Breast Pump Buying Guide

Flickr photo

Flickr photo

If you’re expecting a baby, or about to return to work after maternity leave, you probably have breast pumps on the brain. The type of pump you rent or buy will depend on your personal needs, such as how often you’ll be pumping and whether you’ll need to carry your pump to and from work regularly.

Moms who will only pump for a short time or who need to significantly increase their milk supply may want to consider renting a hospital-grade breast pump. Because this type of pump has a rapid suck-and-release cycle that mimics a nursing baby, it is the most efficient pump and can also be helpful for mothers who have difficulties with nursing.

Mothers who don’t require a hospital-grade pump will likely be looking at buying a personal-use pump. There are hundreds of personal-use breast pumps on the market, but they tend to fall into one of just four major categories:

Single manual breast pumps

Manual pumps allow for expression on one side at a time and are generally the lightest and quietest option. Though pumping just one side at a time will take longer, the advantage of a manual pump is that you will not need a power outlet to pump, and you will never have to worry about running out of batteries. You may even be able to pump on one side while nursing on another.

The top selling single manual model on Amazon is the Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump ($31.78).

Single electric breast pumps

Single electric pumps are also light and portable, with the most popular ones weighing in at around two pounds.  Some moms find that an electric pump is less tiring on the hands than a manual. In addition, a single electric pump is more affordable than a comparable double electric.

The top selling single electric model on Amazon is the Medela Swing Breast Pump ($142.99).

Portable double electric breast pumps

Portable double electrics allow for expression of both sides at once, which will save you time. They usually weigh less than five pounds. If you’ll be carrying your pump with you to work and back every day, you’ll want to take a look at this type of pump. The downside of these lighter machines is that they tend to be lower rated than their heavier-duty standard counterparts, based on Amazon ratings.

The top selling portable double electric model on Amazon is The First Years miPump ($67.99).

Standard double electric breast pumps

Standard double electrics weigh anywhere from 7 to 10+ pounds, with a price tag to match. These are the closest to hospital-grade pumps and should do a good job of maintaining your milk supply. If you’ll be away from baby during the day, you should consider this option, especially if you commute by car or can leave this heavier pump at work.

The top selling standard double electric model on Amazon is the Medela Pump in Style Advanced ($240.99).

How to choose a breast pump

The first consideration in picking a pump is how often you’ll be pumping. For occasional pumping, a single may do the job. For pumping more than once a day, a double may make the most sense, as it will be more efficient.

If you’re going with a single, the next question is whether you should buy a manual or electric pump. Manuals are quieter than electric pumps, extremely easy to use, and make for a great second pump. An electric, however, can save your hands.

If you’re going with a double, the next question is whether you will be commuting or traveling with the pump on a regular basis. If you will be doing a lot of lugging, perhaps in addition to carrying your baby, you might consider prioritizing portability over price.

Jennie Wong, Ph.D., is the creator of the baby product quiz site You can find the Breast Pump Quiz there along with quizzes for car seats, diaper bags and more. The startup founder, syndicated columnist and mother of two lives in Sunnyvale.

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