Okay, gals, we need to talk about breast pumps.
If you are planning on BF’ing, you will most definitely need a pump – even if it’s just a manual one. Yes, even if you are exclusively breastfeeding – and you won’t allow a single foul bottle near your precious baby’s mouth (*rolls eyes*), you still need a pump. How else will you relieve engorgement or stimulate a weak supply?
*Since 2013, the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) requires health insurance providers to cover pumps, lactation consulting, and other related equipment at no cost: get the lowdown here. Every plan is different, so you need to call your insurance company to find out what your options are. It’s best to make this phone call earlier rather than later – sometime in the second or third trimester.
So, here are your options, mummy mumskins:
1. Rent a hospital-grade pump
This no-frills, double-electric behemoth of a commercial-grade pump is designed to be used by multiple users, so you will have to buy your own collection kit. This pump will most likely be a Medela Symphony or Ameda Elite.
*As of late fall 2019, Spectra also offers a hospital-grade multi-user pump; it’s available for rent through “DMEs” — companies that rent out durable medical equipment. The “S3 Pro” is similar in design and form to the single-user Spectra pumps (see below), but specifically engineered with higher settings. If you’ve used a Spectra pump before and are looking for a hospital-grade rental, this might be something to check out.
If you are given the option of renting a hospital-grade pump (vs. buying a “regular” pump), there are a few things to keep in mind…
First, hospital-grade pumps are hands-down more powerful than “at-home” pumps, and are better/more efficient at pumping milk, which in turn means they’ll do the best job of stimulating your supply. Thus, renting a pump is a great option for moms with specific needs, such as moms of preemies (or sick babies in the NICU), moms of multiples, or those who have a weak supply. Many back-to-work moms also opt for these powerhouses to help them maximize their stash.
The big downside is, unlike some of the higher-end “at-home” pumps (below), commercial-grade pumps are HUGE, heavy and can be very intrusive and loud (though the newer ones are surprisingly quiet); for comparison, if at-home pumps are crop dusters, commercial-grade pumps are fighter jets.
If you’re paying out-of-pocket (you’ve only been offered an Ameda Purely Yours and it isn’t getting the job done, for example)… renting a breast pump can be pretty costly. Although rates vary across locations, the average price is at least $50/month. For example, CHOP – one of the foremost hospitals in the country – has monthly rates ranging from $40-65/month, or $100-$175/3 months. At retailers, it’s $75/month or $180/3 months to rent a Medela Symphony. Plus you need to spend $50 on some of your own parts (bottles, shields, etc.) Obviously, the longer you need it, the more it will cost.
More likely, if you plan on breastfeeding and know it, it’s worth it to just get your own double-electric pump through your insurance company, if this is an option for you. This brings us to option two:
2. Get an electric pump through your insurance company
Here are our favorite electric pumps, in roughly our “favorite” order.
Although these exact pumps may not be available through your insurance company’s DME (durable medical equipment provider), they usually offer a watered-down version of one of these (i.e., it’s the same pump housing, but doesn’t come with a bag). Often, you can opt to cover the difference between the watered-down version and the more deluxe version, if you want to. This is usually worth it, especially if you are a working mom.
Spectra S1 Plus ($200) and Spectra S2 Plus ($159) ~ Economy Pick
Newer on the scene is the Spectra (the S1 and S2). We’ve watched this brand closely and have been very impressed. Dethroning the Medela was no easy feat, and Spectra is continuing to convert many former loyal Medela devotees.
The S2 (pink, below) is a double/single pump and the S1 (blue, at bottom) is the same, but it comes with a built-in rechargeable battery. Other than color, this battery feature is the ONLY difference between the S1 and the S2.
The S1 and S2 are designed as hospital-strength pumps, but for everyday, at-home use. (Spectra now also makes a hospital-grade/multi-user pump (the S3 Pro) which you can rent.)
Let’s talk about the system first – shared by all of the Spectra pumps. It’s a lightweight, “closed system” (meaning that no milk can backflow into the tubing or housing) that’s easy to take apart and clean. Moms rave about the nightlight and timer function and the fact that it’s super quiet (a huge perk for middle-of-the-night pumping).
The Spectra offers customizable settings and adjustable cycles, which is important because not all breasts (or pain/discomfort tolerances) are created equal.
