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Can Breast Pumps Cause Problems?

September 2016

Today, I want to bring back a 2014 journal article discussing breast pumps, maternal factors, problems and injuries. In the US, breast pumps are very much a part of the breastfeeding experience, and many new mothers believe they must have a pump. Even the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") emphasizes this need by mandating that insurance companies provide a pump to every new mother.

However, there are no federal regulations to determine what is a "good" or effective pump, and like many of you, I am seeing a huge influx of very substandard and worrisome breast pumps on the market. Mothers should not be expected to be the experts on pumps, and should definitely not be subjected to pumps that could cause problems and lead to premature weaning of their infant.

breast pump 

The authors of the study administered questionnaires to mothers using pumps and breastfeeding, at two, five, and seven months postpartum. A total of 1844 mothers responded and were pooled into the statistical data. About 75% of the pumps were new, 25% previously used (which is not recommended), 58% were electric pumps, 11% were a combination of electric or battery, 1.3% battery only, and 30% were manual pumps.

Just over 65% of the mothers learned how to use the pump via the instruction manual, internet or video instruction, or by trial and error. Nearly half of the participants had a college education. The problems experienced were varied, from not being able to obtain enough milk (39%), pain (28%), pump not working for a variety of reasons (44%), while injuries included sore nipples, pressure bruises, nipple injuries, and infection.

"In this general sample of breast pump users, nearly two thirds reported a problem with their breast pump and 15% reported an injury that was attributed to their pump" (Qi, Zhang, Fein, Wang, and Loyo-Berrios, 2014). This study found that using a battery-operated pump was associated with a greater risk of injury, problems, and early weaning. Also a factor in problems and injuries was not being properly taught on pump usage.

The authors concluded that personal instruction is an important variable in successful pump usage, and "because there are varied reasons for using a pump (nipples too sore to breastfeed, low milk supply, returning to work, etc.), the user instruction also needs to be personalized to the situation" (Qi et al,, 2014). I would add that the appropriate pump needs to be used for the situation, as all pumps are not the same. Correct fit of the pump flange can also be a major factor in successful and comfortable use of the pump.

In the US, complaints about breast pumps are being collected by MedWatch at the Food and Drug Administration. Professionals as well as mothers can go here https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/index.cfm?action=reporting.home to lodge complaints and concerns.


Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, BSPsy, RN, IBCLC, RLC, FILCA

Professional Development Educator, Step 2 Education International



Qi, Y., Zhang, Y., Fein, S., Wang, C., and Loyo-Berrios, N.  (2014).  Maternal and breast pump factors associated with breast pump problems and injuries.  Journal of Human Lactation, 30(1):62-72.

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