in a wide variety of styles and prices. You can buy a pump from
the drug store, from a Lactation Consultant or pump rental
station, from some doctors offices, at the big-box baby
retailers, or online. So many choices - how can you get the
right one? Here I summarize the key points about each pump -
this is a combination of my opinion and the opinions of the
fifty or so other working moms I've polled about pumps.
Don't miss the section at the end of
this page about the importance of
getting a pump that fits. I've also put together some
information you must read if you're considering a
Pumps come in a few basic
types: Single or Double-sided, and Electric, Manual, or Battery
powered. In general, a working mother who is away from her baby
more than 10 hours a week is going to want a high-quality
double-sided electric pump. Hospital Grade pumps are generally
only available for rental, but are another good choice.
A lot of people use the term
"hospital-grade" to refer to any high-quality
double-electric pump. However, that term really means a
pump that can be used by multiple users over a number of
years. A real hospital-grade pump is over $1000, so
don't worry, you won't buy one by mistake.
The Medela Pump-In-Style (PIS) and the
Ameda Purely Yours (PY) are the two big names in electric
breastpumps. Next in line for well-estabished quality are the manual pumps made
by Avent and Medela. New to the game are electric pumps from
Avent and Playex. Finally, and excellent low-cost option is the
Bailey Nurture III electric pump.
The PIS is everywhere; this is the number-one selling breastpump,
and with good reason - this is a very good pump! The PIS is
packed with options, including the optional "let-down" mode
(called Natural Expression™),
where the pump cycles faster in the first couple minutes of
pumping to imitate how your baby sucks before your milk lets
down. It is easy to adjust both the cycling speed and suction
strength of the PIS. Don't be confused by the single-sided or
battery-powered Medela pumps -
the PIS or the Symphony (hospital-grade) are the only ones
designed for full-time work.
You can get the PIS in a number of carrying cases, including ones that
look like briefcases or backpacks. All of the carrying cases
include a cooler compartment where you can store the milk with
some of the included ice-packs. Many Lactation Consultants carry
the Medela pumps, giving you the option of buying the pump from
someone local - which means they will always be there to test
your pump or troubleshoot problems.
Downsides: The major downside to the PIS is the price - these
pumps are quite expensive. However, when you look at it, a good
quality pump only costs as much as about two to three months
worth of formula, so the investment can pay off before your baby
is four months old! The other complaint is a problem with
condensation in the tubing. This doesn't affect the safety of
the pump, and I talk about how to get rid of it on the
Washing Pump Parts page.
The Ameda Purely Yours is the overlooked younger sister of the
pumping world, but this is a great pump. The suction strength is
comparable to the PIS, as is the durability and overall
performance. Not as many people carry this pump, but it's easy
to find online, and it usually costs significantly less than the
PIS. It also comes with lower cost purchase options, including
buying it without a carrying case, or with a simple tote.
Adjusting the cycle speed and suction strength with this pump is
easy, and it can be purchased with a deluxe carrier with a
cooler compartment and ice packs, just like the PIS. So why does
it cost less? I don't know, but I've heard it just has to do
with different pricing policies with the two companies, and
whether they allow discount sales or not.
Downsides: This pump makes a little "chirping" sound with each
cycle. This drove me crazy, but I just put the pump in my desk
drawer and closed the drawer with the tubing running out, and
then it was no problem. Some people claim they don't even hear
it (must be my super-hearing), and their customer service
assures me it's normal. Other downsides are that since not many
people sell them, you don't have as easy access to replacement
parts or troubleshooting. You can always get parts online, but
there's a delay of a few days.
For a very detailed comparison of the
two, including specs on weight, cycling and suction, see Janet
Next Best Thing
There are two excellent manual pumps on the market: The Avent
Isis and the Medela Harmony. These pumps can produce as much
suction as a high-quality double electric pump at a fraction of
the cost and without batteries or electricity. Even if you have
an electric pump, it's really nice to have one of these pumps
around for things like car trips, air travel, or if you want to
leave your electric pump at work and have one to use at home as
Downsides: The obvious downside is that you can only pump one
side at a time, so pumping takes longer, and you can't pump
hands-free. They also don't come with a fancy carrying case,
so you have to provide your own cooler pack (but a trip to the
dollar store can take care of that...).
Most breastpumps are designed for single users (meaning you
should think twice before using a used pump). A
hospital-grade pump is designed for multiple users, can be
totally sterilized, and has a motor designed to last for years
at full-time use. These are the pumps that are available for
rental from Lactation Consultants and rental stations. A
hospital-grade pump can be a good choice if you're not sure if
you'll be pumping, because you can rent one for a month at a
time while you see how it goes. You can usually rent a pump for
about $50/month, plus you will need to buy your own "kit" to go
with the pump - this includes the flanges ("horns"), bottles and
tubing. These pumps generally have more setting options than a
pump you would buy, and are of excellent quality. If you can't
get milk out with any other pump, you'll be able to with a
For the cost of a rental, however, you can usually buy a new
pump for not too much more. But if you run into a supply slump
or need to have your pump repaired, renting for one month can
keep your supply up. Some enlightened insurance companies and
state WIC offices will also pay for the cost of a rental pump
when you return to work.
There are a few other electric pumps on the market that, while
not as good as the PIS or PY, are viable alternatives.
