you're planning to pump exclusively, pumping to increase your milk supply, or pumping to relieve engorgement, you want to make sure you have everything you need to meet your breast pumping goals.

To make the decision of what to buy and what to skip a little easier, we've put together a comprehensive list of breast pumping supplies. Here's what you need to know, including what is essential and what you can live without.

Breast Pumps

Obviously, the first thing you will need for effective and efficient breast pumping is a quality breast pump. According to Lexie Hess, a certified lactation counselor in Wheeling, West Virginia, choosing a breast pump largely depends on your breast pumping goals.

For instance, if you have a baby in the NICU that you are hoping to breastfeed when they come home, you may want to look into a hospital-grade pump, which can usually be rented at your local hospital, or with the help of a lactation consultant. According to Hess, these pumps are more efficient and can pump your breast milk more quickly.

If, on the other hand, you plan to only pump on occasion—such as to relieve engorgement or to help with letdown—you might be fine with a handheld pump. If you plan to return to work and continue breastfeeding, an electric breast pump might be the best option. These pumps allow you to pump both breasts at one time, are efficient, and can be hands-free based on the model you select.

"Talk to your doctor or your lactation consultant about your breastfeeding goals to find out which pump is best for you," suggests Hess. "You should also have your lactation consultant take a look at how the flanges on your breast pump fit. Having flanges that are too big or too small will not only make your breastfeeding less efficient, but it also could be painful."

Overall, there are four primary types of breast pumps, including manual hand pumps, letdown catchers like the Haakaa milk collector, electric pumps, and hospital-grade pumps. Here's a closer look at each pump and its purpose.

  • Manual hand pumps: These pumps are inexpensive, easy to use, and portable. Because they don't require electricity, they are ideal to use in the car or for quick pumping sessions. To use this type of pump, you simply squeeze the hand bar. Depending on the style of handheld pump you purchase, you can expect to pay about $15 for a pump. But, there are some manual pumps that cost as much as $50.
  • Letdown milk catchers: These devices consist of a silicone bottle that suctions to the breast to collect milk. They can catch the letdown or relieve engorgement without stimulating the breast and are ideal for making sure there is no wasted milk. Letdown milk catchers are relatively inexpensive and can be found online for as little as $12. But if you want one that comes with extra supplies, you can expect to pay around $35.
  • Electric pumps: These pumps come in single and double options. The single option allows you to pump one breast at a time, while a double allows you to pump both. These pumps are fast and efficient and are useful for people who will be pumping on a consistent schedule, Hess says. Electric breast pumps range in price from around $75 on the low end to as much as $3,500 on the high end.
  • Hospital-grade pumps: These double electric pumps are highly efficient with multiple settings for people to choose from. Because they are often expensive to buy, ranging in price from $500 to $3,500, many hospitals will rent them. Rental prices vary depending on your hospital, but on average you can expect to pay about $40 to $50 a month. If you are interested in renting a hospital-grade pump, talk to your healthcare provider or your lactation consultant. Most people choose this type of pump if they are pumping exclusively or if they are having trouble with their milk supply because these pumps extract milk better due to a stronger pull.

Tips for Finding the Right Pump

When determining which pump to purchase or rent, consider your priorities—such as budget, portability, and how much pumping you plan to do. Additionally, you should refrain from borrowing or buying a used pump due to the risk of cross-contamination of bodily fluids. Keep in mind that hospital-grade pumps have built-in protective barriers and are approved for multiple users, explains Hess.

Your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant can help you determine which pump might be best for you. Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides a list of approved pumps online including the manufacturer's name and the date the device was approved. Simply, type "breast pump" into the search bar and you will get a list of pumps from which to choose.

Before you purchase a pump, you also should check with your insurance provider to see if they will cover all or at least part of the purchase. Additionally, most states offer assistance with buying breast pumps for women who qualify through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

Milk Storage Options

You also will need a way to store your breast milk. Breast milk storage bottles, bags, and containers are designed specifically for the storage of breast milk. Many companies make milk storage bags, which allow you to store or freeze your breast milk in a safe and sanitary way. These sturdy bags are not easily damaged and allow you to build a stash of breast milk without taking over the freezer in the process.

