Choosing the best pump for you
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Choosing a Breastpump

Breastpumps come 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 used pump.

Pump Styles

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 Players:

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.

Medela Pump-In-Style
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.

Ameda Purely Yours
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 Talmadge's Lactation Innovations website.

The 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 well.
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...).

Hospital-Grade Pumps
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 hospital-grade pump.
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.

The Runner-ups:
There are a few other electric pumps on the market that, while not as good as the PIS or PY, are viable alternatives.

The WhisperWear Pump
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 yourself.

The 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 Playtex Embrace
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.

The Avent iQ Duo
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.

The Also-rans:

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 batteries).

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: I've 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.

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For more information... 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. 


Copyright© 2005 Kirsten Berggren. All Rights Reserved.