The most important thing that you need for exclusive pumping is a breast pump! (Obviously.) What exclusive pumpers need in a breast pump is different than what women who only pump occasionally or pump at work need – the best breast pumps for exclusively pumping allow you to be mobile, have excellent suction, and hold up well with constant use. Here are the pumps that I would recommend for exclusive pumpers.
Best Breast Pumps for Exclusively Pumping
Before you get started, it’s worth seeing what your insurance will cover – more information on that is available here.
(Note: this post was originally written in 2013 and was updated to reflect new pumps on the market in May 2018. I personally have used four breast pumps over my 3 kid/44 month pumping career, and my thoughts are reflected here. Pros and cons on pumps I haven’t used personally were sourced from users of those pumps in the Facebook group and aggregated here.)
The Medela Freestyle is Medela’s highest-end personal breast pump. This has been my personal go-to pump, and the one that I use most often.
Below are the pros that I’ve found to the Freestyle:
- It has a rechargeable battery that lasts about 3 hours when fully charged.
- It’s a small pump and very portable. Unlike the Pump in Style (another good pump, just not my favorite), you can take it out of the bag that it comes in. This can be nice if, for example, you are packing an overnight bag – you can throw the Freestyle and pump parts into that bigger bag, if you’d like. With other pumps you would need to carry the pump bag as a separate bag because the pump doesn’t come out of it.
- The ability to take the pump out of the bag affords you a degree of privacy that the Pump in Style doesn’t give you. When you carry around a Pump in Style pump bag, everyone who has ever pumped knows that you’re pumping. This is not something that I ever was sensitive to, but some people are.
- The tubing is permanent and doesn’t come out. I find the Pump in Style tubing attachment sort of annoying as it occasionally falls out out of both sides, and it can be pulled out by curious babies.
- It has a timer on it that tells you how long you’ve been pumping. It is easy to overestimate how long you’ve been pumping while you’re doing it, and I find that I am better about pumping for the length of time that I’m supposed to when I use the Freestyle.
Some cons to the Freestyle:
- It is sold at a higher price point than other pumps.
- Medela sells two different kinds of pump parts – those that are compatible with the Freestyle, and those that are compatible with everything else. This can be annoying if you forget your pump parts and need to run to Target, as they may not stock the Freestyle parts.
Medela Pump in Style
The Medela Pump in Style is a good quality double electric pump that will work just fine for exclusive pumping. As I’ve said, I prefer the Freestyle, but this one is good too. (I bought my Pump in Style second-hand and leave it at work, while I have my Freestyle at home. This way I only have to schlep bottles back and forth).
Below are the pros that to the Pump in Style (versus the Freestyle):
- The pump parts that are used for the Pump in Style are easy to find in stores in emergencies and are compatible with other kinds of pumps (i.e., the Harmony, which is a great backup pump).
- It is a very high-quality pump at a lower price point than the Freestyle.
The cons to the Pump in Style (versus the Freestyle):
- The battery situation is not as good as the Freestyle. There is a battery backup that you can plug into the Pump in Style, but it is really intended to be used with an outlet most of the time. This means that you may need to invest in a car adapter and make sure you are near an outlet whenever you need to pump.
- The pump parts are harder to clean than the Freestyle pump parts. I can never get the yellow piece off of the connector and I’m always afraid I’m going to lose the membrane.
- The tubing can be annoying as it occasionally falls out out of both sides.
Spectra S1 Plus and Spectra S2 Plus
The Spectra S1 and Spectra S2 are double electric pumps that are also a great choice for exclusive pumpers. The two models are largely the same, except that the S1 has a rechargeable battery and weighs slightly more as a result.
Pros to the Spectra S1 and Spectra S2:
- It’s quieter than many pumps (the website says it’s 45 decibels and describes it as “hush of a library” level).
- It has a auto-timer, which I have always found really useful for knowing when I should stop pumping.
- Has a backlight, so you can see the settings and the timer in the dark.