This pump is a complete departure from standard pump design. The
pump itself consists of two half-spheres about the size of half
an orange that you wear inside your bra. The milk is pumped into
a rigid tube that connects to a special bag that lays against
your belly while you pump. There are three suction settings, and
a variable cycling speed. The first release of this pump had a
lot of problems, but the company has been very responsive, and
the second version (released in 2002 maybe?) is much better.
This pump runs on AA batteries, and has suction that seems to be
less than the big 2. I haven't gotten one to test myself yet,
and I've heard some very mixed reviews - some raves, some people
hated it. Definitely the answer for people who have to pump
while they work (I've heard of emergency room nurses using
it) or while driving.
Downsides: Some people don't like the bag milk-storage system -
this pump can't be used to pump directly to bottles, and the
bags may not work for very large-breasted women. I have also
heard complaints from women who are not able to pump as much
with this pump. It does make a bit of noise, so while it's
discreet, it's probably not going to work in a very quiet open
office. Like I said, I haven't tried it myself yet and don't
have enough feedback to recommend it over one of the more
established pumps. Doing a google search for WhisperWear brings
up a number of reviews if you want to weigh the pros and cons
Bailey Nurture III
This pump is a lower-cost alternative to the PIS and the PY.
This pump uses a manual control for cycling speed, in which you
place your finger over a hole in the suction tubing to turn the
suction on and off. This pump costs significantly less than the
PIS and PY, but is able to generate about the same amount of
suction and is a good quality pump. One of their company
representatives tells me that once you get used to it, the
manual cycle control is very easy and natural to use. However,
if you've been used to a fully automatic pump, it will take some
getting used to.
Downsides: Manual control means you can't pump "hands-free"
(although there is a foot-pedal control available)
The second-newest entry in the pump market, the Playtex Embrace has a
different flange design than the other big sellers, with a
soft-cup flange. This means that this pump is incredibly
comfortable, especially for women with very large nipples who
may have trouble finding more traditional flanges to fit. The
motor is not as efficient as the PIS or PY, so suction strength
is not as great - meaning that it can take longer to pump, or
you may not be able to pump as much.
The packaging is brilliant, with separate
little pouches for carrying cold bottles, flanges, accessories
and the pump itself, in a very stylish tote.
Downsides: This pump is LOUD - it really makes a lot of noise,
so it not at all suitable for someone having to pump discretely.
Also, the lower suction strength means that for most women, it
takes longer to pump with this pump. If time is of the essence,
this is not the pump for you.
This is the newest electric on
the market. It has a number of technological innovations. The
flanges look familiar to anyone who's ever used the Isis pump,
with the same "soft-petal" insert. The pump works by setting the
cycle speed electronically: you pump manually for a few seconds,
then push a button and the microchip in the motor imitates the
speed and suction you were using. You can change the cycle speed
any time, so you can manually do a quick short cycle to
stimulate letdown, then switch to a deeper, slower rhythm.
Another innovation is that the tubing connects to each flange
independently, so you can switch from one-sided to two-sided
without having to switch the tubing around.
I have to say that I have had great experiences with the Isis
manual, so expect good quality from Avent.
Some moms have reported a steep learning curve for learning to
use this pump - the flanges have diaphragms that aren't like
other pump styles, and you have to remember to plug in the data
cable along with the suction tubing.
Downsides: It may also be hard to find spare parts, since the
company isn't selling them to retailers, so you have to order
them directly. This pump is also pricing above $300, so I think
that puts it as the most expensive on the market.
Single-sided electric pumps -
overpriced for what you get. These pumps tend to be of lower
quality, and are not designed to be used full time. Medela makes
one called the Mini-electric (now called the
Single-Ease). Medela also makes an electric designed for
occasional use, called the DoubleEase. This pump is NOT meant to
be used full-time.
Battery-powered pumps: A pump designed
to run solely on batteries does not generate enough suction to
extract enough milk or maintain your milk supply (this is not
true of electric pumps that have the option of running on
Plunger-type manual pumps: These pumps
are often given out as freebies at the hospital, and come with
some of the Medela pumps. Keep it in your bag for emergencies,
but this is not a pump that you can use long term. It is awkward
and tiring to use, and does not generate enough suction to
maintain your milk supply.
Fitting a Pump
The parts of a pump include the motor, the tubing from the
motor, and the flanges (the plastic pieces that fit over your
breasts). All pumps are sold with standard size flanges, but not
everyone has standard size nipples. If your nipples are very
large or very small, you will probably want a different size
flange than was packaged with your pump. If you buy your pump
from a Lactation Consultant, she can help you fit the flanges.
Your nipples should move freely in the
cylindrical part of the flange - any rubbing on the sides means
that you need larger flanges. If your nipples are very small,
the angle between the flange cone and the cylindrical part may
be too far back on your breasts, and you may not be emptying the
milk well. Most moms find that with well-fitted flanges, their
pumping output increases.
If you're having trouble finding the
right size flange, a company called Pumpin' Pal makes an insert
that could help. The insert fits inside any standard size
flange, and has a more gradually rounded edge between the cone
and the tunnel, so can accommodate a larger range of sizes. This
insert is also angled, so that you can lean back more
comfortably while you're pumping. The inserts are called Super
Shields, and can be purchased from their website:
heard several reports lately of moms who were able to pump more
using these inserts. They're not too expensive, so could be
worth a try.
Back to top
kellymom.com has put together a whole
page on pumping and milk expression - you can find it
here. This page includes links to comparisons between the PY
and PIS, links to some message board posts about various pumps,
and two scathing reviews of the WhisperWear.