Just like any other mechanical product, an electric breast pump can wear out and stop functioning properly. Of course it’s possible that a pump will stop working altogether, but it’s also possible that the pump can “poop out” without your realizing it right away. How do you know when your pump motor has worn out?
Breast Pump Motor Life
Most electric breast pumps have a one-year warranty. That does not mean that a pump motor lasts only a year — pump life is naturally going to depend on the quality of the pump and the amount of use.
Medela has this to say about the motor life of an electric pump:
A high quality electric double pump might last through the breastfeeding of your second child, or even several children. However, like computers or other electronic products, an electric breastpump has a limited lifetime. Medela guarantees its pump motors with a one year warranty. If you use an electronic pump that has been used for more than one year, there is no guarantee that it will generate as much speed and vacuum as it did earlier in it’s [sic] life. By using your own pump, you can compare the pump’s performance with each child. However if you borrow a pump, you cannot gauge its performance to ensure it is operating at full capacity.
A breast pump manufacturer has an interest in your buying a new pump, but it’s a valid point that motor life is an issue.
Red Flags for Poor Pump Function
You should consider testing your pump if any of the following are true:
~ It’s taking a significantly longer time to pump than it has in the past.
~ Your milk supply seems low. (Sometimes suspected cases of low milk supply actually turn out to be defective or worn out pumps! Certainly using a worn-out pump could lead to low milk supply eventually. Keep in mind though that it can take a while to get “good” at pumping and that how much milk a mother can pump does not reflect how much the baby gets at the breast because the baby is more effective at removing milk than a breast pump. I recommend the book The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk if you have concerns about possible low milk supply.)
~ The pump is over a year old.
~ You have borrowed or purchased the pump from another user (see this La Leche League article on issues to consider regarding buying or borrowing a used breast pump).
How to Test Motor Function
Lactation Consultant Linda Smith has a page of troubleshooting tips to try if your breast pump is not working properly for any reason. To test the motor specifically, she recommends:
Try putting the flange against your cheek and using the pump. You should feel a very strong, almost painful pinch.
Test it, using a vacuum gauge. (Your lactation consultant may have one.) A baby uses pressures of 100-250 lbs. Your pump should get to at least 100 lb. pressure in 1-2 seconds.
Other Causes for Decreased Suction
Pump motor wear is not the only potential cause of decreased pump suction. Ameda offers troubleshooting tips for its Purely Yours electric breast pump. It suggests investigating the power adapter, the collection kit, the white valve, and the tubing adapter.
What to Do if Your Pump Is Worn Out
If your pump is under warranty, contact the manufacturer. If not, consider whether your pumping needs have changed and whether it is actually necessary to buy the same type of pump or any pump at all.
Whatever the case, be sure to breastfeed and/or hand-express as often as necessary to maintain your milk supply while you are not using the breast pump.