Title image. Picture of Spectra S2 breast pump in the background.

Buying a breast pump? Breast pump buying guide.

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Do I even need a breast pump?

I know many breastfeeding moms start out with the highest of expectations when it comes to feeding their precious little baby. Nothing but milk from their own breast, fresh from their own nipples, will ever enter their baby’s mouths in their first year of life.

Except, life often has other plans.

The reality is that you will eventually need a breast pump even if you don’t plan on relinquishing feeding duties to anyone else. A breast pump–even a cheapo manual one–is a great way to stimulate your milk supply to come in, or to relieve engorgement when your baby just can’t consume that much milk, or to build up an emergency back up supply of breast milk. For some moms who are physically unable to breastfeed, pumping can be a lifesaver and the only way to provide their baby with the nutritional powerhouse that only a mother can provide.

So with that out of the way, here’s everything you need to know to avoid tears and frustration when picking a breast pump.

Should I rent a pump from the hospital or buy one secondhand?

In today’s sharing economy, it might seem like a good idea to rent a pump from the hospital instead of buying one yourself, especially if you aren’t sure if you want to breastfeed. But it turns out that you end up spending more money over the long-term and the hassle is just not worth it.

When you rent a hospital-grade breast pump, you’ll have to pay a monthly rental fee. In addition to this, you’ll also have to buy a collection kit, which normally comes included when you buy a brand new pump.

Taking all this into account, the cost of renting a pump for more than two months ends up costing the same as buying a brand new electric pump.

You would be better off just buying a pump at this point.

Okay, so what about buying a used pump off of craigslist or ebay? Frugal mommies might think this is a smart choice. Normally I would agree, but when it comes to breast pumps, secondhand thrifting might not be worth it.

While manual pumps are made for a couple weeks of regular use, electric pumps are  manufactured to last 1-2 years. That’s long enough for you to feed and wean one child. The motor in an electric pump will wear out after 150-1500 hours and once that happens, the pump is no longer usable. Buying a secondhand pump may mean getting a machine that is at the end of its lifespan.

Another reason to avoid getting a used pump is hygiene and safety. Pumps are either “closed-system” or “open-system”.

Closed-system pumps have valves that keep breast milk and moisture from getting into the machine and suction tubes. On the other hand, open-system machines do not have this safety feature. This means that humidity can build up in the machine’s parts and cause mildew and bacterial growth. Even if you buy a new collection kit, breast shields, and tubing, the machine itself can contaminate pumped milk. The chance of contamination is just too great to risk buying an open-system pump that’s been used.

One of the most popular pumps, the Medela Pump in Style, is an open-system pump and is not suitable for sharing or use between more than one user. If you plan on buying this pump, be sure to get it new and sealed.

What to look for: power is NOT effectiveness

Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way and you’re sure that you want to buy a breast pump, here’s what we considered when we put together our list of the best breast pumps.

The most important is how quickly you can get the pumping process over with! The machine that pumps out the most milk in the shortest amount of time is the best breast pump.

The most effective pumps were not the ones with the strongest suction. Instead, we found that pumps that allowed you to switch between letdown mode (quick short suction) which mimics how your baby sucks when they first latch on and expression mode (long deep suction) were the most effective at producing a heavy milk flow. The Spectra S1 and S2 have this letdown function.

While babies naturally know how to change their suction to encourage your breasts to express more milk, breast pumps are not so smart! A pump that only has one type of suction will make each pumping session a long, exhausting, and painful event! Switching the breast pump between the two modes is the key to getting more milk in a shorter amount of time.

What to look for: comfort

Pumping can be a chore at best and painful at worst. The comfort of your pump really comes down to:

  • The size and shape of the breast shield (breast flange) which is the part that cups your breast. Although your pump will come with a set of breast shields, they might not be the right size. Shields are measured by the size of your nipples. A shield that is too small will rub against your nipples and cause chafing, while a breast shield that is too large will cause bruising by sucking in the breast tissue around your nipple. See my pumping 101 guide to learn how to measure your nipple and how to buy the right breast shield size.
  • The suction strength of the machine. Remember that stronger is not better! Get a machine that lets you adjust the strength. Not enough suction will fail to draw out milk, but too much suction is painful and inhibits letdown.
  • The material of the breast shield. The best pumps will have breast shields that are completely smooth. Some of the cheaper/mid-grade pumps have breast shields with rough edges at the seams. This can cause chafing and irritation with regular use. Some pumps, such as the Spectra S1/S2, have add-ons that you can buy like soft squishy silicone inserts that go inside the breast shield.

What to look for: ease of use and cleaning

Since you’ll be pumping multiple times a day–sometimes at work or late at night–it’s essential that your pump be as simple to use as possible. You want a pump that has valves and tubes that are easy to take apart.

For easy cleaning, avoid open-system breast pumps. Milk can get into the suction tubes or even into the pump if the milk back flows. Since these parts are impossible to wash and dry, you will end up with mildew and bacterial problems. If you’re lucky, you’ll only need to buy new tubing, but if the milk gets into your pump, then you’re SOL…Avoid if possible! A closed system pump will have a valve that blocks milk and condensation from getting into the tubes or into the pump. This means your breast milk goes straight into the collection bottle without coming into contact with any contaminants that could spoil the milk.

You also want to look for a pump with an easy to use and simple menu/button system. There really should be nothing more than an on/off button, letdown/expression mode button, and buttons to adjust the speed and strength of suction. Some pumps have gimmicky features like fancy electronic displays, statistics, and tracking. You do not need any of this! Trust me, once you get into a routine, all of this stuff will just get in the way of pumping as fast as possible.

On the other hand, features like a night light for late night or early morning pumping are a plus.

What to look for: portability

If you plan on pumping at work or while traveling on vacation, you’ll want to get a pump that has a rechargeable battery so you can pump even when you don’t have access to a wall outlet.

You will also want to get a pump that comes with a carrying tote and insulated cooler.

What to look for: durability

Most electric breast pumps are only made to last through the feeding and weaning of one baby and the warranties reflect this with a short 1-2 year warranty. The exception to this is the Spectra S1/S2 pumps which have a long 5 year warranty.

While most accessories like tubes, valves, and breast shields can be replaced, the motor is irreplaceable and is usually the first part to fail. Midgrade breast pumps have motors that have about 150-200 hours of life. The Medela Pump in Style is rated for 250 motor hours which is a little bit better. The pump with the longest expected life is the Spectra S1 or S2 with an amzing 1500 motor hours.

What to look for: noise

Most electric pumps are *loud*, surprisingly and shockingly so.

This can be a problem if you’re self-conscious, plan to pump at work or late at night when everybody’s sleeping.

The noise level can also be distracting and a real mood killer, causing stress which can make letdown a challenge. Trust me, anything that makes you feel less like a cow attached to a giant milk pump is a good thing!

So that’s what you have to keep in mind when choosing a breast pump. These are also the criteria I used when I was searching for a pump. If you want to skip all the trouble and hours of reading through breast pump reviews, check out my electric breast pump reviews and narrow your choice down to the top two best electric pumps on the market.

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