Everything You Need to Know About How to Choose a Breast Pump

dark skin mother pumping her breast with automatic breast pump

When it comes to planning a registry and deciding which new baby must-haves to include, a breast pump might not be at the top of your list. But the day your insurance company asks you to choose one, the mom overwhelm feels pretty intense. We’ve been there, we get it, and we’ve got you covered with all the information you need about how to choose a breast pump.

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Choosing a good breast pump for your body and needs is critical. Whether you’re trying to decide between a hospital grade breast pump vs. regular pumps or a haakaa vs. a wireless system, the number of options available can be truly overwhelming.

We remember feeling that overwhelm, and we want to save you from it. Our team has evaluated all of the different reasons a mother might need to have a breast pump, and looked into many of the different options you’ll have to choose from. 

All our research led to the creation of this easy-to-use, informative guide to simplify the decision-making process when choosing a breast pump.

This site contains affiliate links, meaning that we earn a small commission for purchases made through our site. We only recommend products we personally use, love, or have thoroughly vetted.

Do I Need a Breast Pump?

Before we get into the whole “how to choose a breast pump” conversation, there’s a more significant discussion that demands attention.

First, it’s important to know if a breast pump is the right option for you.

Do you even need a breast pump?

Let’s start with the basics first.

If you have no intention of breastfeeding your baby and plan on using formula from the start, then you do not need a breast pump.

If, however, you’re one of the 8-out-of-10 new mothers who plans to nurse, the answer to this question can be a little more fuzzy.

If, for example, you’re only planning on nursing for the first six weeks or so, you might feel that a pump is an unnecessary expense. Or, if you’ll be a stay-at-home mom, you might not think you’ll ever need to pump.

Generally speaking, however, even in these situations, having a breast pump is always a good idea. 

Here are just a few reasons it couldn’t hurt to add one to your baby registry, or buy it through insurance if it’s covered:

  • You never know if your baby will need to stay in the NICU. If this happens and you still want to breastfeed, you’ll need to begin pumping right away.
  • You’ll eventually be away from the baby. Whether it’s for date night or an appointment, you’ll need milk to feed the baby if you’re not with them.
  • Your baby may not have a good latch or be able to latch at all. Some moms end up exclusively pumping when they’d hoped to breastfeed, even if only for a few weeks before baby’s latch improves. Having a good pump is essential in these cases!

What Breast Pump Types are Available?

When I discovered I was pregnant with our daughter, deciding to breastfeed was one of the first big milestone moments in planning for my future as a mother.

I became so wrapped up in this idyllic idea of tender moments nursing my baby that I almost forgot that getting a breast pump was even a thing

Once I remembered, however, I was astonished by how many different breast pump types are available. 

Choosing a breast pump isn’t just about deciding which unit looks cutest or which brand seems to be the best. 

It’s about figuring out which breast pump types will work best for your unique situation and your unique body.

(1) Battery-Powered and Electric Breast Pumps

Battery-powered and electric breast pumps are two of the most popular breast pump types available. They run off of a small motorized pump that’s used to create suction to withdraw the milk from a woman’s breasts. 

The pump motor itself will include a dial to control the strength of suction used. While some women respond well to mild degrees of suction, others require more intensity.

In some cases, a standard electric pump just doesn’t cut it as far as suction is concerned. For these women, purchasing or renting a hospital-grade pump might be the best option.

Whether using a standard breast pump or hospital grade, for battery-powered and electric pumps, the motor is connected to the bottle and breast flange by a long tube. 

Once the machine is turned on, the motor will begin a stimulation phase that works to bring on the let-down reflex. This sensation can feel like a tingling or tightness in the breasts and allows the milk to flow more freely.

Based on your unique wants and needs, a battery-powered or electric pump can be used with either a single pump or a double electric pump, depending on whether you’d like to pump each breast at once.

In other words, it may pump one side at a time, or it may be able to pump both breasts at once during a single pumping session. 