Regardless of whether you select bags, bottles, or containers, these products are designed to withstand freezing and thawing. They can also safely store your milk for long periods of time. When determining which storage option is best for you, make sure you're looking for BPA-free containers that are specifically designed for breast milk storage. If you plan on pumping three to four times a day, you might want to start with a generous supply of storage options.

How to Store Breast Milk

Make sure you're storing your breast milk safely. Here's what you need to know.

  • Room temperature: Breast milk is good for up to 4 hours
  • Insulated cooler with an ice pack: Breast milk is good up to 24 hours
  • Back of the refrigerator: Freshly pumped breast milk will last 4 to 6 days; thawed breast milk lasts up to 24 hours
  • Freezer: Breast milk will last up to 6 months
  • Deep freezer: Breast milk will last up to a year.

Bottles to Collect Milk

Some breast pumps come with one or two milk-collection bottles, with lids that attach to the flange of the pump. But you may want to purchase additional bottles, especially if you intend to pump multiple times a day. This way, you will always have clean bottles for collecting your breast milk.

Additionally, some women like to collect their milk in bottles and transfer them to storage bags once they get home or have more time. If this is your plan, you will need enough bottles to collect milk three to four times a day if you are supplementing with expressed milk; and six to eight sets of bottles if you're pumping exclusively.

How to Clean Your Pump Supplies

Keeping your breast pump clean helps protect your baby from germs and other contaminants. Here's an overview of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends.

  • After each use: Wash your pump parts with soap and water after each use to ensure that everything stays sanitary and germ-free.
  • Once a day: Spot-clean the tubing as needed but avoid submerging the tubing in water because it can cause mold. If you prefer, you can put your pump parts in the top rack of the dishwasher assuming they are dishwasher safe.
  • Extra precautions: According to the CDC, you should sanitize your pump parts at least once daily if your baby is less than 3 months old, was born prematurely or has a weakened immune system. Daily sanitizing, which involves boiling the pump parts or using a sanitizer, may not be necessary for older, healthy babies if the parts are cleaned carefully after each use, they say.

Keep in mind, if your baby was born prematurely or has other health concerns, your baby’s healthcare provider may have more recommendations for keeping your pump clean and sanitary.

Nipple Care Items

It's not uncommon for people to experience cracked or sore nipples when they start pumping. For this reason, you may want to purchase a nipple cream, balm, or ointment to help soothe dry, cracked, or sore nipples.

Because there are so many different varieties available on the market, it can be hard to know which one to purchase. Many people find lanolin-based nipple creams particularly soothing. Meanwhile, others may prefer a more natural lubricant. It's possible that you will need to try a few varieties of creams before you find one that you like.

You also might consider purchasing hydrogel nipple pads, which some parents rave about. These pads, which can be stored in the refrigerator, are placed on sore nipples to offer instant pain relief. They also aid in the healing process and are a must-have for women with sore nipples.

Breast pads are another option for sore nipples. These soft pads fit inside your bra and prevent your clothing from rubbing against you. They also have holes in them so air can still get to your nipples and help them heal.

Keep in mind, too, that fresh breast milk can help heal damaged nipples. Try massaging a few drops into them before and after feeds to help promote the healing process.

Cooler With Ice Packs

Hess recommends investing in a small, insulated cooler and some ice packs, especially if you are not pumping at home where you can store your breast milk immediately. Even if you are pumping at work and there is a refrigerator on the premises, you will still need a safe and secure way to transport your breast milk home with you.

If, for some reason you forget your cooler and ice packs at home, Hess indicates that breast milk can be stored at room temperature for up to four hours. Meanwhile, it can be stored in an insulated cooler with freezer packs for up to 24 hours.

Breast Pumping Bra

Breast pumping bras are designed for hands-free pumping. While wearing the pumping bra, women can attach their pump directly to their bra rather than having to hold the flanges and bottles in place. For someone who is pumping on a regular basis, or even exclusively, this type of bra is a must-have, says Kadi Addy, RN, MSN, APRN, CLC. Addy is a nurse practitioner and lactation consultant with Muskingum Valley Health Centers in Ohio.

