An electric breast pump is a device used for expressing human breast milk when an infant either can't properly nurse or the mother has to be absent from the child for an extended period of time. In some cases, a mother may choose to exclusively pump milk, although this is not recommended to ensure a proper milk supply. There is a wide range of breast pumps available, along with accessories to make the job easier for mothers who work away from home or travel frequently. Many levels of quality are available, ranging from hospital grade to basic battery operated pumps, so mothers are encouraged to look into all available options before making a decision, especially if the pump will be used on a daily basis.
The best type of electric breast pump is a hospital grade device. These are created to most efficiently mimic a baby's natural suction in order to better stimulate the breast and nipples for milk production. Human breasts are designed to supply as much milk as needed. When an infant suckles, the breasts send signals to the brain alerting it to create more milk. Only high grade electric pumps are able to provide adequate levels of stimulation for increasing milk production to its fullest capacity.
Lower level or retail electric breast pump models vary in quality from excellent to low grade. The highest level pumps are nearly as efficient as larger hospital grade models, allowing mothers to pump daily while at work or for supplemental feedings by caregivers other than the mother. They are not recommended for exclusive pumping because the breasts may not be adequately stimulated for full-time milk production. The lowest level pumps are not intended for everyday use, and are generally only effective at expressing very limited amounts of milk at one time.
Purchasing a higher quality electric breast pump can be out of the budget of many parents. Rentals are available, but most times mothers end up paying more in the long run by renting than they would by purchasing a new pump outright. Only the highest level pumps should be re-used by more than one mother, and new parts should be purchased for each nursing period. Cheaper retail pumps should not be passed down from one mother to another because many parts cannot be replaced and may become unsanitary with heavy use.
Mothers who only plan to use an electric breast pump on rare occasions may choose to buy an inexpensive retail brand. These can be found in almost any department store where infant items are sold. Higher end pumps must be purchased from hospitals, lactation experts, the Internet, or specialty pharmacies. Additional parts, carrying cases, and storage containers can be purchased separately. Expressed milk must be refrigerated if not to be used for a feeding within an hour. Milk can also be frozen for up to a few weeks in a standard freezer or six months in a deep freezer.