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Pumping can have a way of making us human mamas feel a little like milk machines. But there’s good news if you’ve committed to breastfeeding for the long haul: There are a few ways to make the process a little less, well, sucky.
Even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed (often referred to as "EBF"), you'll want to have a breast pump on hand. Why? Inevitably, you'll need to be away from your baby for more than a few hours at a stretch — like when you return to work, or need to run errands or go to appointments alone — and you'll need to pump to prevent painful breast engorgement. Pumping is also helpful for moms who would like to share feeding responsibilities with a co-parent or other caregiver.
There are three main types of breast pumps:
Once you start shopping for pumps, you’ll also start noticing these two terms.
As you start shopping, you'll want to find a breast pump that meets your specific needs — what works for one mom might not be the right choice for you. When researching the best breast pumps, Andrea Tran, a certified lactation consultant, says to consider these important factors:
When considering the above, don’t forget to think at least six to 12 months out, says Wendy Wright, a certified lactation consultant, since you may well be using your pump for that long. “A lot of new moms don’t realize how much time (and physical effort) breastfeeding and/or pumping takes,” she says. “Most infants eat every two to three hours until they reach 6 months of age, so we like to ask our moms if their lifestyle requires flexibility, freedom and mobility. We don’t want moms to sacrifice their breastfeeding goals because their pump does not match their active lifestyle over the duration of their breastfeeding journey.”
Here's how What to Expect determined the breast pumps that should appear this list:
What to Expect's Editorial Director Christine Mattheis tested five types of breast pumps during her seven-month breastfeeding journey with her daughter, Rose. She says that the Spectra S1 was by far her favorite. "The Spectra pumped milk extremely efficiently," she says. "In just 15 minutes, I could express up to 5 ounces per breast, while with other pumps I'd get maybe half that amount." Plus, she says, the Spectra was easy to use, fit comfortably and was easy to clean.
Many moms in the What to Expect Community agree with Christine — in fact, Spectra took the honor of the Best Breast Pump in the 2021 Mom-Must Have Awards, What to Expect's 100 percent community-driven awards franchise. In our poll, Moms touted this as one of the most powerful pumps outside of the ones you can rent from the hospital — great for exclusively pumping moms and moms who rely on pumping to stash enough milk to feed baby during work hours.
The Spectra's streamlined design builds in a super-convenient handle for portability and a space at the back to secure a bottle — and with the blue S1, you get a built-in backup battery, as well. (If you don’t think you’ll need the battery pack, you can get the pink S2 and save yourself a few bucks).
The pump weighs 3.3 pounds and has a handy little nightlight, so you can pump during those bleary midnight hours without turning on the lights and a screen that shows a digital stopwatch so you can see how long you've been pumping.
The double-electric, closed-system design has a digital display that lights up so you can easily set the speed and rhythm. Turn it off, and its memory will even recall where you last left off.
“I like that I can control the speed and suction independent of one another.”
“I have both the Medela Pump in Style Advanced and the Spectra. The Medela is fine, but the Spectra is more comfortable, easier to clean (closed system), gives you more control over the pump settings, is quieter and gives me more milk when I express."
The Pump In Style with MaxFlow Breast Pump, lovingly referred to as the PNSMX, is the newest iteration of one of the best-known breast pumps, and for good reason. This double-electric pump — meaning you can use it on one breast or both — is designed to mimic baby’s natural sucking pattern, which is more complicated than it sounds. According to Medela’s research, babies breastfeed in two steps: stimulation, which involves a faster sucking rhythm to get milk flowing, and expression, which uses a slower sucking rhythm for feeding. By working in the same way, this pump aims to help you produce more milk in less time, which is a huge plus.
Robin Hilmantel, What to Expect's Director of Special Projects, used the older (but very similar) model of the Medela Pump In Style when she nursed her son, Marlow. "I liked that it came with a carrying case and that the controls were so simple — two expression modes (one for stimulating milk flow, and then one for once you've started expressing milk), as well as just an up or down button for speed/strength," she says. "Some other pumps I've tried have so many different settings that it can be confusing to know which is best for you. The Medela is straightforward and makes the process easy." Other moms say they love that this pump clocks in at just more than one pound — and that it has a portable battery pack that's handy when you’re on the go.
This newer version of the Pump in Style has an important upgrade, too: It’s now a closed system, meaning it’s easier to clean, since there’s a barrier between the milk collection and pump parts.
Despite these upgrades, some moms note that the pumping sound itself is still a little loud, which could be a problem if you’re trying to express on the down-low.
