Best Breast Pump of 2021
The Spectra S1 is the most sought-after daily-use pump for a good reason and is the one we recommend to friends and family looking for an effective and quality pump. It is comfortable, efficient, and easy to use with minimal parts and a rechargeable battery, so you are not a slave to an electrical outlet. The S1 has some serious suction power up to 270 mmHg at a surprisingly friendly cost. Its power, combined with 12 suction levels, creates an efficient pump that can produce more expressed milk in less time than most competitors. This pump comes completely assembled with an easy-to-understand manual. The S1 is a closed system via hygienic protectors that connect to the tubing. This setup prevents both condensation build-up in tubing and microbial growth in the motor, which means that long-term, the Spectra's inner workings are kept in good shape, and breastmilk stays pristine. Best of all, the S1 is quiet, so quiet that you can pump next to a sleeping baby and husband without waking them.
Even though the S1 is a closed system, it is a single-user pump and is not designed to be used by more than one person. With such efficient pumping and helpful extras like an included nightlight, a built-in timer, space to place bottle, and memory that saves the prior setting, you will get your money's worth with this pump. Overall, there is much to love about this efficient option, and we can't think of a good reason not to add it to your breastfeeding routine.
Read the Review: Spectra S1
At a fourth of a pound, the Baby Buddha is well-liked for its small size and ability to wear as a necklace, and mom being completely untethered while pumping. Its minimal footprint has impressively strong suction at a maximum of 320 mmHg, which results in efficient emptying for many women. In total, there are 14 settings, and the rechargeable battery lasts for up to an hour of pumping and can be charged with a USB port in about 3 to 4 hours. Out of the box, it is straightforward and intuitive to use with only two buttons. It comes with a lanyard for wearing the pump, a basic carry bag, 3 tubes, one t-connector, collection bottles, and 24mm flanges lined with comfortable silicone.
One potential drawback to the Buddha is that some users feel the suction is too powerful, particularly in the letdown phase. Some complain it is actually painful. This experience isn't true for everyone, but it is something to consider if you already know you have sensitive breasts or nipples. Unfortunately, the Buddha is loud and makes a rhythmic buzzing sound you can hear over the phone and access the room. Also, the minimal user interface only measures time in minutes, not seconds, which may or may not be a problem as some of the competition doesn't measure the time at all. Despite these minor hiccups, for its weight, size, and power, the Buddha is definitely a contender for anyone who travels, works away from home, or needs to move about while pumping with a hands-free bra.
Read the Review: Baby Buddha
The Medela Harmony Manual pump is a simple, affordable, and compact pumping system that is a great companion piece to an electric pump for occasional use like date night or overnights away from your baby. Alternatively, if you just don't need an electric pump, the Harmony can be nice to have on hand if a situation like a plugged duct or engorgement without your baby nearby presents itself. When your baby is on solids and down to one to two nursing sessions a day, it is also useful for longer trips away. Compared to the other manual pumps on the market, the Medela has a unique "two-phase expression," very similar to many electric pumps in this review. This is a nice feature in a manual pump as it makes the pumping more comfortable without an instant sharp tug that can be very painful. The kit includes one 5 oz bottle with a stand and two 24mm PersonalFit flexible breast flanges.
Manual pumps that require frequent and repetitive hand motions can be taxing for many and impossible for some. While this pump allows for different hand positions, it is still something to consider depending on how you plan to use it. Also, it only pumps one breast at a time, so it will take longer to get the job done if you need to express both sides in one sitting. Overall, this pump is a great size for travel, is virtually silent, and can help busy moms in a pinch even if you won't want to use it daily.
Read the Review: Medela Harmony
The Haakaa is an inventive solution for passive breast milk collection while nursing a baby on the other side. It attaches to your breast for one long suction pull that doesn't require repetitive hand pumping. This system works particularly well for mothers with a strong letdown and issues with leaking. It is also a good addition for moms who can easily hand-express breast milk. It is soft silicone with an attached suction cup at the bottom and an included cap to help mitigate spillage. It is easy to clean, and moms love using it to collect extra milk instead of wasting it on a breast pad.
One potential issue with the Haakaa is that suction can release if you don't affix it properly or your little one kicks it while nursing. If you aren't ready for this, milk can spill. That said, most moms have great success with the suction staying on well. Also, some have trouble coordinating the Haakaa with a breastfeeding baby on the other side. Though it may take a bit of troubleshooting, many moms feel that this simple solution is well worth the extra effort once they get the hang of things, and we think this option is a budget-friendly solution for some moms who make a lot of milk.