One of the best things about the S1 and S2 is that they simulate a nursing baby, which aids in “let-down” and speeds up the whole pumping process… some women even believe it has helped increase their supply. (As the company says, these pumps “suckle” — not “suck.”)
The S1 and S2 are known for gentle, comfortable and pain free pumping (i.e., comfortable flanges) — and we all love that!
The downside to the Spectra is that the accessories and bottles it comes with are not the greatest. The system comes with two sets of 2 flanges (24 & 28mm), tubing and valves, etc., as well as two wide neck bottles. Neither model comes with a bag/tote. Lastly, the S1 and S2 are not compatible with normal, non-wide neck bottles or Medela bottles, however, there’s the option to purchase adapters for use with Medela parts.
All in all, this pump has everything most pumping moms need and the price is right. Thus, if you are paying out-of-pocket… the Spectra S1 and S2 are our economy picks.
Medela Sonata ~ $329
Marketed as the Cadillac of breast pumps, this pump is fancy and promising. Note that most insurance companies do not offer this pump on the menu of choices, but some do!
Medela Pump In Style Advanced (a.k.a. PISA) ~ $159
Again, Medela owned the double electric pump space for years, and until recently, the competition hadn’t even come close to matching Medela’s performance. Needless to say, it’s still a reliable choice, though may look a little dated next to some of the newer pumps — especially the new 21st century breast pump technology.
Designed to look like a briefcase, the Medela Pump In Style is the original back-to-work pump. The “PISA” is a tried and true workhorse with a two-stage expression system that can also run on a battery.
The PISA is a “single-user product” (per the warranty), though many moms have passed this pump down to others in their clan with zero problems (self included). My first PISA was handed down from my sister who had used it with her two children. I got my second one when Alice was born and passed it along to a friend. Yes, I’ve logged many miles (gallons?) on my Medelas!
The downside to single-user Medela pumps is that they are “open systems,” and could, in theory, grow mold in the tubing if not cleaned properly. Nearly all the other pumps on the market are closed systems, which is preferable (but not a deal-breaker, IMO).
Also comes in a backpack version for around $200.
Hygeia EnJoye Cordless ~ $349
Probably the biggest perk of this pump is the fact that it’s cordless and holds a good, long charge. It’s perfect for moms who tend to pump in places where an outlet is not always available (cars, airports, work events, supply closets (snort), etc).
There are a couple of cool things about Hygeia pumps that set them apart: one is that they are closed systems, which means milk cannot get into the tubing or pump housing, thus decreasing the chances of mold growth (that said, there are lots of complaints of milk somehow getting into the tubes — how? Beats me!). It also allows the pump to be officially blessed to be used by more than one person. Furthermore, you can send your pump back to Hygeia to be recycled when you are done using it.
The Enjoye also offers adjustable settings for speed and suction strength, which could mean less time at the pump. Some complain about the flange sizes offered, but note that this pump is compatible with Medela parts.
Hygeia seemed to have had a higher rate of complaints in the past couple of years (for durability and whatnot), but it seems to be better now. Many say it’s too loud and wobbly (rounded bottom, whose genius idea was that?).
Ardo Calypso Double Plus ~ $199
We had to check out the lesser-known Ardo Calypso, since Ardo helps sponsor one of our favorite breastfeeding resources, kellymom.com. It’s not huge in the U.S. (it’s a Swiss manufacturer), and none of us has used it personally (sorry!) but it seems to be a reliable option.
The Ardo is a closed system pump that is WHO Code compliant (meaning it aims to protect BF’ing mamas from aggressive or sketchy marketing claims). The Calypso comes with a great warrantee – one year or 400 hundred hours – and users absolutely rave about Ardo’s customer service, which seems to be a weak point with other manufacturers. If any issues arise with your pump, they simply send you a new one. No questions asked. Better yet: Ardo’s website helps make it easy for you to get a breast pump through your insurance – simply fill out a form, they do some homework, and then get back in touch with you.
The Calypso is quiet (users describe it’s sound as a soft hum), and you can actually listen to it online (!!) here. Women love it for its comfort – almost everyone specifically says it is more comfortable and gentle than the Pump in Style. Although, lots of reviewers noted that the suction wasn’t quite as strong as Medela, so that might be a trade-off. Another trade-off is that while the Calypso boasts 64 settings, it doesn’t have the 2-phase technology that comes with Medela pumps; this isn’t a deal-breaker, it just means that it might take a little more trial-and-error to customize your own settings to achieve an efficient letdown. One more bonus: it can run on AA batteries (power outage, anyone?), which makes it very portable, and it doesn’t require any extra fancy charging equipment.
