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Breast pumps – do you need one, how do you decide which one, do you have to pay for it yourself? These are all questions that soon-to-be-moms will be asking at some point. Looking back, I made a lot of mistakes selecting a breast pump. But hindsight is 20/20, and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes. Therefore, read on for my complete guide to selecting the perfect breast pump for you. I will cover definitions that are important to know when evaluating breast pumps and well as a breast pump comparison between all of the major brands. If you are looking for a breast pump because you’re worried your baby isn’t getting enough milk, make sure to check out this post.
Around my second trimester, I got a random call from a company that supplies breast pumps. My doctor had put in the order for me to get one through insurance. The company rattled off a long list of all my options, and when finished asked which one I wanted. I selected one I had heard of off the list and was told it would be at my door in a few days if it was covered. Less than a week later, I had a new breast pump on my doorstep. However, I ended up buying a second pump and wishing that I had yet another type. Here are my tips for planning out your breast pump situation, so you end up with a pump you love (well as much as you can love something that leaves you feeling like a cow) as well as a comparison of all the readily available breast pumps.
First things first, let’s cover breast pump terminology.
Heavy-duty pumps that have the most powerful motors and a higher amount of “sucks” per minute compared to personal pumps. These pumps are more efficient but come with a higher price tag.
These pumps are designed to fit the lifestyle of most moms. They are usually relatively easy to transport and are more affordable than hospital grade pumps. However, they are not as efficient as hospital-grade pumps.
A pump that uses electricity via a wall outlet, but some pumps have the ability to run on batteries. These pumps have the ability to pump both breasts at the same time and are much more efficient than manual pumps.
A pump that requires the user to do the work. These pumps have a lever that requires a squeeze and release motion to express milk. These pumps can be useful because they are highly portable and have few parts. However, they can be labor intensive.
Has a diaphragm that acts as a barrier. This protects the milk from outside air and prevents milk from leaking into the pump tubing. Therefore, expressed milk is never exposed to the pump tubing or motor which means that the tubing doesn’t require washing or sterilizing.
Does not have a barrier between the tubing and the milk collection, so milk may potentially leak into the tubing. This can be an inconvenience because it requires washing, sterilizing and air drying the tubing. However, some moms report that small amounts of milk may get into the tubing without being noticed and this can lead to mold in the tubing.
These are the plastic pieces that go over your breast when pumping. It is essential that these fit properly. Flanges that are too small can cause pain from rubbing and flanges that are too big will not allow sufficient suction. With some brands you can buy flanges in sizes other than what come with the pump, but this results in an added cost.
The first step in breast milk expression is when the baby takes short, shallow and frequent sucks to cause a let-down. The second phase occurs when the milk comes in and the baby’s sucks get longer and deeper. A dual-phase expression pump mimics these phases.
Unique needs: Determine if you will be pumping at work or while traveling.
How many pumps: If possible, plan to get two pumps in case one breaks. My first week back to work, I accidentally dropped my pump and it broke. That left me without a pump for a day (thank goodness for Amazon Prime 1-day shipping!). It was a very stressful day because I was at work and my son wasn’t a big fan of nursing, to begin with, so he was not impressed by having to act as the pump. Once I got my new pump in the mail, I eventually got my original one fixed, so I kept one at home and one at work. This was really the ideal situation. If you are able to get two pumps, I recommend two different styles (one hands-free and one traditional).
Manual or Electric: If you are only planning to pump occassionally and/or you need to have something handy to use once in a while when traveling, you may be able to get by with a manual pump. However, if you will be pumping with any consistency, then you definitely want an electric pump.
Hospital or Regular Grade: Breast pumps come as hospital grade and regular grade. Hospital grade is the type that may be in pumping rooms at work and what the hospital will have. These are designed to have multiple people use the same pump. Regular pumps are designed to be single user. They are smaller and easier to tote back and forth to work. Regular grade is likely sufficient for what you are doing.
Style: Once you focus on regular grade, electric pumps, you have two basic groups of pumps: the traditional style with the cones and bottles hanging off of them and the hands-free, discrete pumps. If you are able to swing two pumps, I highly recommend getting one of each.
Desirable characteristics: Things to look at and consider include the following:
The weight of the pump
Discrete and hands-free
Availability of support and parts
Breast Pump Comparison Tables
Below is a comparison of all readily available electric breast pumps. Hospital grade pumps and manual pumps are not included.
The Criteria Evaluated
Hands Free (yes/no): Pumping bras are available to make any pump “hands-free” but being hands-free without a special bra is a big plus.
Runs on Battery (yes/no): Some pumps don’t maintain great suction on battery. However, having the option to use a pump on battery is helpful in a pinch.
Car Plug Ability (yes/no): The ability to power your pump with a car plug is a big plus when you are on the go. If you can pump hands free, then pumping while driving is a great way to multi-task.
Digital Display (yes/no): Some mothers find a digital display really helpful for adjusting pump settings. Usually pumps with a digital display come with additional features, like a timer or more setting options.
Closed System (yes/no): A closed system prevents any milk from getting into the tubing and potentially the pump motor which makes the pump more hygienic and saves you the hassle of cleaning the tubing.
Customer Support (yes/no): I learned the hard way that customer support is not a given with breast pumps, so I’ve included it as a criterion to evaluate.
Shield/Flange Size: You can often order a variety of sizes of shields/flanges. However, that’s an additional cost and hassle.
Warranty: If your pump breaks you want to know that it will be replaced quickly without additional cost to you.
Price: Many breast pumps are available through insurance. However, if you are looking to get a second pump, or want one that isn’t covered, price is important to consider.
Amazon Rating: This seems to be the rating system that has the most submitted ratings, so I included it as a way to help compare the pumps.
Notes: This is where I included any additional features that I thought were important to consider.
27 mm is only other size available Run by smart phone app 1:1 coaching included with pump purchase
The above section gives you the basics of each pump to help you narrow down your search. Once you decide which pumps sound like the best fit for you, make sure to research and consider the following.
Availability and cost of spare parts
What size flange you need. Note: This may change over time.
My Breast Pump Experience
I originally got the Freemie Freedom Pump which is hands-free. The cups go inside of your bra and then have a pour spout to put the milk into bottles or bags. I loved this pump at home, but it’s the one I broke my first week back at work. I called the company and they simply said they didn’t service their pumps. Luckily my dad was able to fix it. In the meantime, I ordered a Spectra S2 from Amazon. This wasn’t hands-free, but I could purchase adaptor tubing to use my hands-free cups with this pump which I did. Compared to my Freemie, this pump was lighter weight with better features like different settings, and it was quieter. I could also use it with traditional cups or my hands-free ones. However, the S2 isn’t able to run on battery (the S1 is). One that could run on the battery would have fit my lifestyle better, but I’ve heard other mothers say that when running on battery the pumps don’t have enough suction.
If I was to do it again, I would get a traditional style pump (probably Spectra S1 or Medela) and either the Willow or the Freemie Liberty which are a little more discreet and allow you to walk around compared to the Freemie Freedom that kept me tethered to my desk. I may gravitate towards the Willow having experienced the lack of support from Freemie.