Read the Review: Haakaa
The Freemie Next Generation Cups provide a reasonably discreet solution when used as an accessory tool to compatible breast pumps. Freemies are 8-ounce collection cups that fit inside your bra during pumping so that you can have your blouse fully buttoned. These cups are compatible with the Spectra 1 and Baby Buddha and other pumps via tubing (see manufacturer suggestions). If you use the Baby Buddha with the Freemie, you can hang the lightweight pump's lanyard around your neck like a necklace for mobility while having less weight on your breasts during pumping.
One downside of the Freemie is that you must pour milk from the Collection Cups into a bottle, or breastmilk bag, for storage after pumping. They are also several parts that can be challenging to assemble before you get the hang of it. However, we think these are a good option for busy moms who need to be on the move and want something more discrete than the collection bottles that come with the Baby Buddha.
Read the Review: Freemie Next Generation Cups
The Willow Gen 3 has opened a whole new world for nursing mothers, particularly those who work in healthcare. The Willow includes 2 wearable, wireless, tubeless, battery-operated pumps with collection receptacles (either a 4 oz. disposable bag or 4 oz. reusable container), all worn underneath a bra. The pump even self-stops once the bag is full, so you know when to change bags or end the session. Another great benefit is while using the disposable bag, the Willow is spill-proof, so you can bend over or even lie down flat and take a short nap while pumping, no problem. This is revolutionary! Willow's closed system has a rechargeable battery that lasts through 4 to 5 pumping sessions and links to a smartphone app giving up-to-date, accurate progress information like quantity collected and pump time. Overall, the Willow is light, efficient, and pretty quiet, with a quick setup of about 30 seconds for a seasoned user. Many users report matched output to the Spectra S1, and it has only 4 pump parts to clean.
The Willow is complicated to use and has a very steep learning curve when getting started. However, Willow's customer care and troubleshooting team are surprisingly responsive and helpful, and the smartphone app works well. We'd love it if the Willow were a little lighter and less bulky. However, you can throw a nursing infinity scarf/shawl on while pumping, and no one will notice just how buxom you've become. Once the Willow turns off, it maintains continuous suction, so it can become uncomfortable if you leave it on too long. Even though Willow includes two pumps, they only give you one charger. So, if you want to charge both pumps simultaneously, you will need to purchase an accessory charger. Since it takes about 2 hours to fully charge from empty, this is money well spent, but this, in addition to buying collection containers, makes the Willow the most expensive pump we've ever reviewed. Also, the Willow has a relatively short lifespan. Willow markets its pumps to function for 273 hours, which is 819 twenty-minute pumping sessions. If you use the Willow three times a day, it will last you 273 days. The Willow has some serious drawbacks that prevent it from being the ideal pump for every mom. However, we think it is an innovative solution for many busy working moms who can't spare the time to sit tethered to a pumping station 3 times a day for whatever reason. For this reason, we think some moms will find it to be a lifesaver and something they are glad they could invest in.
Read the Review: Willow Gen 3
The Medela Pump in Style has long been used as a staple, daily use pump. The new Max Flowz version of the Pump in Style has now risen to the competition level by providing a closed system pump, a massive improvement from a hygiene perspective. There is no longer condensation build-up in tubing and/or backflow of breast milk traveling to the motor. This unit is efficient and easy to use, with a minimal learning curve to worry about. The parts are easy to assemble and clean. The full kit contains the pump, a carry bag, pump parts, bottles, and an insulated cooler bag with an ice pack, so nothing is left to buy to get started.
The Medela is louder than the similar competition and might wake a sleeping baby or husband or alert co-workers to your activities. It lacks a user interface with details on suction level or time spent pumping, leaving more work for mom to keep track of in a sleep-deprived haze. It is also more expensive than the similar but higher-ranking electric pump competition in this review. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the Medela pump and many women swear by them, we have to give the nod to the Spectra 1 over the Medela for ease of use, price, acoustics, and attention to detail, even if you need to buy some accessories to go with it.