The Freemie is a unique pump that gives you the ability to pump somewhat discreetly while doing other tasks, such as driving, working or holding your baby. (If you’re like, “Driving!?!? Who would ever pump while driving??”… Just wait!!! Hahahahaha – No seriously.)
Hands-free pumping with other pumps is a complicated, gear-intensive affair that involves wearing a special pumping bra, then attaching the shields to the bra, all while looking like something out of an Austin Powers movie. It is NOT something you could do discreetly, much less while holding a baby.
Note that the Freemie collection cups, while subtler than others, will still give you large, Madonna-like boobs while you’re using them, but it’s still 10x more discreet than the alternative.
Another fabulous feature of the Freemie is that all of the bits and pieces are much easier to clean than with the traditional setup. Although, please note they are not dishwasher safe (yes, that’s a common complaint).
The downside of this pump is that it doesn’t quite have the power other pumps have, such as the PISA or the Spectra. While many users report the suction power is sufficient, others complain it takes much longer to pump and may even diminish your supply. Another common complaint is that if you aren’t sitting perfectly straight, the milk will leak back into the tubes. Just some things to consider.
Note that this pump doesn’t come with a car adapter, but many have reported success using the Energizer 120Watt Inverter 12V DC cigarette lighter to 120V AC (are we scrappy or what?).
Bottom line: Many moms are happy with the Freemie, while others wish it were stronger and had an adjustment for power (not just speed). If discretion while pumping is of the utmost importance, give it a whirl. Most moms seem to rave more about the “idea of the system,” and the cups themselves, rather than the actual Freemie Pump, so remember: you can just buy the collection cups to use with a stronger pump for the best of both worlds!
Ameda Purely Yours ~ $99
The Ameda Purely Yours is one of the more widely provided breast pumps from insurers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold a candle to the other options on the market: reviewers are pretty down on this pump.
The first review on Ameda’s website is titled “Insurance Companies Should Be Ashamed to offer This.” Yikes.
On the plus side, the Purely Yours is small, can run on batteries (and is therefore portable and easy for travel), and also runs on a closed system. Some women like the Purely Yours just fine, and think it gets the job done. It seems to get more positive ratings from women who just need a pump for occasional, at-home use. For moms who need a full-time, high-quality pump, the Purely Yours is typically a disappointment.
The biggest complaint with the Purely Yours is the lack of power (suction), to the point of possibly impacting one’s milk supply; lots of moms said that when they starting using the pump exclusively, they quickly noticed a decrease in their supply. This is obviously a major problem.
The Purely Yours is also one of the least comfortable options available (sometimes even causing women pain), and runs on the louder side. I guess you get what you pay for (free), lol. A couple people noted that the suction issue, at least, can be avoided by replacing the valves regularly. Others explain that Ameda’s customer service was very helpful, sometimes even overnighting them a new pump if something malfunctioned.
Actually… this seems to be a theme across companies: most of them seem to have pretty stellar customer service. **TIP: If you are having any trouble with your pump, or something breaks, don’t immediately give up on it – call the company. Most of breast pump manufacturers get great marks for customer service and will do everything they can to help you out.
Medela Swing ~ $169
The Medela Swing is simple and elegant single electric pump. This guy is about the size of the Freestyle (yay), but only pumps one breast at a time (boo). Be advised that if you pump frequently, each pumping session will take double the time. It comes with an AC adapter and the option to use batteries (they need to be purchased separately).
Most women appear to prefer the PISA (because it’s a double and all), but for some, this one does the trick. Marketed as an “occasional use” pump, the Swing is good for infrequent pumpers who want something inexpensive, small, and portable; this pump is awesome for travel!
Pumps “Coming Soon”
Inspired by the lag between breast pumps and 21st century technology, some new companies are coming out with totally fresh designs – not all of them have even been released yet, so we’re going to be keeping an eye out for these products in the upcoming months! (Here’s a cool article explaining the origins of these new products.)
- Willow – The Willow looks like it will be a more promising, modern version of the Freemie. This pump is designed to work beneath your regular bra (whaaaat? Yeah that’s right!), and it pumps straight into bags – quietly and easily. Plus, the parts are all dishwasher safe. We’re excited about it. —> Stay tuned for our full review!
