Kathryn S. Daws-Kopp, an electrical engineer at the FDA, said all breast pumps consist of a few basic parts: a breast shield, a pump that creates a vacuum to express the milk and a detachable container for collecting the milk. There are three basic kinds: manual, battery-powered and electric.
Daws-Kopp, who reviews breast pumps and other devices for quality and safety, suggests mothers consult an expert to determine which type of breast pump best fits their needs.
New mothers also must decide on whether to buy or rent a breast pump. Many hospitals, lactation consultants and specialty medical supply stores rent breast pumps for use by multiple users, Daws-Kopp said.
These pumps are designed to decrease the risk of spreading contamination from one user to the next, but each renter needs to buy a new accessories kit that includes breast-shields and tubing, Daws-Kopp said.
"Sometimes these pumps are labeled 'hospital grade,'" Daws-Kopp said in a statement. "But that term is not one FDA recognizes, and there is no consistent definition. Consumers need to know it doesn't mean the pump is safe or hygienic."
Daws-Kopp said different companies may mean different things when they label a pump with this term, and that FDA encourages manufacturers to instead use the terms "multiple user" and "single user" in their labeling.
"If you don't know for sure whether a pump is meant for a single user or multiple users, it's safer to just not get it," Daws-Kopp said.
The same precaution should be taken for "used" or second-hand pumps, Daws-Kopp said.
Dr. Michael Cummings, an obstetrician-gynecologist at FDA, said even if a used pump looks really clean, potentially infectious particles may survive in the breast pump and/or its accessories for a surprisingly long time and cause disease in the next baby.