Read the Review: Medela Pump In Style with Max Flow
Why You Should Trust Us
Our BabyGearLab founder and mom-in-chief led our breast pump review, Dr. Juliet Spurrier. Dr. Spurrier is a mother of two, Board Certified Pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Her education and professional and personal experience drive BabyGearLab standards and the product selection for this important review. The pumping team includes Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz, a mother of two and BabyGearLab employee since 2014. Wendy breastfed both of her children and used more than one pump to increase milk supply and remain a working mother. Senior Review Editor Abriah Wofford rounds out the pumping team with testing and analysis that included her breastfeeding sister, who graciously provided insight and information on each pump that only a first-hand user could generate. Together, this team has over 9 years of experience using breast pumps and 20+ combined years of testing baby gear.
Since launching BabyGearLab, we've purchased and tested over 23 different breast pumps. For this 2021 update, we've included our favorite 7 options available today. We spent several months testing each pump for ease of use, comfort, efficiency, acoustics, portability, and more. We had real breastfeeding mothers using the selected pumps and providing feedback on their experience as well as research with other users. Our exhaustive and detailed testing can give you the information you need to make a well-informed buying decision on your next breastfeeding friend.
Types of Breast Pumps
There are so many brands and styles available that it can be tough to decide which option is right for you. Even with the help of experienced friends, it can be hard to decide as your needs may vary from theirs. Each pump has its own strengths, weaknesses, and costs to consider.
The two main categories of breast pumps are manual and electric. We'll discuss each type to help you decide which is the best fit for your needs. In some cases, you may find that one of each is the most useful path forward for your individual needs.
Manual breast pumps require the user to do the work. Manual pumps are hand-operated and pump one breast at a time via a flange and manual lever that creates suction via a simple squeeze and release operation to express milk. They are best suited for the sporadic pumper or occasional user. Once milk supply is well-established, this kind of pump can be a nice companion to an electric pump for travel or quick relief from engorgement or temporarily stopping leaking. They are less expensive than electric pumps, light and portable, and have minimal parts, so they fit easily into a purse or carry-on for an outing, overnight, or even travel. A good manual pump should express a decent amount of milk, comparable to an electric pump, with some elbow (er, hand) grease.
An electric breast pump has a motor that runs on electricity via an AC adapter, car adapter, rechargeable battery, or battery pack. They are available in single (pump one breast at a time) and double (pump both simultaneously) versions, as well as popular designs that allow mom mobility while pumping. Based on their power and consistent pumping rhythm, electric pumps are more effective and efficient than manual pumping, which aids in maintaining milk supply and saves time. If you pump more than 3x/week, a double electric pump is a very worthwhile investment. Working moms, moms with supply challenges, or those who exclusively feed baby expressed (pumped) breast milk would all benefit from a double electric pump of some kind. Double electric pumps are so much more efficient than the single versions and if you need to pump only one breast converting a double to a single is easy by closing off one of the suction ports into which the tubing attaches.
Analysis and Test Results
We have accumulated both our testing and experience in addition to a wide swath of user feedback to make our recommendations for this round-up. In this process, we have determined the key attributes in a breast pump's performance: efficiency (suction strength), comfort, ease of use, portability, hygiene, and acoustics.
Efficiency is the bottom line for a breast pump. How fast does it take to pump "x" ounces of milk? Although every mom is unique in their milk production, some pumps are stronger and more consistent resulting in more milk faster. That said, it is a common misconception that more suction power/strength results in more milk. Each person is unique in their anatomy and milk supply, so it is important to find what works best for you with suction strength and levels. Ultimately, a woman's breastmilk output directly correlates with the supply/demand loop cycle, although some are overproducers, some under producers, and everything in-between. So, while it is important not to get discouraged, know that there are tips and tricks for wherever you lie on the spectrum. The Spectra S1 followed by the Medela Pump in Style Max Flowz were the most efficient pumps in our tests, while the Medela Harmony is the top-performing manual pump. However, if you need a non-electric pump and lack the hand strength or dexterity required of the Harmony, the Haakaa released an impressive amount of milk in our tests for a passive letdown system.
