Your breast pump

Breast pump anatomy

  • breast pumps - what are they
  • pump – general
  • pump general
  • History and development of pumps

How breast pumps work

A breast pump works by repeatedly sucking your nipple against a plastic funnel until milk flows from your nipple.

  • How does a pump work - diagram + parts (refer to section 2) 
  • How breast pump works

Pump vs Baby

Why do pumps feel different from your baby?

In theory, a pump sucks at your breast to pull milk from your nipple. They are typically designed to mimic your baby’s suck as closely as possible, in terms of the strength of the suck itself, and also the rate and rhythm they suck with. 

But like any machine, they are rarely quite as good as the real thing. Although pumps can be a very effective tool for expressing your milk, they are a bit of a blunt instrument compared with a baby.

Why?

  1. Pumps mostly just suck. Pumps typically only use suction as the main method for extracting your milk, whereas a healthy infant will use a combination of sucking and compressing with their jaw. See here for more detail on that.  Pumps also don’t do any of the other things your baby might. For example, pumps don’t compress your nipple when sucking, they don’t grab at your breast like some babies do (which can help to stimulate letdown). They certainly don’t give you that gooey, emotional feeling that your baby can give you, which can help some women with letdown.
  2. Pumps are often made from quite harsh materials. The flange is typically hard plastic or hard-ish silicone. While these flanges are made to fit as many women as possible, the hard surface and often sharp angles at the flange, doesn’t support your nipple all the way around as it moves, in the way that a baby’s mouth and tongue might. 
  3.  Pumps aren’t as smart as your baby. A healthy infant not only has a more complex way to get milk from your breast than a pump, they also adapt and learn how to best remove your milk by changing their sucking pattern, rate and strength. And, remarkably, your breast responds to this by matching supply.

With Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, it’s possible that pumps could ‘learn’ your body. Perhaps that’s something to look forward to when you have your next baby.