We strongly recommend purchasing a double electric breast pump, especially if it’s covered by your insurance. Double pumping will save you lots of time and energy.

That way, if you run into any foreseen difficulties, you can pump more quickly and easily than if you had to switch sides. 

Some of the most popular battery-powered or electric breast pumps of 2020 are:

  • Medela Pump In Style Advanced (We link it because it’s the most popular, but we don’t recommend it. Many lactation consultants claim it’s bad for milk supply, and this was Katy’s experience, as well.)
  • Spectra Baby USA S1 Plus Electric (We love this pump and HIGHLY recommend it for its portability, thanks to a rechargeable battery pack, and its adjustable suction with multiple settings.)
  • IKARE Double Breast Pump (This pump comes highly reviewed and recommended, but no one on our team has personally used it.)

Disadvantages of Electric Breast Pumps

Despite being one of the most common breast pump types used, there are disadvantages of an electric breast pump, including:

  • Inability to use your pump in emergency situations where you may lose power or not have batteries available.
  • Milk can become contaminated if the pump is not thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
  • Nipple damage can occur if the right size flanges aren’t used during pumping. We highly recommend working with a lactation consultant (your hospital likely offers that option immediately postpartum) to determine the proper flange size.
  • Electric pumps can lead to breast milk oversupply and breast engorgement.

Note: Many of these disadvantages don’t just come from traditional electric pumps. They can be seen with other systems, like manual and wireless pumps, as well, so keep that in mind.

(2) Manual or Haakaa Breast Pumps

If you’re a first-time mother, allow me to introduce you to the concept of engorged boobs.

While it can be hard to imagine a moment where you’ll want or need to be away from your baby, it’s bound to happen eventually.

Depending on how long you’re out and about, you might start to experience a tight, full sensation inside your breasts. This not-so-fun feeling is your body’s natural way of reminding you it’s time to feed your baby. 

When the baby’s not around, however, and your electric pump is at home, it’s time for an alternative – this is where a manual or Haakaa silicone breast pump comes in.

While these types of pumps generally aren’t the most efficient options for expressing milk, they can help in a pinch! They’re easy to toss into a bag and will be readily available when you need them.

Convenience, though, is not the only reason to get yourself some sort of manual pump.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “liquid gold” in relation to breast milk. Mamas work so hard at nursing and collecting milk that the loss of even a few drops can seem like a tragedy.

When my first daughter was born, it broke my heart to think of all the milk I was losing when she nursed on one side, and I still experienced a full-force let-down on the other. 

Enter my Haakaa! A brilliant friend suggested using a manual pump to collect the released milk while the babe was guzzling the other side. 

Its small size also makes it great to take on-the-go for baby-free outings. While other manual pumps might work more efficiently, the Haakaa can still help to relieve pressure in a pinch.

If you’re looking for a manual pump, here are our top choices:

(3) Wireless Breast Pumps

It always amazes me how fast technology changes. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I ended my pumping journey, and yet there are already so many new options available for moms. 

Like wireless breast pumps, for one!

If you’re a multitasking mother who wants the most convenient pumping experience possible, these wearable varieties might be the best choice for you. 

They slip right into your bra and silently(ish) run while you go on about your day-to-day activities. These are great for women who are returning to work and can’t sneak off to pump throughout the day.

They’re also perfect for stay-at-home-moms (or moms on maternity leave) who are alone with babies all day but whose babies can’t latch. 

Pumping with an infant-in-arms is MUCH easier with a wireless pump.

We have friends who have used these because they needed a convenient option during the workday, and/or so they could pump during their commute to work. 

Since wearable systems slip right into your bra and utilize either a small pump that can clip right onto your belt or an app on your phone, it doesn’t get much simpler than that.

The most popular wireless breast pumps include:

*Note: These companies like to tout that you can pop the pump into your bra and no one will notice. Realistically, though, you probably want a scarf to cover your bulging chest while you’re using it. Also, it’s CRUCIAL to make sure you’re using the right flange size with these pumps to get good milk production and for pumping to be comfortable. 

