Editors' Choice Winner
Spectra Baby USA S1 Hospital Grade
The Spectra S1 earned the highest overall score in our review. While still relatively new to the United States, it has gained popularity stateside. It comes with a hefty price tag, (upwards of $200.00 for the breast pump alone and more if you want accessories such as a cooler and a tote bag), however, after putting it through our tests, we found many reasons to love this superb product.
This pump beats out its competition by pumping a more significant amount of breast milk in a shorter amount of time, making it much more efficient and effective. The pump has a timer which allows you to keep track of how long you're pumping and then saves the previous settings for the next round. This pump also has the benefit of a "closed hygienic system". The S1 did not build condensation in the tubing, thanks to the "backflow hygienic protectors" that you simply connect to the tubing before connecting your breast flanges and collection bottles. This is a feat that the Medela Pump In Style Advanced was not able to achieve. We were also pleasantly surprised to find this pump to be more comfortable than most when used repeatedly. As an added bonus, the included nightlight made it super convenient for night pumping. Spectra has released a new portable electric breast pump. Read more about the Spectra 9 Plus Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump in the full review.
Read review: Spectra Baby USA S1
Best Value Winner
Medela Pump In Style Advanced
For the best bang for your buck, the Medela Pump in Style Advanced
with the on-the-go tote is a workhorse and won our Best Value award. Although there are cheaper pumps available, this one delivers so much at what we feel is a reasonable price. Retailing for about $250.00, it includes the pump system, tote bag, bottles, and an insulated cooler bag. It ranked just under the much more expensive Editors' Choice Award winner, the Spectra S1. It was easy peasy to put together and worked very efficiently for us. As stated earlier, our one big gripe with this pump was the build-up of condensation in the tubing. However, this problem can be resolved by replacing them on occasion.
Read review: Medela Pump in Style Advanced
Top Pick for the Traveling Mom
Medela Harmony Manual
The Medela Harmony Manual
is a versatile yet simple and compact pumping system. This pump scored highly in the sections of efficiency, comfort, ease-of-use, portability, and acoustics. As compared to the other manual pumps, this pump has a unique "two-phase expression", very similar to many of the electric pumps we tested. This is a nice feature to find in a manual pump as it makes the pumping more comfortable without an instant sharp tug that can be very painful.
All set up ready to use.
This pump would be great for two different essential mommy purposes. First, as a "mom's night out" pump for a mom who needs to get away for a few hours on occasion. Retailing from $30-$40, this pump is very affordable and should meet most "occasional" pumping needs. Secondly, this pump is the perfect, compact traveling companion for any nursing mom. It can comfortably fit in most purses, diaper bags, or carry on luggage for a no-fuss travel experience. It can easily be used on the plane as well if your breasts become engorged due to flying and/or your baby is too fussy to breastfeed.
Read review: Medela Harmony Manual
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Analysis and Test Results
As ubiquitous as breast pumps are these days, interestingly it was only a little over 2 decades ago in 1991 when the Swiss company Medela introduced the first electric-powered, vacuum-operated pump for use outside of the hospital. In fact, the first pumps were patented in the mid-19th century to address issues with inverted nipples and small, weak newborns that were having too much difficulty with nursing. They've come a long way since then and have been an essential tool in providing nourishment to millions of babies ever since.
When purchasing a new breast pump, there is a range of options available. You have single manual pumps and double electric pumps and everything in between, which creates a huge range in price. We love the Editors' Choice winner, the Spectra S1, but it comes in as the most expensive. A less expensive option is the Medela Harmony Manual, which is a great choice for less than $45.
Selecting the Right Breast Pump
Moms choose to pump for their children for a variety of reasons. For most moms, pumping is a way to ensure that their child reaps the benefits of their breast milk even when she can't be with them. Some moms are unable to physically breastfeed which leads them to become an "exclusive pumper". Others desire to create a supply of stored-up breast milk, thus allowing them to return to work while continuing to provide their child's meal. Still, other mothers are pumping for some much-needed mommy time, or maybe for that elusive date night one so rarely sees in their child's first year of life, or possibly, just in case of emergency. For whatever purpose you may be pumping, we have tested the best pumps on the market and determined why they may or may not be a good fit for you. Don't forget to check out the articles titled How to Choose the Best Breast Pump and How We Test for more detailed information to aid in your pre-pump purchase research. In addition, don't miss our article Best Practices for Handling Breast Milk as it indeed is liquid gold for your baby.
By using a breast pump, your baby can still reap the benefits of your breast milk, even when you are away.
Types of Breast Pumps
When choosing a breast pump there are two major options: electric or manual. Each has their positive and negative attributes and we found we liked aspects of both for different purposes. We break this down even further in our article How to Choose the Best Breast Pump.
An electric breast pump, as the name states, is a pump that runs on electricity, normally via a wall outlet, but many also have the option to run on batteries, which is nice. All the electric pumps we tested were double breast pumps which means you can pump both breasts at the same time. We found them to be far more efficient than the manual pumps we tried, based on their power and consistent pumping rhythm combined with the ability to pump both breasts at the same time.
All the electric breast pumps included in our testing.
