Breast Pump Break Down text over mother pumping

Everything you need to know about the different types of breast pumps, and how to choose the pump that’s best for you

Whether you’re returning to work for the first time, have a baby who can’t breastfeed, or want to feed your baby breast milk exclusively—even when you’re not there to nurse—a breast pump is a useful tool for any mama. But with so many different breast pumps available, how do you decide which one is right for you?

In order to help you make your decision, we’ve broken down the different breast pump offerings out there, from manual breast pumps to electric ones, from single breast pumps to doubles, and the pros and cons of each.

Electric Breast Pumps

Great for working moms on the go, electric breast pumps are powerful, allowing you to quickly and conveniently pump to keep your milk production up—even if you can’t nurse 10 to 12 times per day. While many manual and battery operated pumps feature a single pump design (meaning they can only expel milk from one breast at a time), many electric pumps feature a double pump design that gives moms the flexibility to pump from one or both breasts whenever they need to. Double electric breast pumps are a popular option among moms who pump regularly since the combination of a powerful electric motor and a two-flange design makes pumping quick and easy.

Electric pumps make quick work of multiple pumping sessions, making them a breeze rather than an imposition on your day and schedule. On the downside, though they’re technically portable, electric pumps can be a little cumbersome and require reliable access to a power outlet in order to function. Still, for moms who will need to pump every day, an electric pump is the obvious choice and one that will make regular pumping way more convenient.

Manual Breast Pumps

Manual breast pumps are exactly what they sound like: devices whose suction is activated by a manual action like pulling a trigger or squeezing a hand pump. They’re a reliable option because they’re small, ultra-portable, and require no batteries or electricity, meaning you can take them anywhere and pump anytime. They also tend to be more affordable than electric and battery-powered options. Because they’re powered by you, though, they can be time-consuming and a little strenuous to use, making them a worse option if you’re planning to pump every day.

If you mostly breastfeed and only need to expel milk occasionally, a manual pump is good to have on hand for when you’re out for the night or away on a trip.

Battery Operated Breast Pumps

Battery operated breast pumps are slightly more portable than their electric counterparts since they rely on batteries and don’t need to be plugged in. A great option for moms who pump occasionally, but perhaps not every day, these pumps are either rechargeable or require external batteries. Just like electric pumps, some battery operated breast models include adjustable suction and speed settings.

Wireless Breast Pumps

Truly the new frontier in breast pump technology, wireless breast pumps are quickly gaining in popularity. Without needing to be plugged into the wall or attached to tubing, these pumps are perfect for moms who are constantly on the go and don’t feel like lugging around a pumping bag. Wearable breast pump models are also especially popular because they allow moms to discreetly pump throughout the day, hands-free.

Hospital-Grade Breast Pumps

Hospital-grade breast pumps are powerful pumps that feature a closed system and are safe for multiple users. These pumps are normally recommended by IBCLCs for moms who are experiencing lactation issues like low milk supply, need the extra pumping power or have a baby who is experiencing medical issues or is in the NICU. Rather than purchasing one, it is customary to rent a hospital-grade unit for as long as you need one.

The benefits of hospital-grade breast pumps? They’re far more powerful than standard breast pumps, have stronger suction and allow you to expel milk quickly. In spite of their bulkiness and relatively high cost to rent, they’re a great option for moms need to pump exclusively for their own or their baby’s health. Wondering if you need a hospital-grade breast pump? Read our blog on the subject to see if this is the right option for you.

Other Breast Pump Specs to Consider

Open System Breast Pump vs. Closed System Breast Pump

Another thing to consider is whether to get an open or closed system breast pump. Closed system breast pumps feature a barrier between the milk collection kit and the pump to prevent milk from getting into the pump and becoming contaminated. It’s worth noting that an open system breast pump does not have this barrier.

Regardless of whether your breast pump has a closed or an open system, the best way to protect your milk from contaminants like mold and bacteria is to keep your pumping system clean.

Noise Level

Moms who pump in public places or at work might desire pumps that are quieter and more discreet. Manual pumps take longer, but they’re a great option for discreet public pumping because of the relatively low noise level. Luckily, a  number of newer electric breast pump models prioritize discretion in their design. Last year, Today’s Parent named the Medela Sonata and the Medela Pump in Style as some of the quietest breast pump options available.

Now that you know more about the different types of breast pumps, check out our top breast pump picks or browse our selection of insurance-covered breast pumps. Want to learn more about which breast pump is right for you? Take our quiz to find out!