Manual or electric? Which pump is best for you?
From the moment that little indicator on your pregnancy test says ‘baby on board’, your life will never be the same. After the initial excitement, you may find that your head is swimming with the endless possibilities – as well as the seemingly endless preparations! And in between hypnobirthing classes to finding the ideal car seat, you may have been umming and erring on which kind of breast pump is best for you. Now, as fun as it is to surf the interwebs and read through endless mommy forums, sometimes it can just become pretty damn overwhelming. That’s where we come in.
Read below as we delve into the world of doubles, singles, and silicone – and hopefully, help you find the best choice for your feeding journey.
Why is a breast pump a must-have?
Pumping milk once had a certain stigma of making us human mamas feel more ‘cow’ than carefree. Now, you can blame that on decades of poor pumping evolution and development (if it’s not to do with erectile dysfunction, it gets ignored – amirite?). The good news is that we’ve moved on from archaic milk machines to technology that makes the whole process less, well, sucky.
Even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed, having a breast pump in your ‘motherhood arsenal’ can be handy. Why? Well, for one thing, it can increase milk supply – especially in those early days. Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis, so pumping for just a couple of minutes after nursing, or adding the occasional pumping session after your baby has finished can ‘up’ your supply.
There’s also the convenience of pumping and storing milk so other caregivers can feed the baby during those less-than-ideal times. After all, you don’t have to be part of the 2AM club every night mama, right? And if you ever want to paint the town red (or beige, if we’re being real) or spend an afternoon away from baby, a breast pump gives you the freedom to do so.
Of course, if you’re planning on breastfeeding after returning to work, you’ll want to keep a breast pump nearby to keep your supply up, have a milk stash in your home freezer, and relieve engorgement when you’re back doing those nine-to-fives.
It’s electric (boogie woogie, woogie)
As the moniker suggests, electric breast pumps do the hard work for you and allow you to express milk quickly. Unlike a manual pump, once the cup is in place on your breast, it lets you express at a pace that you preset – saving you from aching hands or hard-to-maintain rhythms.
Electric breast pumps usually offer more options than manual breast pumps. For example, double or single-pump capacity, adjustable suction levels, and settings to mimic your baby’s pattern, breast milk history, pump tracking, and lots more.
Most electric breast pumps are mains-operated, but battery-powered pumps (like Elvie Pump), are ideal for expressing milk without keeping you tethered to a socket for hours.
The downside to conventional electric pumps is that they can be bulkier to transport – although there are lightweight options (*cough*) on the market. Some electric pumps that claim to be quiet actually fall short of the mark and make lots of noise, which can provide difficult to express discreetly or quietly – or when the baby is sleeping nearby.
The pros and cons of electric breast pumps
Less effort than manual pumps
Faster than other methods of expressing milk
Offer multiple settings, adding to your comfort
Provides more choice and versatility than manual pumps
Travel-friendly pumps offer hands-free flexibility
Cost more than manual breast pumps
Noisier to use than manual breast pumps
More parts can make it fiddly to clean and sterilize
Mains-operated breast pumps are dependent on a plug socket, which could be difficult if you're out and about
Some options are less portable or lightweight
Hands-on type? We get you
The simplicity and convenience of a manual breast pump can be an ideal choice if you want to express milk for one feed a day or go for an occasional break. Wearable silicone options like Elvie Curve can even be used while you’re feeding or pumping on the other breast, or whenever your breasts feel full.
With a manual pump, you’re able to control the rate of suction yourself – making the expression session feel natural and more like your baby’s sucking. That being said, with some manual pumps, regular squeezing is required to create a rhythmic vacuum that stimulates milk flow. This can take up both of your hands until you get used to it, which can wear you out or make your hands ache. And unless the pump is explicitly ‘hands-free’ and can be worn in-bra, expressing milk on-the-go can be tricky – despite the portable size and weight of manual options.
But, if you choose to go manual, it can be an excellent low-cost option for occasional milk expression or something that can fit in your handbag, gym bag – any bag, really! If, however, you want to feed your baby solely with expressed milk, it’s worth your while to invest in a powerful, electric option.
The pros and cons of manual breast pumps
Less expensive than electric breast pumps and cost nothing to run after you've bought one (other than your precious time, mama!)
Very few parts make them easy to clean and sterilize
Compact, lightweight, and easy to carry around
Naturally quieter than conventional electric breast pumps
Controlling the pump yourself can make it difficult to get into a regular pumping rhythm
Manual pumps are generally slower and less powerful than electric ones
Repetitive pumping can be tiring for your hands
Less discreet unless explicitly designed to be
Hello, is it me you’re looking for?
There you have it, a whistlestop tour of the breast pumps you probably came across while scrolling in the middle of the night. Now, while some mothers find that they’re successful with only one type of pump, others do not. So, if you start on one model that doesn’t work for you, don’t assume that you can’t express – it probably means you need to shop around to see what ‘fits.’ Like, the Goldilocks of breast pumps.
Whatever you choose, it’s your discretion, mama. Just be sure it’s got your back (and your boobs).