Dimensions: 5.5 x 3 x 4.3 inches
“I ordered this one to try! I got the one with the battery pack. I liked that it was hospital grade but I still had the opportunity to carry it around with me when I’m at home so I’m not just stuck. The battery pack for it is external, which was weird to me. But I’m thinking I’ll just put some Velcro on it to make it easier to carry around if I’m moving. I do already have a Spectra from my first as a backup if I end up not liking this. But the fit on the bottles of this are more contoured and feel more comfortable than my spectra did!”
We’re all about saving money on baby gear, but sometimes you get less when you spend less. Luckily, that’s not the case with the BellaBaby Double Electric Breast Pump. You can use this breast pump as your primary pump or as a backup so you don’t have to lug one downstairs or to the office every day.
This compact and lightweight pump features two pumping modes and multiple levels of suction. The pump itself is nice and sleek, too. The device, which fits in the palm of your hand, clearly displays the working mode and suction level.
Perhaps one of the biggest draws, though, is the fact that this budget-friendly pump can be used wirelessly. It's battery-powered and lasts up to 100 minutes without a new charge. so if you're pumping while doing something else, it’s less likely that the battery will die in the middle of your session.
Worth noting: Although there are various suction levels, even the lowest setting is incredibly strong — perhaps even a little too strong, according to some moms who complain of nipple tenderness.
Dimensions: 9.33 x 6.97 x 6.57 inches
Like the Medela Pump In Style with MaxFlow pump, the Medela Freestyle Flex is a double-electric pump designed to mimic baby’s natural sucking pattern. As for how it differs? Size. Weighing less than 1 pound, this is one of the smallest and lightest breast pumps on the market (it reminds us of an oversized mobile phone). So, if you’ll be carrying it often, whether around the house or on a trip or to and from the office, the Medela Freestyle Flex could be a good option.
Christine tried both the Medela Freestyle Flex and the Medela Pump In Style. She was able to express similar amounts of milk with each, even though the Freestyle Flex is smaller and somewhat less powerful. Plus, it made outings a breeze. "I exclusively breastfed for the first few months of my daughter's life, and the first time I finally went out for dinner without her, I was so worried about having to pump in public," she says. "But it was so easy with the Medela Freestyle Flex. It fit in my tote bag, and was easy to set up in the bathroom. After that first on-the-go pump, I started venturing out a lot more frequently, and always brought my Medela with me."
The rechargeable battery lasts about two hours (pretty impressive for a battery-operated pump!), and the device comes with Bluetooth connectivity, so you can sync it with the Medela app to control your pumping session and monitor your output. It also comes with a USB charging cable — great for using in the car and other places where you might not have access to a regular outlet.
It’s also super easy to use — it only has four buttons — and is cool to look at, with a back-lit digital display that shows information like suction level (which you can program so it remembers your favorite) and a timer (so you can pump in a dark room while your baby is sleeping).
Dimensions: 6 x 2.5 x 1.8 inches
“The Freestyle is amazing! I can cart it around in a purse to and from work, and I use a hands-free bra and can roam around the house when I pump! So worth it!”
“Both the Pump in Style Advanced and Freestyle are great, but I love the portability of the Freestyle and not having to plug it in or find batteries for the battery pack. I just charge my Freestyle every few days and throw it in the bag and go! LOVE IT!”
“I have both the Freestyle and the Pump in Style Advanced. I use my Freestyle at home and for traveling because it runs on the battery. At my desk, I use the Pump in Style. I get similar amounts out of each when I pump.”
Most breast pumps are a one-size-fits-all product. Sure, you can change the flange on some to better customize your fit. But then you’re getting into some trial and error, which can cost time and money. Enter the Evenflo Feeding Deluxe Advanced. This double-electric pump cuts out the guesswork by including three different flanges with your original purchase. If you still haven’t found one that works, there are even more options sold separately.
It also delivers tons of speed and suction settings, a closed system to protect milk from mold and bacteria growth. This version improves on its basic predecessor version in several ways: it's 50 percent quieter and 30 percent lighter (weighing less than a water bottle), and comes with the brand's Balance + bottle nipple and lacation consultant support.
Another plus: You’ll also get a convenient carry case and a small cooler with your purchase, so you won’t have to worry about toting your pump — or your precious milk — to and from the office.
Dimensions: 7 x 5.5 x 2.5 inches
“I got the Evenflo with my first baby. It worked awesome. This time, I’m planning on getting another Evenflo.”
Single-electric breast pumps are less efficient than double-electric pumps, but they also usually cost much less. And if you’re only going to be away from your baby for a few hours a week but still want the speed and efficiency of an electric, well, they’re a no-brainer. Think of it as the best of both worlds.
Moms love the Evenflo Feeding Advanced Single Electric because it’s more compact than other single electric pumps, since the controls rest on top of the pump rather than in an attached unit. It also has a hygienic closed system with a mere five parts to assemble and clean to help make pumping a breezy experience from start to finish.
