What are the best breast pumps? Where and when do I get a pump? What are the best pumping accessories? This guide can help you find the best breast pump and pump accessories that fit your lifestyle.
We have researched breast pumps extensively, interviewed thousands of moms, lactation consultants, medical and industry experts, and we often get asked to recommend the best breast pump and pump accessories. There is no one-size fits all answer. So, we put together a guide on what to consider when you’re getting your breast pump, how and when to get it, and a few additional tips we hope you find helpful.
How to choose the right breast pump
Having a breastfeeding goal and a sense of how often and early in your breastfeeding journey you will need to pump, will influence your choice of pump. Why does this matter? The breast pump’s primary function is to replace your baby’s suckling and gland stimulation, to remove milk from your breast. So, if you’re going to be pumping while at work for 9 months, or if you think you will pump exclusively for an extended period of time, you want to find a pump that can mimic a baby’s suction, rhythm and pressure to the best extent possible. If not, you may instead prefer to choose a pump based on portability, quietness, ease of cleaning, price or how discreet it is to use. Let’s break these considerations down.
What are the different types of breast pumps?
There’s multiple brands out there, but there are 3 main types of breast pumps:
- Manual and mini-electric
- Double electric
- Hospital-grade electric
Within the electric pump categories, there are 2 important sub-types: open-system and closed-system breast pumps.
- An open breast pump system has no barrier between the pump motor and the milk collection kit (the bottles and flanges). If milk gets into the tubing, then the tubing must be cleaned and dried before using it again.
- A closed system pump on the other hand, has a barrier between the milk collection kit and the pump mechanism. This barrier means that no milk or other fluids can get into the pump mechanism, which helps prevent contamination of the pump motor, and therefore also of your breast milk.
What is the difference between a manual breast pump, electric pump and a hospital grade pump?
Manual pumps require no electricity and allow for quick, clean, portable and single pumping sessions. Some moms like them because they can control the suction pattern with their own hands, and when you are using them on the go, they’re light and quiet.
Personal Double-Electric Breast pumps run on electricity or batteries (some have rechargeable batteries or a USB). They are single user pumps and made to withstand one mother's pumping journey. These pumps express milk, quickly from both breasts, making them an ideal choice for moms who need to pump milk often and efficiently. More of the newer pumps are closed system pumps, but that didn’t use to be the case, so it’s still worth checking.
For manual or personal electric pumps, it is not recommended to get a used pump, because of the risk of contamination from bacteria and viruses (even if they are closed-system). Second-hand pumps may also lose some of their suction strength, which may make it more difficult to express milk. The only pumps that are truly designed and safe to be used by multiple moms are hospital grade pumps- be careful, because increasingly, a lot of personal pumps are described to have “hospital-grade" motors, but that does not make they are closed system pumps.
Hospital-Grade breast pumps are multi-user, closed system pumps and are made to withstand multiple mothers pumping journeys. These breast pumps have very durable motors and are large units. They are heavy duty and can be used while in the hospital. They are also typically available for rent, for moms that need to pump often or exclusively.
Types of breast pumps
Where do I get a breast pump?If you’re buying it out of pocket, these are some great e-commerce sites and local stores that carry pumps and pump accessories:
- Target, Walmart and even pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens
If you have insurance, they will typically work with a Durable Medical Equipment (DME) to send you the pump. There’s also some DMEs that are super easy to shop through and they can do all the paperwork for you, to get your pump reimbursed by insurance and delivered to your door. Here are some well established DMEs that specialize on breast pumps:
- NEB Medical Services, if you are in Illinois or Wisconsin
WIC Clinics, breastfeeding support centers and breast milk banks may carry breast pumps too and may offer financial support to cover certain pumps.
When should you get your breast pump?
- It’s best to have the pump prior to the baby's arrival. This gives you time to get familiarized with it, make sure you have all the parts you need, and in case you need it if your baby arrives early or has difficulty latching.
- If you’re going through insurance, you may be able to get your breast pump up to 6 weeks before the due date, but most DME’s send breast pumps out 30 days before the due date, no sooner unless the baby has been born. Some insurances will only send the pump after the baby is born. It’s not ideal and could be in violation of ACA provisions, but don’t worry, most hospitals will have hospital grade pumps for you to use at the hospital or to borrow if needed, and most often you won’t need to start pumping right away if you can feed your baby directly from the breast.