When comparing pumps, comfort is a close second to efficiency. Let's face it, pumping isn't the most relaxing experience, and beginner pumping has a learning curve to it, just like breastfeeding. If you are pumping 6-8x/day, as many moms will do to help establish supply, a workhorse pump should be relatively comfortable to use, not just tolerable. And, they shouldn't cause pain, not during or afterward. Some pumps have more comfortable flanges (the cone-shaped part that covers the breast) with a wider size variety, which can make a big difference. Others have adjustable suction and pump settings, two-phase pumping for the initiation, and then let down. Most of the pumps in this review are rated as comfortable by testers, though some felt the Baby Buddha has a strong initial pull that wasn't as comfortable. The Willow Gen 3 can get uncomfortable once pumping is finished as it continues to suck until you remove it (ouch!). Most moms feel both the Haakaa and Medela Harmony are comfortable, with some remarking that the silicone on the Haakaa was particularly nice. Due to size and placement, the Willow is also the bulkiest of the bunch, but you can move in almost any position while wearing it, so the discomfort of bulk is a trade-off for mobility.
As mentioned above, flanges are the funnel-shaped pieces you position directly over the breast, centering on the nipple. The pump's suction pulls the nipple into the flange. Needless to say, nipples come in all shapes and lengths, as well as areolas and breasts, and flanges must fit properly; otherwise, they can cause pain. Most breast pumps have flanges available in different sizes, so you need to make sure you are fitted with the right size for success. You do not want the nipple to constantly be vigorously rubbing against the plastic as it may cause abrasions and lead to bleeding, pain, and even infection. If you have questions or concerns about fit, it is advisable to seek a lactation consultant's help.
Ease of Use
A breast pump is typically used multiple times a day and sometimes into the night hours; thus, one that is easy to use can considerably affect your overall experience with pumping. This is especially key if you pump exclusively, are a working mom, or you travel frequently and need to use it in various locations. We found that some pumps are complicated to set up, while others are quite intuitive. If given a wide selection of pumps to choose from, moms will naturally gravitate to the intuitive ones on a day-in-day-out basis. The Medela Pump In Style and the Spectra S1 have great "getting started" instructions and simple assembly. The two have intuitive buttons, and the Spectra even comes with a night light for dim pumping while your little one sleeps. Almost nothing is easier than the Haakaa with one squeeze and proper placement, you can relax while passive letdown does the work. Nothing to plug in and nothing to assemble with minimal parts to clean. Conversely, the Willow Gen 3 is the most convoluted option in the group with many parts, long instructions, and a steep learning curve.
Key considerations include:
- Number of Parts — The more parts, the more cumbersome and complicated the process becomes
- Ease of Disassembly, Cleaning, & Re-assembly — Setting up and taking down the operation every pumping session requires patience. If you are on a timed break at work, the last thing you need is a convoluted process.
- Power Source — Rechargeable batteries come in handy when on the go as you don't need to find an outlet for an AC adapter to pump. Some AC adapter pumps also have car adapters for pumping while driving, which many a working mother will admit to!
- Size & Weight — Mobility pumps like the Baby Buddha are very popular because they are easy to carry in a bag for busy days out and travel.
- Adjustable Suction and Pump Speed — This allows mom to fine-tune her pumping experience to the right settings for her breast.
- Included Accessories and Added Features — Items such as various flange sizes and features such as a bottle holder, nightlight, timer, and automatic dual-phase expression add value and convenience.
- Dual-Phase Expression — Dual-phase expression seeks to mirror what occurs during a breastfeeding session. Most pumps automatically switch from stimulation to expression phase, giving mom one less thing to do and helping her relax while pumping.
If you plan to work or often travel with your pump, portability should be high on your list. When considering portability, both the weight of the pump and accessory parts and size factor in the equation of lugging the whole kit to and from your workplace. Top performers are easy to tote around with all the components necessary for a complete pumping session. The best pumps for portability are the Baby Buddha, which you can also wear while pumping to increase mobility. The Spectra 1 is relatively lightweight and has a handy carry handle. The Spectra 1 is better suited for frequent pumper as it efficiently works on both breasts in a short period of time and has a rechargeable battery that can last through the workday. For working moms on the move who can't sit still to pump, the Buddha or the Freemie collection cups combined with the Buddha are a good option for discreet mobile pumping. The Willow Gen 3 is also a wearable and a good choice for moms who need to be on their feet and situations where structured break times are a struggle, like a busy ER. While not the solution for every mom, it can be a useful option if you need to pump without being tethered to a specific place and time.
There is a new trend towards mobility during pumping. Mobile pumps usually are hands-free with rechargeable batteries like many electric pumps these days, but the big difference is that they are small enough for mom to wear on her person while pumping. The Freemie, Buddha, and Willow are all types of wearable pumps or collection systems that allow mobile freedom. The Willow is somewhat unique in that it pairs with a smartphone app, and there are no wires or tubing to mess with. The collection containers and the pump are all part of the same breast-shaped device that fits inside your bra and attaches to your breast.
