Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Product Review: PJ's Comfort Pump

Hello Dear Boobjuicers and Friends!

At long last, the review of the PJ's Comfort pump by Limerick. You may recall I was totally wanting to review this pump but not wanting to shell out the cash to buy one given that I have two other pumps and am 2/3 done with my pumping year (more than that at this point). So I called Limerick and pointed out my Hygeia EnJoye review, and suggested, wouldn't they like me to review their pump too, for my wonderful readers? So they deliberated, and then had a pump sent to the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon for a two month trial. Awesome! So not only did I get to try it out for two weeks, but some other mamas who are peer counselors will also get to try it.

So this is going to have to be a longer write up, because this pump is so different from most pumps with which most mamas are familiar, that it takes a lot of explaining. But by way of an executive summary, after returning the trial pump to NMC, I bought a used one on eBay. So that should let you know what I thought. I mean, yes, I'm a pump happy fool, but you don't see me buying extra Medelas just to have handy for fun.

The PJ is a hospital-grade pump which can be used by multiple mamas who each have their own accessory kit. The kit includes a "bacteriostatic" filter, which protects the pump mechanism from germies, and is tested to some tiny particle size like it's so small if something that size is going to hurt you, you were toast anyway, in diameter. In this respect it is similar to the Hygeia EnJoye, although the latter is not hospital grade. Well what is hospital grade? Good question. In a remarkable coincidence, the NMC education meeting last month was all about pumps and pumping. One of the peer counselors went through some specs on different pumps, hospital and retail, and what suction and cycles they offered. I think the chief difference is that most manufacturers who offer both types make the hospital grade ones stronger. They also say the hospital grade ones are built to last longer, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they may be less differentiated than companies might like us to believe. And lastly, hospital grade pumps appear to always be usable by more than one mama, each with her own personal accessory kit.

I used a Medela hospital grade pump for a while with Robert - first in the hospital and then as a rental. I don't remember the name of the model but it's the older of the two still on the market, and it's a large scary looking blue thing. It has a kit which includes a plunger thingee (which you can use as a hand pump! I learned that at the NMC educational meeting) and otherwise is sort of indistinguishable from the Pump In Style, in terms of user experience. I do think it goes up to a higher level of suction, but I couldn't tolerate the highest level of suction on the Pump In Style, so that was sort of moot for me. I hated this pump, although to be fair, the nurse who showed me how to use it turned it up to highest suction while I was using both hands to hold the pump accessories to my breasts and couldn't defend myself. I was saying "OW! OW!" and she took longer than was merciful to get the point and turn it back down. I didn't particularly like that nurse, you may have notice. None of which is Medela's fault. AND, that was February 2009 and they have a newer hospital grade pump on the market which could be nicer for the user, I don't know. But I think it's fair to say that it's very similar to using a Pump In Style. Medela is welcome to send me a pump to try if they would like to dispute that statement. And then the Hygeia EnJoye, while an improvement over the Pump In Style in several ways which I detailed in my review of that product, is also very similar in that you put a hard plastic cone thingee on your breast and it push/pulls on your nipple to get the milk out.

The PJ Comfort uses soft silicone breast flanges and does not have the same push/pull action. It actually has a compression aspect to it, as well as suction, which is designed to mimic how a baby actually nurses. It's a little hard to explain, but Limerick has some great videos on their website demonstrating how it works. But when I first started using it, between the unfamiliar mechanism and the fact that the braces that hold the silicone flanges on sort of block the view of the nipple moving, I thought it wasn't doing anything. So then it didn't make any sense to me that I was getting milk out of it. I was working closely with Patricia and Joan (P&J, get it?) via email and phone, and apparently I'm not the only mama who was sort of like, "I don't get why it works." We have it in our heads that if our nipples aren't being stretched like taffy and it doesn't hurt, nothing is happening. Which means we are probably all using our conventional push/pull breastpumps incorrectly, but it also means we are amazed when we try this PJ one.