What are the most popular and best electric breast pumps?
No one pump is going to be the best and every mother's preference and lifestyle will determine what the BEST pump is for you.
Standard personal double-electric pumps
- Spectra is a brand many moms love. Their flagship pumps, the Spectra S1 or S2 are globe shaped, they come with a handle and a space to rest a bottle, and are all around very reliable pumps, and a lot of Lilu moms prefer them over others because they find them comfortable and practical. The ONLY difference between the s1 and s2 is, the S1 is not FULLY covered by many insurances and it’s usually an upgrade (meaning there is a fee involved) AND it DOES have a rechargeable battery. The s2 is usually covered by insurance and does NOT have a rechargeable battery, so you need to plug it to the wall.
- Medela Pump in Style. Medela has been trusted by medical professionals and moms for many decades. However, this pump is still running with an open system, meaning there is no barrier between the milk collection kit and the tubing/motor.
- Ameda, Lansinoh and Ardo are also well established pump manufacturers. However, here are some new pump brands to be on the lookout for:
- Zomee. It’s small, portable, discreet, rechargeable battery and comes with comfortable silicone flange inserts! This pump is fully covered by most insurance plans.
- Motif is also a new brand to watch out for! The Motif Luna is comparable to the Spectra s2 and has no rechargeable battery but it is covered by insurance. This pump has got really good reviews.
If you will be breastfeeding your baby as often or more than pumping, you probably won’t need a hospital-grade pump. They are not designed to be transported easily and can be expensive, costing $1000 or more! If you need one, many insurances and specialized maternity stores will lease them on a monthly basis.
You should consider getting a hospital-grade pump if you’ll be separated from your baby for a long period of time (for instance if your baby is at the NICU), or if you are exclusively breast pumping. The adjustability of suction rate, strength, and the ability to mimic more closely a breastfeeding child will help you establish and maintain a milk supply more easily than a standard pump. Some of the most common and trusted hospital-grade pumps, are of brands of Swiss origins:
- Medela Symphony
- Ardo Carum
- Ameda Platinum or Elite
- And a US-based one, the Limerick PJ was created by a mother-daughter duo of lactation consultants. It uses a mix of compression and vacuum to help express milk.
Compact and portable electric pumps
- Baby Buddha’s pump can be an awesome secondary pump because it is very small, portable, quiet and can work with most other collection kits! It usually requires an upgrade fee.
- The Medela Freestyle Flex is the newest pump from this brand. It is small, portable, discreet and has the latest medela breast pump shields that say allow you to pump in a more reclined position.
- Ardo calypso. Their hospital grade pumps are well engineered and reliable and their compact version is no different.
- Spectra S9
- Motiff Twist
Portable and Discreet Pumps
- The Willow pump is wireless and you can slip it under your bra . Their milk bags and containers, as of now, don’t hold more than 4oz per breast, whereas many milk bottles hold more than 8oz.
- The Elvie pump is also wireless, and similar to the Willow, you can slip it under your bra. This one can hold 5oz per breast before the container gets full, so also not ideal for longer pump sessions.
- Freemie was the original pump-in-your bra breast pump. This one has wires and tubes, but it comes at a lower price point than Elvie and Willow.
The Willow and Elvie pumps typically are not as effective at removing milk from the breast, because their motors have to be smaller, and getting the flange to align perfectly with your nipple can be more difficult. Some moms also don’t like that they can’t do manual massage closer to the nipple with these pumps. Because they are pricey, and not the most efficient at milk extraction, most lactation consultants would not recommend these to be your first pump, but if you can afford them, they can be great secondary pumps, if you need to pump while traveling or in public. Both the Elvie and the Willow are not fully covered by insurance, so that is something to keep in mind as well.
Now, because we would be remiss not to mention some tips to make breast pumping more efficient, here are some tips that can help make any pump you have work better for you.
Tips to make pumping more efficient
- If you are having trouble expressing milk, doing hot compresses or taking a hot shower before pumping can help
- Manual breast massage before and during breast pumping can make a huge difference! It’s all about helping the pump empty the breast better so add pressure, knead and massage the breast and you’ll be helping the milk move from the back of the breast to the front.