Because it’s battery operated (it takes three AA batteries), it’s super portable. You can pump in the car, the bathroom or even a changing room without searching high and low for an outlet. At just over one pound, the pump isn’t at all cumbersome to carry in your purse. The affordable pump is compact, too, so you can opt to store it in your glove compartment for emergency pumping sessions. (You never know when you might spring a leak!) .
Dimensions: 4 x 7.88 x 9 inches
“Great pump. Never had any issues. Battery suction is noticeably less than plug in, but that is to be expected in my opinion.”
“I have a Medela breast pump from insurance I rarely get more than 3oz from each breast and I am an over producer. I bought this breast pump at Target on a whim, and I love it. It’s gentle and my breasts will actually let down. I get 4+ oz every time. Love this pump.”
This manual pump is extremely affordable, plus small and lightweight, which makes it easy to pick up as a backup for times when you might need to relieve just a little bit of engorgement or if you only tend to pump a few ounces every once in a while.
For a manual pump, this one packs a big punch: It has two modes so you can pump faster, a special handle so your hand won’t tire as easily (anyone who's used a manual pump knows how important this is!) and fewer parts to clean.
Lansinoh also has a feature they call a pump-store-feed system, which means milk isn't transferred from one container to the next; you pump directly into the wide-neck bottle you’ll use for feeding. Super convenient for quick feedings, plus you can’t argue the benefit of less dishwashing to do.
Christine used the Lansinoh Manual pump occasionally. "It was most useful for me when my daughter started sleeping longer stretches at night, and I'd wake up engorged," she says. "I wanted my body to adjust my milk supply accordingly, so didn't want to do a full pump with my Spectra or Medela Freestyle Flex. So I would use the Lansinoh Manual for just a few minutes to relieve pressure. Lansinoh bottles were the only type my daughter would take, so using this pump was a no-brainer."
Dimensions: 7.5 x 3.88 x 7.5 inches
“I have a Lansinoh manual pump and really like it. I have an electric Medela pump and think it's a lot harder to clean. It's a little larger in size than the Medela manual pump, but the Lansinoh manual pump I can do one-handed, which is a big plus for me.”
“I use the Lansinoh manual pump at night. My little one is 3 months now and usually eats only on one side for his middle-of-the-night feed. I always pump the other and get 4 ounces or so.”
The innovative Willow Pump has no tubes, no wires and no hanging bottles. It's breast-shaped, so you can insert it into your bra and wear it under your shirt to pump and it provides a feeling of discretion you don’t necessarily get with other electric pumps.
This pump has a corresponding app that controls the suction and keeps track of milk volume, pumping time and previous pumping sessions. You can change the settings with a tap on your phone.
Also cool: You can pump in any position, thanks to the spill-proof design. So you can lay down or bend over to pick up your baby while you pump without the worry of spilling any breast milk.
The biggest downside — besides the price — is that you have to either buy the Willow Pump Reusable Breast Milk Containers (sold separately) or Willow’s specific brand of pumping bags, since they're designed to fit in the pump.
Keep in mind that although the Willow is much more discreet than a typical breast pump, you won't necessarily be able to go about your day without other people noticing that you're pumping. "The Willow is helpful if you want to, say, throw on a big sweatshirt and take a walk around the neighborhood while you're pumping," says Robin. "But it is larger and more noticeable than I was expecting, so I didn't feel comfortable wearing it in the workplace or in more public settings."
Dimensions: 5 inches in diameter each
“Once you get used to it and get the hang of how to put it on etc., the convenience is amazing! The bags are a little pricey, but freeze well. I have a Spectra for my main pump but use the Willow for work and weekend outings and I love it.”
“I just got the [Willow] 2.0 this weekend and I've used it twice so far. There is a learning curve, but I'm sure the more you use it the easier it gets. I love it and can't wait to use it in public!”
The Motif Duo is incredibly lightweight, so it's perfect for anyone who needs to pump on the go. It weighs less than a pound, so not only can you easily stash it in your bag (or your desk drawer), but it's barely noticeable. In addition to its small size, the Motif Duo is pretty quiet and has a battery life of more than two hours, so you can pump even if you're not near an outlet — without fear that the device is going to give up on you mid-pumping session.
And while it's small, it's also mighty: This pump has 10 massage settings and another 10 for expression to make sure it will not only do the work, but also stay comfortable for you. Moms who pump in the middle of the night will also appreciate the easy-to-read LCD screen and the low-hum motor. The closed system makes keeping things sanitary nice and easy, too. The pump also comes with three breast shield sizes, a pumping bra and tons of other accessories.
