Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Inside of a breast pump

There, I've said it, "breast" is now on my blog. It's no secret that I work full time outside of the house. My breast pump provides me the opportunity to give my children milk during their first year. A few weeks ago, my older pump (~5 yrs old), which I currently use and keep at work, began acting up. It would oscillate and lose suction with each cycle. As an engineer, I wanted to find a fix.

For a week or two, just re-positioning the tube connection to the pump would keep it in long enough for my pumping session. Then that didn't work. I just needed the external pump cylinder (what I'll be referring to as the "suction piece") to stop moving in and out of the pump. If it was stationary, the suction would work just fine. In a pinch, I grabbed some scotch tape (the only tape I had handy) from my desk. That worked for a session or two. Then I added more and more tape until finally I remembered to bring it home to ask John for some duct tape (which we didn't have! I feel like we failed as mechanical engineers).

I explained the situation to John and that I just need the suction piece to stop moving and it works. John wanted to open it up. I was nervous, but it was well out of warranty and heck, we're engineers!

Voila! The inside of the pump. It's so pretty, and fairly basic!

We saw the plastic clips that held the casing surrounding the suction piece were broken and coming off, allowing the piece to move in a way that it wasn't supposed to. We needed something to wedge in there. Luckily, I hoard milk caps (for science!). With a hole cut out to fit the pump cylinder, a milk cap was wedged into the pump. The pump was closed and tested out. It worked!! It's been ok for a week now, and I hope it lasts for another 3 months. A penny solution is much better than buying a new pump!

Broken clips, like the one shown under the motherboard and our milk cap wedged in at the far right

On a customer service note, my original pump did die 9 months into J (5 yrs ago). It was still under the first year warranty, so I called and they overnighted me a new one (which is the one that broke this time)! I was (and still am) a very heavy pump user, and until I acquired a second pump, I was bike commuting with my pump, which probably gave it some extra shaking. All-in-all, I've been very satisfied with my breast pump.

Is there anything you recently took apart or reverse engineered to see how it works?

Are there any mommy tools that could be helped through better engineering and technology?

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) had an innovation contest to redesign the breast pump. I'd love something quieter, less bulky/clunky, and more discrete!


  1. There is a local company with a pretty interesting breast pump design -

    1. Neat! Though I don't see anything about their design on their website :-(. I'm more comfortable and efficient pumping at work the second time around though I still have a traditional bulky and noisy pump (though the milk cap fix cut down on some of the excess noise - it made a horrendous clunk with each cycle).

    2. Looking back, Naia Mom won 3rd in the SWE contest I linked to...