- Let gravity help, lean over while pumping if possible. Just be careful of milk spills!
Pumping is a lot of work! So next up...
Accessories that can help make pumping easier
There are some products that are designed to aid your breast pumping sessions. There range from simple low-tech
Here are some that you might want to consider purchasing.
A storage and feeding system:
- Kiinde feeding system. One of the most important aspects of pumping is storing the pumped milk. The Kiinde feeding system is the perfect all-in-one breast milk storage set that allows you to collect, store, prepare, and feed easily, all using an innovative single squeeze pouch.
Pumping and engorgement aids:
- L’illemer’s L’il buds are comfort packs that you can use to provide a hot or cold compress to your breasts while breastfeeding. You can freeze them and use them cold to relieve breast engorgement or heat them in a microwave and use them hot to help clear clogged ducts and improve milk flow.
- The LaVie Lactation Massager is a hand-held vibration massager that helps relieve pain caused by engorgement, plugged ducts and other breastfeeding symptoms.
Pumping bras emerged as a category because most moms want to pump hands-free. A typical pumping bra is designed to hold and support the flanges and bottles of a breast pump in place while pumping, so you don’t have to hold the bottles up yourself. If you expect to be pumping everyday, a pumping bra is a worthwhile investment.
- There are several pumping bras available for purchase online, the most common one being the Simple Wishes Bra. It’s simple, with holes in the front to support the bottles, a zipper on front and an adjustable back. It comes in 2 sizes, XS-L and L Plus.
- The Lilu Massage Bra combines the goodness of a pumping bra and a massaging lactation aid. You can think of it like your pump’s new sidekick. It is the first truly hands-free pumping bra, because it is self-massaging. When you pump, the Lilu Massage bra will hold up the pump bottles for you while providing a gentle massage around the breast, to help the milk flow, and make the breast pump work more efficiently. The bra is highly adjustable, easy to wear and compatible with the most common hospital-grade and personal use electric breast pumps. Inside the bra is Lilu’s patented air powered massage technology that is gentle to the skin and mimics the massage motions recommended by lactation experts to help moms with a lower milk supply, or prone to clogged ducts.
Breast pump flanges or breast shields:
One thing to note, and a total pro-tip that should be more common knowledge, is that flanges and shields come in different sizes! It’s super important to have a flange that properly fits your nipple as it can have a huge impact on your milk supply.
- Pumpin Pal flanges: Most breast pump flanges fit at a right angle to the breasts and can sometimes be a bother if you want to sit back and relax while pumping. The Pumping Pal flanges are angled flanges that allow the user to sit back in a more natural position while pumping. They are designed to fit the most popular breast pumps in the market except the Spectra Pump. You’ll need to purchase a separate adapter to make the flanges work with the Spectra Pump.
Ultimately, the best breast pump and pump accessories that work best for you, are the one that fits in your budget and your lifestyle. Breast pumping can be hard enough without the added stress of wondering if you’re using the right ones or have the best tools. You can also add to your pumping tool-kit as you go, as long as you have the basics to get started with.
Also, some words of wisdom from Doula and breastfeeding educator Lauren Archer, “When it comes to breast pumps, it’s typically more about how you use it than the actual pump itself. Some people absolutely have preferences but if you’re feeling a little stuck due to budget or insurance restrictions, any pump can be a good pump! Whether you choose manual or electric pump] both have a learning curve as pumping is definitely a learned skill and takes practice!
There's plenty more than we could cover in this guide, but we'd love to hear from you which are your favorite pumps and most helpful pumping accessories you've tried?
Courtney Marquez from NebMedical, helped research, compile and recommend pumps. She is a Business Development Representative at NEB Medical, and she is studying towards being certified as an IBCLC. For more on Courtney, you can follow her on instagram at @the_instinctualmother and @nebmedicalservices
Sources and references:
Which breast pump for which mother: an evidence-based approach to individualizing breast pump technology, journal of perinatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26914013
For more on picking the right breast pump, you can check out NEB Medical’s blog post on How to choose the best breast pump