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Picking a Breast Pump

Okay, gals, we need to talk about getting your breast pump.

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.

You’ve got three options, mummy mumskins:

  1. Rent a hospital-grade breast pump
  2. “Buy” (read: get through your insurance) an electric breast pump
  3. Use a manual/hand breast pump

1. Rent a Hospital-grade Breast 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 perhaps an Ameda Elite).

Medela Symphony

These pumps are available to rent either from hospitals or other third-party retailers. You can check for rental sites near you at Ameda’s website and Medela’s website.

*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, 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’re 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 (yes, even the ones that say they’re “hospital-strength”), 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 (yes, even if you are WFH, this can be a big help).

Another plus with renting a pump is that this is a much more eco-friendly way to go. Instead of pumping with a single-user pump and then having to throw it out (at least, this is what the companies advise), multi-user rental pumps amount to much less waste. Spectra’s reps are even excited about the prospect of placing the S3 in “lactation centers” set up across public areas and workplaces, where women could bring their own parts, pump, and depart. Legislation’s in the works in some states for this kind of arrangement (FL! holla!), and it would be a very exciting development indeed. (Not to mention, this would also help ensure that more women have access to state-of-the-art breast pumps.) Anyways — the green factor is a definite “pro” in the rental category.

Hospital-grade pumps are omnipresent inside NICUs

The big downside, though, is that 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.

And, 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. This brings us to option two:

2. Get an Electric Breast Pump Through Your Insurance Company (or buy one on your own…):

Here are our favorite electric pumps, in order of price, lowest to highest…

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.

Medela Pump In Style Advanced (a.k.a. “PISA” — pee-sah) ~$159 — The “Old Steady” Breast Pump

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. Yes: for a very long time, the Medela PISA was THE pump.

Needless to say, it remains a very reliable choice, and although it may look a little dated next to some of the newer pumps — especially the new 21st century breast pump technology — it still has a loyal fan base. Given that so many insurance companies offer the PISA, we don’t see it going anywhere just yet.

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.

Medela Pump in Style Advanced

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!

Note: I did that because I was broke and couldn’t afford a new pump, and insurance didn’t cover them yet. Pumps do lose their power and suction over time, so it’s best to get a new one if you can.

The downside to single-user Medela pumps is that they are “open systems,” and could grow mold in the tubing if not cleaned or dried properly. Nearly all the other pumps on the market are closed systems, which is preferable. That said, if that happens to you, you can replace the tubing, so it isn’t a deal-breaker, IMO.

Also comes in a backpack version for around $200.

If you’re getting a free pump from your insurance company, they’ll probably offer you a watered down version of this pump (i.e., without the bag or the battery-power capability – just the “pump in style”).

Spectra S1 Plus/Spectra S2 Plus ~$200/$159 — Economy Pick

A bit 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 — meaning you don’t need to plug your pump in when you’re using it. Other than the color, this battery feature is the ONLY difference between the S1 and the S2.

Spectra S2

The S1 and S2 are marketed 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, the 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 (as the company says, these pumps “suckle” — not “suck”), which aids in “let-down” and speeds up the whole pumping process. Some women (including our very own Charlene) even believe it has helped increase their supply.

The S1 and S2 are known for gentle, comfortable, pain-free pumping (i.e., comfortable flanges) — and we all love that!

Spectra S1

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 is 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.

Also available: Spectra 9Plus ~$180

The 9Plus is Spectra’s portable breast pump offering, and it’s pretty dec. It’s not recommended as a primary pump (primarily because it has fewer settings and less powerful suction than the S1 and the S2), but it could be nice to have around depending on your situation.

The 9Plus is cordless and rechargeable; it weighs about 1/2 pound and is roughly the size of a passport. You can fit it in your back pocket easily and — with a pumping bra — walk around, do work, make dinner, etc. Spectra’s in-house lactation consultants tell us it’s best for moms who already have an established milk supply and want something for on-the-go and/or travel. If you know you like Spectra pumps and want something portable as a secondary pump, this might be a great fit.

Ameda Mya ~$169

The Mya is the newest pump out from Ameda. It’s small (~1/2 pound), wireless, and portable, with a rechargeable battery that’s supposed to last approximately 2 hours. But since some women say the Mya won’t quite make it that long, we do suggest keeping the power charger handy. The Mya is quiet, but it is far from silent (users say they wouldn’t use it on a work call, for instance).

The Mya is comparable to the Spectra (S1/S2) in terms of its suction, and tons of women love having the Mya as an accompanying pump to their Spectras or Medelas (although some do use it as a primary pump with great results). The LCD display shows your suction level (1-10 in expression mode) and also has a timer feature, with an auto-shut-off after 30 minutes.

Pumping moms say they wish that the Mya had a longer battery life and that it came with a belt clip, and some women dislike that the LED screen on the front is quite bright (and can’t be adjusted), especially in the middle of the night.

One other thing — the Mya is compatible with Spectra parts, and many women love using it with Freemie cups to enhance its mobility. Great idea.

*Many insurers offer Ameda pumps, and this is hands down better than most of Ameda’s other pumps. In particular, we highly recommend the Mya over the Purely Yours, which frankly is pretty lackluster.

Baby Buddha Breast Pump ~$249 — Most Efficient

Readers have been writing to tell us how insanely awesome the Baby Buddha is, and we agree.

Freemie Liberty ~$299 — Best Wireless Pump on a Budget

The Freebie Liberty is a more budget-friendly wearable breast pump (roughly $200 cheaper than comparables like the Willow and the Elvie); we also love Freemie’s wearable collection cups, which you can purchase separately and rig up with (almost) any other pump you prefer.

Medela Freestyle Flex ~$325

Medela Sonata ~$329 — Most Comfortable

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!

The Elvie ~$499

Designed to “bring women’s technology out of the Dark Ages,” this new wearable pump is all about freedom — it’s wireless, rechargeable, portable, and hands-free.

Willow (Gen 3) ~$499 — Upgrade Pick

The Willow is the new kid on the block, but it’s already changing the game, so to speak. We think if you’re looking to splurge on a breast pump (cough — you’re willing and able to shell out the $$$$ for it), this is where it’s at.

Coming soon to a theater near you…

  • The Babyation ($450) 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. We’ll keep you posted.

3. Use a Manual Breast Pump (or Hand Pump)

In addition to an electric pump (or, for infrequent pumpers, in lieu of an electric pump), I recommend a simple hand pump that you can throw in your bag when you’re leaving the house for a long period of time.

Yes, yes, I know, it seems archaic, but believe me — it comes in handy.

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 the accoutrements should come with it.

*Note: If you have one of the new-age wireless pumps, you’ll need to consult the brand for help with parts — this is more of a general overview and only applies to the more traditional (cough — older) pumps.

You may need to buy more shields (see below) to get you through the day, especially if you are Pumping At Work. If you’re 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. Plus, it can hinder your pumping outcome.

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 great.

Comments

  1. When will the Willow Pump review be ready? I’m awaiting arrival of baby #2 in 2 months and I’m trying to decide if it’s worth buying out of pocket. I don’t really know anyone that has one and would love your opinion!!

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