Not sure what kind of breast pump you should get? Here’s a complete beginner’s guide to the different types of breast pumps on the market, and how to know what kind is the best for you.
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Different Kinds of Breast Pumps
First, let’s go through all of the different types of breast pumps, including the pros and cons of each.
“Hospital-grade” is a marketing term, so there are no mandated requirements a pump manufacturer has to meet to call a breast pump hospital-grade. However, most hospital grade pumps are designed to be used by multiple users, and they may have a more effective motor than other pumps.
Example: Medela Symphony
Pros of Hospital Grade Electric Pumps
- Many women find a hospital grade pump to be helpful in establishing their supply
- More than one woman can share a pump (some offices keep one in the lactation room) as long as each mom has her own set of pump parts
Cons of Hospital Grade Electric Pumps
- Most hospital grade pumps are on large side, so it can be difficult to pump on the go
- Usually they are very expensive to buy, so most women rent them
Wireless breast pumps are an entire breast pump that you place in your bra cup. They are very portable and easy to use no matter where you need to pump.
Pros of Wireless Breast Pumps
- Super easy to pump anywhere (while working, in the grocery store, etc.)
- No tubing for baby to grab, so easier to pump while caring for baby
Cons of Wireless Breast Pumps
- They are more expensive than most other pumps
- The flange sizes that are available can be somewhat limited
- Oversuppliers may need to change bottles/bags in the middle of a session
Portable breast pumps are pumps that tend to be on the smaller side and have a rechargeable battery, so you’re not tied to an outlet.
Pros of Portable Electric Pumps
- Ability to move around while you pump and easily pump on the go
- Performance is similar to pumps that need to be plugged in
Cons of Portable Electric Pumps
- Often more expensive than pumps without a rechargable battery
Double Electric (without a Rechargable Battery)
Pros of Double Electric Pumps
- Double electric pumps are solid pumps that allow you to pump as often as you end up needing to during your baby’s first year
- Usually less expensive than other pumps with more bells and whistles
Cons of Double Electric Pumps
- Needing to be near an outlet every time you pump can sometimes be a hassle
- These pumps may be heavier/bulkier
A single electric breast pump is really similar to a double electric pump, but it only allows you to pump one side at a time. (More on double vs single pumps here.)
Example: Medela Swing
Pros of Single Electric Pumps
- Great option when you only need to pump occasionally (for a date night, etc.)
Cons of Single Electric Pumps
- If you need to pump on both sides, it will take you twice as long
Manual breast pumps are pumps that are powered using your hand (usually via a crank mechanism) rather than an electric motor.
Example: Medela Harmony
Pros of Manual Breast Pumps
- Useful for pumping in situations where you don’t have power
- Can be a good portable option for pumping on the go (especially if you don’t want to bring a huge breast pump bag with you)
- Some women seem to respond better to manual breast pumps than electric ones
Cons of Manual Breast Pumps
- Your hand can quickly get tired if you pump on a frequent basis
- You can only use it on one side at a time
Which Type of Breast Pump Should You Get?
Now that we’ve gone over the different types of breast pumps, let’s talk about how to know which is the right type for YOU. There are three big questions to consider.
1. What Does Your Insurance Cover?
If you live in the United States and have health insurance, in many cases, you are eligible for a free breast pump through your insurance.
However, the types of breast pumps that health insurance policies cover can vary quite a bit. Some cover rental hospital-grade pumps, some will provide a double electric pump, and some only cover a manual pump.
Finding out what your insurance covers is actually easier than you might think. In most cases, you can go directly to a medical device company, and they will take care of most of the work for you.
(I used Aeroflow Breastpumps, and it was super easy. You fill out a form, they confirm your pregnancy with your doctor and find out pumps what you’re eligible for, and all you have to do is pick a pump.)
Once you know what your insurance will pay for, we can move to thinking about your budget.