Being able to free up your hands to do something else while pumping breast milk, helps you make good use of the time you're spending pumping, especially if you're pumping at work, she says. You can answer emails, make notes, or work on a project all while pumping.

Hands-free breast pumping bras, also make it easier for you to operate the breast pump controls. And there is less risk of spilling your precious breast milk if your hands are free to deal with your bottles or bags of breast milk.

Optional Items

If your budget allows, you may want to consider some extras that might make your experience easier and more efficient after you have purchased the essentials. Here are some things to consider.

  • Wet/dry bags: These environmentally-friendly bags can be used for transporting your pump parts, whether they are clean or dirty. Just be sure to keep the bags clean and sanitized.
  • Cover or scarf: Hess says that many women still like to use a cover or scarf while they are pumping. This may help you feel more comfortable if you find yourself in a place where others may walk in while you are pumping. You don't have to invest in anything new. Use one of your baby's receiving blankets or an oversized scarf.
  • Sanitizing machines: This sterilizing machine allows you to put all your pump parts into the machine and it sanitizes everything for you with steam.
  • Sanitizing bags: Keeping your pump parts clean is crucial to keeping your breast milk from becoming contaminated. With the exception of the tubing, you can wash the parts of your pump—like the flanges and the collection bottles—with soap and water. Then every 24 hours put them in the bag to sanitize them.

"You can sanitize the parts to your pump in the microwave in about three minutes using these reusable sanitizing bags and water," Hess says. "They can be used to disinfect your breast pump shield, accessories, and breast milk bottles."

Other Things to Consider

Hess suggests that people planning to pump on a consistent basis should consider having a picture of their baby on hand to help them relax and to encourage letdown. "It also might be helpful to record your baby's sounds, or to play a recording of lullabies or other soothing music," Hess says.

In fact, one study published in the Advances of Neonatal Care found moms of critically ill babies who listened to recorded music or guided relaxation while pumping produced significantly more milk (with a higher fat content) than moms who simply pumped breast milk without any listening intervention.

During the study, which consisted of 162 women with preemies or critically ill newborns, the women were encouraged to pump eight times a day and were given a hospital-grade pump. The women were divided into four groups. Three of the groups received "listening intervention" of some type and one group simply pumped. All three of the groups that received listening interventions were able to pump more milk.

Hess also suggests that women make sure they are eating enough and drinking plenty of water. For instance, normal water intake is half of your body weight in ounces, she says. A 130-pound woman would need to drink at least 65 ounces in a day (or about eight 8-ounce glasses) if she's not breastfeeding but should plan to drink more if she is.

Use your weight to calculate your recommended water intake under normal circumstances and then add a few glasses to compensate for what you will need when you're breastfeeding or pumping. Hess says one way to make sure you're getting enough food and water is to have a water bottle and light snack like a piece of string cheese or grapes within reach while pumping.

"Women need to make sure they are eating and drinking enough," she says. "Breastfeeding and pumping burn up to 500 calories a day. So, it's important to make sure you're staying hydrated and choosing nutritious foods."

A Word From Verywell

Choosing to pump ensures your baby is getting breast milk when you can't be there, or when medical issues or concerns prevent you from nursing from the breast. If you're considering pumping exclusively or pumping once you return to work, it may be helpful to meet with a lactation consultant in order to begin on the right foot. With their help and input, you can determine which supplies are best for you and your baby.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Breastfeeding is a priority in the WIC Program. Updated February 9, 2021.

  3. American Academy of Family Physicians. Breastfeeding, family physicians supporting (position paper). Updated 2014.

  4. Centers for Disease Control. Proper storage and preparation of breast milk. Updated June 11, 2021.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to keep your breast pump kit clean. Updated July 8, 2020.

  6. Mohammadzadeh A, Farhat A, Esmaeily H. The effect of breast milk and lanolin on sore nipples. Saudi Med J. 2005 Aug;26(8):1231-4. PMID:16127520.

  7. Keith DR, Weaver BS, Vogel RL. The effect of music-based listening interventions on the volume, fat content, and caloric content of breast milk-produced by mothers of premature and critically ill infants. Adv Neonatal Care. 2012 Apr;12(2):112-9. doi:10.1097/ANC.0b013e31824d9842. PMID:22469966.

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