It takes a little practice to get used to the pump (true of any pump) especially if you are used to adjusting the settings on the EnJoye or the Pump In Style. The way to use the PJ is to turn both the suction and the cycle to "start". This puts low suction, fast cycle action into play. It sort of tickles, like when you latch on the baby and baby instictively flutter sucks to get a let down. So you leave it that way for a minute and then turn up suction to the most that is still comfortable. Higher suction means the fastest cycle is slower. This part took some getting used to - at first I was turning both knobs, but P and J instructed me that the cycle adjustment is more for fine-tuning and the suction adjustment is where most of the action is. Once I tried it this way I got better results - more milk in less time.

So the first thing I noticed is that this thing is WAAAAAY more comfortable. The silicone sticks to my skin, so I definitely want the coconut oil, which then fuses itself to the silicone permanently. Seriously I've even re-boiled these flanges and got about half the coconut oil off. So if you are skeeved out by that and want to use oil, you might not like it. But I figure, coconut oil is anti-microbial, I can boil them periodically to re-sterilize them, and I'm okay with it. And again, way more comfortable than my other breastpumps. After 10-15 minutes it becomes less comfortable - I think what's happening is when the milk is done some of the suction is being transferred to the skin instead (you know how when you latch the baby on in the middle of the night in the dark and you miss the nipple it hurts like heck and then you have a boob hickey?). But I have also noticed that there is no particular benefit to letting it run more than a moment after the milk is all done. So if I get to this discomfort point, what it really means is I stopped paying attention to the pumping and was busy typing product reviews on my blog. Oh, hang on a sec.

Another nice thing about the PJ is that, because it has both compression and suction, you don't have to do the compressions yourself to get the most out of the pump. Suzi what are you talking about? Well, as the fine folks at Stanford have taught us, you need to do compression and/or hand expression along with pumping when you use a push/pull pump, or you get less milk and in particular less of the nice filling fatty milk than you can get by using your hands (and, of course, than baby gets when nursing). So I have been doing this since early Robert pumping days. But when I did it with my PJ's pump, nothing much happened. I asked about that, and P and J confirmed that it's because the pump itself is providing the compression action. So this explains why another mama I know said she got twice as much milk with her PJ's Comfort as with any other pump - I think she wasn't doing hands-on pumping. Because I always do hands-on pumping, I didn't notice much of a volume output difference between the pumps, maybe slightly more with the PJ, but it sure is more convenient to be able to type for the whole time I'm pumping rather than having to stop and do hand compression halfway through.

There are some other nice features about the PJ's Comfort pump, too. One, it's tiny and light. Again, how the heck is this tiny little thing accomplishing this more effective pumping? Well I don't have to understand it to appreciate it, luckily. Two, it's much quieter than other pumps. As I have said before, I don't really care, because I have my own office with a door to close, but we aren't all so lucky, and besides it's nice not to have tired ears in addition to tired breasts (and tired everything else, after all we are mamas!) Three, it's got a clever little timer thing that shows you how long you have been pumping, which saves me fiddling with my iPhone. I was surprised by how useful I found this - I figured it was a silly feature, I mean who doesn't have a timer or computer or something nearby, but really anything that simplifies the cumbersome process of collecting milk for our littles while working in the salt mines is a bonus. Four, the tubes are long. They aren't as flexible as the tubing for the EnJoye, but more so than my old Pump In Style. I like this because if I lean over to grab something I don't yank the flange off my breast. Maybe you mamas are less forgetful/clumsy than I am, but to me having short tubes made me feel even more like a Holstein hooked up to a milking factory.  The tubes are also wider in diameter, which is good because I got milk in one. If you get the bacteriostatic filter wet you have to replace it. Luckily I noticed the milk before it got that far along the tube. I drained the milk, took the tubes home, disassembled it, washed it out, and let it dry. It took a couple days hanging over a cabinet door to dry out, and you can still see a bit of milk inside the tubes, but you can also tell it hasn't gone any farther, so between that and this super space age filter, I'm confident to use the tubes again. If not I could just order more.