- A lot of women like the “massage mode” suction from the Spectra pumps and find that it’s gentler on their nipples.
- Has a handle on top and is easy to move around with if needed.
Cons to the Spectra S1 and Spectra S2:
- It can be difficult to find replacement parts in stores.
- It’s on the larger side.
If you’re deciding between the S1 and S2 and can afford the $40ish price difference, I would definitely suggest getting the S1 for the rechargeable battery. Not needing an outlet is a huge quality of life improvement, especially if you are exclusively pumping.
Many women who are exclusively pumping rent a hospital grade pump to increase supply. I did not do this (I primarily used the Freestyle), but I used the Symphony several times when my son was born and then when he was hospitalized for a few days at 5 weeks and again at 4 months. (He was fine – just a virus both times.)
The pros of the Symphony include:
- I found that my output was slightly better with the hospital grade pump, and I was able to pump more quickly than with my Freestyle.
- It’s quieter than the other Medela pumps.
- It’s a closed system, so it can be reused by other women.
The cons of the Symphony:
- Portability can be a challenge – this isn’t really a pump you can throw in a bag and haul with you wherever you go. It’s large and is also a $1,500 piece of medical equipment, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable dragging it with me and using it in, say, a Starbucks the way I might with a Freestyle.
- It’s an expensive pump, though if you only plan to exclusively pump for a few months it might make more sense to rent a pump rather than to buy a more portable pump, or buy one and re-sell it when you’re done (since it can be used by multiple women).
The Willow breast pump is a completely different kind of pump from all of the others. Most breast pumps connect to a set of pump parts and bottles through tubing. The Willow pump is literally a wireless breast pump that goes in your bra (so it’s really two separate breast pumps). The milk that you pump goes into special milk bags stored in the Willow pump rather than to bottles.
Below are the pros to the Willow Pump:
- Mobility! You can physically pretty much do anything while pumping – including lie down – while pumping because everything is in your bra and you don’t have bottles hanging off of your chest.
- It’s quieter than most pumps, though not completely silent. (You still might want to mute yourself on a conference call, for example.)
- It’s integrated with an app (which tracks how long you’ve pumped and can tell you how much milk you’ve pumped), so you don’t have to track that stuff yourself.
- Price. It’s expensive and generally not covered by insurance. Also, you have to buy the special pump bags that go in the pump (more info here), and they aren’t cheap if you are pumping as frequently as exclusive pumpers pump.
- The pump only has two flange sizes – 24mm and 27mm. If you need a larger or smaller size, the pump won’t work for you.
- The pump is an open system and cannot be resold.
The Medela Harmony is a single, manual pump. The Harmony is not a good solution to have as your only pump if you are exclusively pumping because manual pumping can be hard on your hands if you are doing it constantly, it can’t be done hands-free, and you can only do one breast at a time.
However, the Harmony is not expensive (about $30 on amazon.com), and I highly recommend having some kind of manual pump as a backup pump if you are an exclusive pumper, because if your pump breaks or the battery is dead and you lose the charger, you are in trouble! I once left my pump charger in a hotel and was stuck attempting to hand express my engorged breasts in an airplane bathroom. Needless to say, a hand pump would have been a nice thing to have.
Another benefit to manual pumps is that they can come in handy in situations that are not ideal for pumping. If you need to care for a fussy baby or older child and just cannot sit down to pump for 15-20 minutes, getting a quick pump in with a manual pump is better than nothing. Or, if you in a situation where pumping is not practical – say, a day-long job interview – running to the restroom and quickly pumping for 5-7 minutes to relieve pressure can be a good solution.
Did I miss a pump that you think should be included in the best breast pumps for exclusively pumping list? Please leave a comment and let me know, and I’ll add it!References
- Medela. https://www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/products/category/breast-pumps
- Spectra Baby USA. https://www.spectrababyusa.com/
- Willow. https://www.willowpump.com/