2. What is Your Budget for a Breast Pump?
If your budget is $0 (meaning you don’t have any additional money to spend on a pump), then you’ll want to focus on the options that your insurance will provide you at no cost.
However, if you are able to allocate some money to a breast pump, you might want to consider a few things.
Upgrading Your Covered Pump
Do you want to upgrade your pump? In many cases, a medical device company will allow you to pay the difference between the pump your insurance covers and the pump you’d like.
So, as an example, if your insurance covers a Medela Pump in Style but you want a Medela Freestyle Flex, you may be able to pay the difference between the two pumps, thus getting the pump you want at a big discount from what you’d pay in a store.
Buying Two Pumps
Depending on their budget and how they plan to use their pump, some women decide to get two pumps:
- One pump covered by their insurance (usually a double electric pump without a rechargeable battery, like the Pump in Style or S2)
- One portable pump (such as a Baby Buddha or a Willow)
The idea here is that the covered pump is the “workhorse” pump that would be used to pump at work and home, while the portable one would be used more on the go. This is mostly useful for moms who exclusively pump, or who pump at work in an environment where mobility is important.
We’ll talk more about when to buy a breast pump later, but if you’re planning on buying two pumps, in most cases, you can wait to buy the second. That way you can get the hang of pumping, see what features are important to you, and make sure that you really need it.
3. How Are You Planning to Use Your Pump?
The last thing to consider is what you’ll be using your breast pump for, and how often you’ll be using it.
If you’re exclusively pumping, I would recommend getting one of the following types:
- Hospital grade
- Double Electric (without rechargeable battery)
A few things to consider – a hospital grade pump can be great for establishing supply; however, if you’re exclusively pumping, being able to pump on the go is also a consideration. Bulky hospital grade pumps can make that somewhat challenging.
It is possible, though difficult, to exclusively pump with a single electric or manual pump. I would pick a different type of pump if you can.
Wireless pumps are great second pumps for exclusive pumpers; but I’m hesitant to recommend them as an only pump for establishing milk supply because of limited available breast shield sizes and because some women don’t seem to respond as well to them.
Pumping at Work (Mobility Needed)
If you need the ability to move around while you pump at work (say you’re a nurse and plan to pump while you work, or you’re a speech therapist and going to different patient’s homes all day), then you would want to choose either:
- If necessary, you can make a double electric (without rechargeable battery) work with an external battery pack
Which one you want to pick depends on what works best for your job and what you can afford.
Pumping at Work (Outlet Available)
If you’re primarily pumping at work and have an outlet available, then any pump other than a single electric or manual pump will work fine. (If those are all you’re able to get, that’s workable, it just may be more challenging.)
Therefore, your options are:
- Hospital grade (may be bulky for commuting)
- Double Electric (without rechargeable battery)
Occasional/Date Night Pumping
If you’re not pumping every day, but only every now and then, any of the types of breast pumps that have been described here will work fine.
I would mostly focus on budget in making your decision. Who wouldn’t want a wireless breast pump, all things being equal? But a single electric or manual pump will work for what you need.
(The only thing I would bear in mind is that sometimes our plans can change. You might plan on pumping only occasionally, but then end up exclusively pumping or heading back to work sooner than you’d thought. You might want to weigh the chances this will happen against how challenging it would be to buy another pump that meets your needs.)
When Should You Get a Breast Pump?
In most cases, I would recommend selecting and ordering your pump before your baby is born, for a few reasons.
First, it’s one less thing to do when you have a newborn to take care of.
Second, depending on how breastfeeding is going, you might want to start pumping sooner rather than later.
For example, if you’re just planning on pumping at work, you may not need to pump for weeks. But if your baby struggles with transferring milk, having a pump can sometimes be useful right away for establishing your supply.
On the other hand, if you’re really not sure how long you want to breastfeed or how you feel about pumping, you can wait and see how it goes before committing to a pump.
Hopefully this helps you figure out the best type of breast pump for you! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!