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What’s the Best Breast Pump for Low Milk Supply?

Did you know that 21.6% of women who stop breastfeeding do so because they’re concerned about their milk supply?

Before you throw in the towel, it’s important to examine all the available options that can help you increase your supply.

Check out our article, written by a lactation specialist, on how to increase breast milk supply.

Some of the most popular solutions for boosting your supply include:

In addition to these suggestions, using the right type of pump can be helpful. If you want the best chance to produce or express more milk, you’ll want to consider a hospital-grade pump.

We love the Spectra S1 for milk production.

(The Medela Symphony is also incredible, but the cost is outrageous. But Katy rented it from her hospital, which worked perfectly.)

When Choosing a Breast Pump, is it Okay to Get a Used One?

Given the cost of breast pumps, many new moms wonder if a second-hand pump is a good option when it comes to figuring out how to choose a breast pump.

While the low price tag of used breast pumps might be tempting, they’re not the best option for you and your baby.

While rentable hospital-grade pumps have a closed system that’s approved for multiple users, most standard units do not. This can leave mothers and babies susceptible to dangerous viruses and diseases that may be harvesting in the tubing.

This is why you’ll notice that most breast pumps are marketed as single-user products.

When to Get a Breast Pump (Is There a “Right” Time to Purchase One?)

Sometimes, I feel like the so-called “rules of breastfeeding” set mamas up to fail.

We want to nurse our sons and daughters, but the guidelines and requirements for doing it the “right” way can be A LOT to take in.

For example, based on the Breastfeeding Bible (oh, that’s not a real thing? Color me shocked!) the experts tell us we shouldn’t pump during the first three months because it puts us at risk for breast milk oversupply.

If you wholeheartedly believe this sentiment, you might be thinking that there’s no rush to buy one.

I, however, am firmly in the “take these suggestions with a grain of salt” camp.

What about the women who have to return to work within the first 4 – 12 weeks of their baby’s life? Are they just supposed to supplement with formula to avoid pumping before that three-month mark ? No.

Or the women with NICU babies? Or whose babies can’t latch?

Not to mention that most US moms with health insurance are usually required by their insurance companies to order a breast pump before baby is born.

And we agree. Buying a pump before baby comes usually works out for the best.

What if I buy a pump but don’t use it?

If you’re one of the lucky Americans to have health insurance, then, by law, it’s required that your policy cover the cost of a breast pump.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean you can get any breast pump on the market 100% paid for, it does provide the financial assistance you might need to get a good pump.

If you’d like insurance to pay for your pump, give them a call and ask which options they have available. Some companies will require a prescription from your doctor.

Before you jump on a phone call with them, however, it’s helpful to have a list of questions in mind, such as:

  1. Do I need a prescription from my doctor?
  2. How soon can I get my breast pump?
  3. What breast pump types can I get, and do I have different brand options?
  4. If I don’t want one of the recommended or offered pumps, can I get reimbursed for one of my own choosing?
  5. How do I purchase my breast pump?

Some companies will cover anything you want, but most will send you a list of covered pumps. And it’s not usually all or nothing. In many cases, they’ll cover the full cost of some pumps, and will supplement the cost of others.

How to Choose a Breast Pump that Will Benefit Your Family

With so many different breast pump types and even more rules about how to breastfeed the “right” way, knowing which products to choose can be a challenge.

At the end of the day, it’s about examining how you’re planning on using your pump and figuring out what option is going to be best for your unique situation and your unique body.

Don’t get overwhelmed by brand names and guidelines – go with your gut and choose a system that will help you get the job done right.

Would you rather just have someone tell you which pump to use? You can feel confident that all of the products mentioned above are well-researched and recommended by our team and the women we’re closest to.

If you’ve used a breast pump, did you have a favorite brand or type?

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