The pump works with my "made by moms" pumping band, which is convenient. Limerick sells something that will make it hands free too, works with a nursing bra. Also while I wouldn't recommend it, I have discovered quite by accident that the pump works without the little connectors between the tubing and the bottle tops - I just shoved the tubing onto the top connection and it worked, although was much harder to get on and off. The bottles are taller and narrower than Medela's or Hygeia's, making them more annoying to get clean, says hubby Matt. But they provide a handy little cleaning brush which he LOVES and I think more than won him over from the narrow bottles. The pump kit ships with a note explaining that no nipples are provided because of compliance with WHO guidelines - interesting - but they should work with standard nipples. The little backpack is cute, but if you're buying your pumps for fashion reasons, you are even more sleep deprived than I am. Also their instruction manual beats Hygeia's (not hard, that's the weakest part of that product), but it's hard to learn to express breast milk from any manual or book, no matter how well written.

So then we come to the price. This part is tricky. For a hospital grade pump, it's dirt cheap. Compared to pumps that most mamas consider for going back to the rent gig purposes, it's spendy. Limerick points out that if you are going to rent hospital grade for a couple months and then buy a pump to keep, you've more than paid for the PJ's Comfort, especially when you factor in the accessories. I think this is a good point. Further, since it's usable by more than one mama, you can sell it on eBay when you are done and reclaim part of the cost. I bought a new but open one on eBay (and threw out the tubing and filter just to be safe, and then boiled the other parts, just like you're supposed to anyway) for about $250. So used for a year it would probably fetch less, and the 3-year warranty (2 years longer than many other pumps) is not transferable. All that said, when you're pumping for a year, a couple hundred bucks to be much more comfortable is totally worth it. Plus you could go in with another mama and share it if you work together or are staggering your kids.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have bought this pump new instead of BOTH of my Hygeia EnJoyes and come out about the same in terms of dollars out. I don't know if my health insurance would have reimbursed me for this pump or not, they only work through specific suppliers but I don't remember any restrictions as to product. The PJ's is small and light enough that not having two and having to haul it back and forth to the office would be less annoying. And I think the fact that I bought a third pump in order to have one to keep speaks volumes as to my opinion of it (and the level of tolerance of my husband for my pump obsession, but that's a topic for another therapy session. I mean, blog post.)

Lastly, and this is immaterial to most mamas' decisions about which pump to get, but it matters to me - Patricia and Joan are a mother-daughter small business, they are both IBCLCs, and they are very plugged in to the breastfeeding research science scene. I think that's great. They also have a workplace lactation support program which I want to know more about, but if I have it my way, soon in order to be a hip and awesome employer, all companies will have to provide great support programs for lactating mamas.

By way of full disclosure, I can't tell you if their regular customer support is good because I had access to the ladies at the top, and they were very enthusiastic about making sure I was able to give the product a thorough review. I also seem to fall in love with every breastfeeding product I try these days (oooo! Shiny!). I switched back to my EnJoye after returning the trial PJ's Comfort, and some of what I had learned form the the latter enabled me to better mimic baby Jackie with the former and enjoy it better (Enjoy the EnJoye... okay that was too obvious, sorry). I even felt a little silly buying ANOTHER breastpump off eBay. But then when it showed up and I could use it again, I was so glad. While I was waiting for the tubing to dry out after my little spill, I missed it. So I think this is not just new shiny love but actually a lasting relationship. Until Jackie is over one year and I get to do just the fun nursing again.

I hope that is helpful and not so long as to have lost everyone. Definitely let me know your questions!

Much love,


  1. OH. MY. HEAVENS. I so want one. Can't really justify the expense with my current state of underemployment... --Kathleen P.

  2. Thanks, this review really helped sway my pump purchase decision!!