What to Expect's Editorial Director of Special Projects, Robin Hilmantel, tested the latest version of the pump (featured here) herself. She loved the included timer on the unit, which made it easy to keep track of how long she'd been pumping, as well as the A-plus suction and portability. The only con? "With the way the parts attach, it is a little finicky to get everything together to start pumping," she says.
"The battery lasts a long time. I pump about 4-5 times per day and have to charge every other day."
The lightweight, one-piece Haakaa Silicone Pump is perfect for moms who need help starting a milk flow. You can use this pump alone to create suction, no tedious hand pumping required. Just squeeze a little bit, and the suction allows the natural letdown process to flow. It’s also a miracle worker when it comes to catching letdown milk from the breast that baby isn’t feeding from. You’ll be amazed by how much milk you can save with this passive method of “pumping.”
Christine also found the Haakaa helpful for coping with a powerful letdown. "At the beginning of every feed, my daughter would cough and almost seem to be choking on my milk," she explains. "So I started using the Haakaa to stimulate my milk flow, and once I got past that initial tingly feeling of a letdown, I'd pop it off and have my daughter latch. Then I'd pop the Haakaa on the breast she wasn't feeding on and collect any milk that leaked."
The all-silicone design is easy to clean. A little hot soapy water and a bottle brush will do the trick.
“Love it!!! 3oz each time I use it from the side she's not nursing on and there seems to be plenty of milk left for her when I switch sides.”
“I love mine! I'm finally starting to get a little stash in the fridge!”
One of the many benefits of a wearable breast pump is that you can pump just about anywhere, but the gig is up if your pump makes a telltale whooshing noise. Luckily, the Elvie Pump is one of the quietest on the market.
Another advantage is that it’s also bag-free — you pump right into it, then transfer the milk straight into a bottle. After making the investment required for the pump, it’s nice to save money there, although — yes — you will have to clean an awkwardly-shaped collection jar. (A flexible bottle brush should do the trick.)
The Elvie is easy to use, too. You simply pop each 8-ounce pump into your bra, turn it on, and let it work its magic. Positioning can be a bit tricky at first, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Just make sure to keep an eye on the output levels using your app — once the collection jar fills up, you risk milk backing up and out of the pump, causing quite a leaky mess.
Kathleen Felton, What to Expect's Executive Editor, used both the Spectra S2 and the Elvie during her nine-month nursing journey with her son, Henry. "While I found that I did need to pump a little longer to produce the same volume as the Spectra, it felt worth it to be fully wireless," she says.
Dimensions: 5 x 4.3 x 2.7 inches
“I have the Elvie as my only pump, and I love it so much. I had a terrible experience with pumping and my supply suffered with my last baby. This time I got the Elvie to make pumping easier, and I’m extremely happy with it! I’m actually even producing double what my daughter eats each day, which is an amazing feeling compared to last time!”
“I used the Elvie with my first baby! It’s awesome for travel, pumping on the go! I didn’t think the suction was as good as my spectra pump and it’s kind of annoying to clean! But really convenient for on the go pumping!”
Since Babyation's breast pump has only been out since April, we can't make an official recommendation for it quite yet — but if you're looking for a new, innovative pump, this might be a great option to consider.
For starters, this breast pump is compact — and we mean compact. The breast shields are incredibly small — they're roughly the size of a golf ball and only project 1.6 inches. They're also the only thing on your body when you're pumping. The shields connect to a tube that hooks up to the enclosure, which is an all-in-one motor, cooler, bottle holder and storage case for extra parts. The milk travels out of your breast (with a patented suction designed to mimic a baby's), through the tubes and into the bottles in the enclosure case.
Because the shields are so small, they're super-discreet. That said, it's not a wearable pump — so while it may be perfect for Zoom calls, you probably couldn't easily pump on-the-go. Another thing to keep in mind: Because the tubes are so thin, you have to replace them daily for safety reasons. You get a set of 20 when you buy the pump, but after going through those, you'll need to keep buying more. That said, we appreciate that everything gets tucked into the super-sleek enclosure case for easy transportation, as well as the fact that there are considerably less parts to clean than with other pumps.
Weight: 0.6 ounces per breast shield, 4.8 pounds for the enclosure
Dimensions: 12 x 5 inches for the enclosure
"There are some cool new innovative pumps coming on the market soon though, that I may look into this time around. One from a startup called Babyation that has gotten a bit of attention."
Jennifer Ritchie is an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (I.B.C.L.C.) who spent more than a decade helping countless parents navigate breastfeeding challenges, including latching difficulties, painful nursing, low milk production, inadequate weight gain and induced lactation. She has worked with big-name celebrities and as an on-location consultant. Committed to providing community-based, long-term support to breastfeeding mothers, Ritchie’s insights and approach empower thousands of new and expecting moms to embrace the joys and challenges of motherhood.
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