- Babyation – The Babyation is marketed as a super-quiet, super-discreet pump. Instead of attaching collection bottles to your breasts, this pump allows for easy use under a shirt because the collection bottles are distanced from your breasts. Sounds pretty great.
3. Use a Manual Pump (or Hand Pump)
In addition to an electric pump (or, for infrequent pumpers, in lieu of an electric pump), I highly recommend a simple hand pump that you can throw in your bag when you’re leaving the house for a long period of time.
Here’s the scenario: you’re going to visit a friend for the day who lives an hour away. Your baby isn’t as hungry as usual and your breasts are getting really full. Uncomfortably so.
This is the situation I (as well as five of my mommy friends) experienced on a day trip to Napa when our babes were about 5-months-old. I was DYING and had forgotten my hand pump. It felt like someone had poured concrete on my right breast and allowed it to dry. That’s what it feels like to be engorged.
A manual pump is also a must-have for airplane travel. Trust me, you do not want your giant Pump In Style cement-block-of-a-bag to be your sole carry-on item. You will have lots of other sh*t that you have to carry. And if you need to pump while flying, for example… it’s all good.
I have actually used my hand pump while on a car trip — because you (obviously) can’t breastfeed while the car is moving. So, just pump in the back seat and bottle-feed! This makes men-who-hate-to-stop very happy.
Honestly, after four years of pumping, I will tell you that you can indeed get a very strong suction from a handpump, and a nice long pull.
I prefer the Lansinoh Manual Pump because the shields are very comfortable, but any of them will do.
Pump Parts & Pieces
Admittedly, there are a lot of bits and pieces that go along with a pump. If you’re buying a new pump, all of these accessories should come with it.
You may need to buy more shields (see below) to get you through the day, especially if you are Pumping At Work. If you are borrowing or inheriting a second-hand pump, you may want to buy new tubing and breast shields, or just sterilize the ones you inherited. It’s fine. Really.
Here’s what’s what:
The breast shield (above) goes over your nipple and funnels your milk into a bottle (or storage bag). It looks like a megaphone or a horn (it’s more fun to call it a horn, non?).
Your nipple goes into the horn and the flange creates a tight seal on your breast. You’ll want to have MANY of these on hand so you don’t have to run to the kitchen and wash them each time you need to pump again. OH — and, they come in five different sizes. It’s okay for them to be a little too big, but if they are too small, you will squeeze the bejesus out of your poor nipples. This can cause damage and pain, which you do. not. want.
The default size is Medium (24 mm). This works fine for normal-sized nipples (and dainty English nipples). If you have big Italian pepperoni nipples, you need to get the larger horns (they come in 30 and 36 mm). If you’re not sure if your nipples are big or small, they are probably big.
In between the bottle and the horn is a little white piece of plastic that acts like a valve. It keeps the milk flowing in one direction. If the valve is not in place, the pump will simply not work. Before you freak out when your pump isn’t working, always check to see the valve is in place. You can buy extra valves too because they get lost easily.
All non-wide mouth bottles should screw into whichever breastshields you buy, so you don’t need to buy special bottles for pumping unless specified. Ideally, you should pump directly into the bottle you are going to use to save on dish washing.
For an electric pump, there are two plastic tubes (or one tube, if you are using a single pump) that go from the housing and connect to the back of the shield (horn thingy).
The air in these tubes creates the suction that expresses the milk. They don’t ever get wet or anything, they only carry air. You only need one pair and you can always buy replacements.
Nobody enjoys pumping, you guys. But isn’t it so cool that we can do it? Technology is so cool.
For double-pumpers who need an efficient way of pumping milk, get the Simple Wishes pumping bra ($34). I know it looks like something out of Austin Powers (young people: Google it), but everyone uses it. You know she’s trying not to laugh (left)…
You can pump both breasts at once, hands-free, without having to sit there and hold the horns on your breasts. Yes, many a working mum (pretending to be English) is sitting up in her office (or lactation room) wearing this bra as we speak.
Another option is the PumpEase Hands-Free Pumping Bra ($40). This one is a little more simple to use and is super easy to put on and take off. However, if it’s not the right fit (i.e., too big), it wont hold the horns on well enough for a tight seal. Check out their “fitting room” size chart before you purchase.