Hygiene is essential as it determines how clean the milk you pump will be for your baby. We strongly recommend a closed system. Our opinion is that open system electric pumps have too much potential for milk build-up and/or condensation in the tubing, which is patently connected directly to the pump. This invites the opportunity for microbial growth inside. With closed system pumps designed to prevent backflow from entering the tubing, this is a non-issue. Every electric pump in our selection is a closed system in our newest update, and we are grateful that the new Medela fits in this group.
Cleaning pump parts in warm, soapy water with thorough drying takes sufficient effort and time. So, the easier, the better! If you are pumping several times a day while at work, washing pump parts after every session is definitely time-consuming and potentially embarrassing if you use the communal kitchen sink. The Willow Gen 3 is probably one of the easiest as the milk goes directly into the collection container or bag. While you will need to clean the parts at the end of the day, storing the units in a clean Ziplock bag can suffice between pumps on the same day, assuming the milk collection is a smooth one.
It turns out that some electric pumps have very loud motors, namely the Medela Pump in Style MaxFLowz and the Baby Buddha. In some cases, extra noise may not be such a bad thing as workmates may be less likely to interrupt a pumping session due to its tell-tale sound all the way down the hall. However, when pumping in bed with your partner next to you, the noisiness may very well be a problem. We're sure that you will agree that the quieter, the better when it comes to breast pumps. Stress has been shown to delay a lactating mother's "let-down reflex." And, sometimes, that loud pumping sound can really hinder the relaxation so helpful to milk production.
Naturally, due to the lack of a motor, the manual pumps are the quietest, with the Medela Harmony and the Haakaa earning top ranks in this metric. However, we were surprised to find the Spectra S1 is equally quiet with only a soft sh sh sound! For an electric pump, the Spectra S1 practically whispers.
Increasingly, breast pump manufacturers are using the term "hospital-grade" to imply strong suction. Some may interpret this term to mean a pump with multi-user capabilities similar to what you might use in the hospital. Although the FDA regulates breast pumps as they are considered medical devices, the term "hospital grade" is neither recognized nor monitored by the FDA. As such, it does not have a consistent definition and does not connotate safety or hygiene.Thus, in the world of breast pumps, the term "hospital grade" is widely used by manufacturers to influence purchase decisions, so don't let it fool you. Instead, the FDA advises to pay closer attention to the terms multiple-user and single-user. Understanding the differences between each and when to buy a single-user versus when to rent or invest in a multi-user can make a big difference initially and sometimes even in the long haul for some moms.
Do Not Buy or Borrow a Used Single-User Breast Pump
We understand that single-user electric pumps can feel like an exorbitant expense. It might be tempting to borrow one from a friend or buy one used. However, we feel strongly that it is not worth the risk of using a hand-me-down pump due to health and hygiene concerns, as well as motor lifespan.
- Hygiene — Because humans can harbor infectious diseases without knowing it, sharing personal care products, including single-user breast pumps (manual pumps included), is not recommended. Breast milk is a biological substance that can harbor HIV and CMV that can be transmitted unknowingly. Also, if a mother with cracked, bleeding nipples pumps, blood comes into contact with external pump parts. Despite good washing, bacteria and viruses can still be transmitted. Thus, it is also important to always use personal milk collection kits. Single-User Pumps are not meant to be passed along. While closed systems may have less risk than open systems when new collection parts are used, it still isn't worth the risk and hassle of using a used pump.
- Motor Lifespan — Most single-user electric breast pumps are designed for about one year of use with one child. The warranties among manufacturers and models may differ, and manufacturers typically void a single-use breast pump's warranty if used by more than one person. In a nutshell, if you are pumping three times a day for a year, the motor will eventually lose its strength, which means hand-me-downs won't have as much strength as they did when new. We firmly discourage moms from relying on a used breast pump for health and hygiene concerns and because it is likely to have lost significant suction power.
Choosing a breast pump is a personal decision complicated by considerations of the budget and what will work best for your body. We hope that our curated pump selections and test result information can help narrow down your options so you can find the one that is right for you. Most importantly, we wish every parent a stress-free and nurturing feeding experience with their baby.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD and Wendy Schmitz