Manual breast pumps are those that require the user to do the work. They have a lever which attaches to the breast flange (the part that covers your breast) that generally uses a simple squeeze and release type of operation to express milk. We found manual pumps to be beneficial due to their ease of portability and lack of excessive parts. They can be a bit labor intensive, still, we found that they were very handy, especially for in certain situations, like during travel.
Three of the most common manual breast pumps on the market from left to right: AVENT, Medela Harmony and Lansinoh.
Criteria for Evaluation
Milk rendered from one pumping session with the Spectra S1. Typically takes between five to ten minutes to render five to six ounces of milk total from both breasts. It was one of the most efficient pumps we tested!
Efficiency is the bottom line for a lot of moms when it comes to breast pumps. With the draw of a new baby finally in your arms, no one wants to be spending their time hooked up to a less-than-inviting milk machine. Like us, your first questions will most likely be: how much milk can this thing actually render, and, can I please be done already?! As far as milk quantity vs. time, we found this to be a quite subjective, as each mom will naturally produce and express their own unique amount of milk. Across the board, we found the most of the pumps consistently rendered the same amount of milk. The main difference was in the amount of time
it took to pump that "x" amount of milk.
Two of the electric pumps that stood out above the rest when it came to efficiency were the Spectra S1 and the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. While these pumps often rendered the same amount of milk as comparable units, they were able to do it more quickly.
Most moms are in for a little bit of suffering when they first begin to breastfeed. It can be very uncomfortable to start, but for most, it slowly becomes more comfortable. This can also be the case with breast pumps. Thus, comfort is very important to consider when purchasing a breast pump. We have found that some pumps were more comfortable depending on their breast flanges (the cone-shaped part that covers the breast), while for others, it depended on the way their suction and pumping settings work.
Breast flange ready to attach to a bottle. The flange can often make or break a pump when it comes to comfort, so it is essential that it fits correctly.
Our top two rated pumps in comfort were the Spectra S1 and the Medela Harmony Manual pump. These two pumps could be used four to five times a day with minimal discomfort.
Ease of use
Your breast pump has the potential to be used multiple times a day and even throughout the night hours. Because of this, an important thing to look at is exactly how involved setting up and using the pump is. We found that some pumps were very difficult to set up, while others were quite intuitive. This is especially key if you are an exclusive pumper, a working mom and/or travel often with your pump and need to use it in different areas.
A few other questions to take into consideration might be:
- How many parts are there?
- How quickly can it be used, taken apart, cleaned, dried and then re-assembled?
- Does the unit require a wall outlet or can it run on batteries?
- Does it come with an insulated cooler to store pumped milk in?
Our two highest scoring pumps in this category were the Medela Pump In Style Advanced and the Spectra S1, both of which started out with great instructions and simple assembly. They were also easy to use, especially when it came to adjusting pump speed and suction, which we really appreciated.
If you are planning to travel with your pump often, portability will be high on your list. Women travel with a pump for a multitude of reasons, most commonly for work or on a vacation. When considering portability, it is important to look at ease of use as well as what storage the pump offers, such as a bag for the pump and an insulated cooler for your expressed milk.
The Medela Pump In Style Advanced was ultra portable mainly due to its built-in motor, but it also had ample space for accessories, a cooler bag and more.
Our two highest rated pumps for portability were the Medela Pump In Style Advanced and the Medela Harmony Manual. We feel the Pump In Style would be more suited to the working mom or frequent pumper, while the Harmony would be more suited for a vacation or occasional pumping needs.
Hygienic back-flow protectors that aid in preventing mold and mildew from building up in the tubes.
Most new moms are very concerned with hygiene, especially as it relates to their baby. This is important to consider when purchasing your pump as they come with many moving parts that need to be cleaned following use in order to ensure there is nothing (i.e. mold or mildew) that could potentially contaminate your baby's milk.
Our two highest ranked pumps for hygiene were the Spectra S1 and the Spectra DEW 350. These pumps scored so well mainly because of their "closed-hygienic system" design which prevents condensation from building up in the tubing. While some other pumps also offered a "closed system" they were not as well designed or as easy to use, take apart and clean as the Spectra products. Our lowest rated product in hygiene was the Medela Pump In Style Advanced due to the trouble we had with condensation in the tubing.
Many new moms will be surprised by how loud some of these pumps are. We came to appreciate the quieter pumps, especially if pumping in an office, or in the middle of the night when others are sleeping. Stress has been shown to delay your "let-down reflex"(when your milk begins to flow) and sometimes that loud pumping sound can hinder relaxation.
Our top-rated pumps for acoustics were the Spectra S1 and the Medela Harmony Manual. For an electric pump, the Spectra S1 practically whispers. The Medela is a manual pump which is naturally very quiet but was the quietest out of all three manual pumps tested. The lowest rated pump in this category was the Medela In Style Advanced. It works so well but not without a lot of sound from the motor.
Pumps, pumping parts, and accessories galore. There are a lot of bits an pieces to pumping.
Choosing a breast pump is a personal decision and one that is complicated by considerations of budget, as well as what will work best for your body. That said, we hope that our extensive testing and rating information helps you to narrow down to a few pumps, and pick the one that is right for you.