Which Breast Pump Is Best?

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World Breastfeeding Week just wrapped up and we have spent a lot of time talking about breast pumps!

Which breast pump is best? Which pumps are covered by insurance? What are the differences between breast pump types and brands? We've been answering All.The.Questions. So we figured we'd jot down our top tips and advice here in one handy-dandy place.

Breast Pump Types

Manual

There are a few different options when it comes to breast pumps. The most basic are manual pumps like the Medela Harmony. It's a convenient option because no power source is required, and the pump is small enough to throw in a bag and take on the go. Not a super great choice if you will need to be doing a lot of pumping. And many people find they can get more milk from hand expression than a manual pump.

There's another style of manual pump that we LOVE. The HaaKaa pump is made of silicone and is applied to the breast creating a vacuum seal. You can place it over one breast while you nurse on the other, collecting milk that would have otherwise been wasted. It's a great option for gathering a few extra ounces of milk here and there to have on hand for the occasional bottle feed. 

Single Electric

Single electric pumps are electric pumps that express milk from one breast at a time. There is not an option to pump both breasts simultaneously. While these pumps can get the job done, most IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants - think PhD in breastfeeding) recommend a double electric. Single electric pumps are less expensive than double electrics, and prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, most pumps were purchased out-of-pocket rather than through insurance. So this was a way to save a few bucks while still upgrading from a manual pump. These days, though, (as long as we keep breastfeeding coverage in the Affordable Care Act) it's better to skip the single and go right to the double electric pump.

Double Electric

Double electric breast pumps allow the pumper to express milk from both breasts simultaneously. This is better for milk production, and let's face it... a lot more efficient! Adding a hands-free pumping bra like this one (our personal favorite) can make double pumping even easier. You'll have your hands free do to all the other things you have on your plate... or you even further enhance your pumping output by using the "hands-free, hands-on" technique advocated by our favorite IBCLC, Nancy Holtzman. Nancy (and many IBCLCs) encourage gentle breast compression while pumping to improve output. (Sidenote: many double electric pumps also have an option to pump one side at a time.)

Ok, great. But which pump should I get??

We have to start off and say that "what pump should I get" is a bit of a trick question. Well, not a trick really... but the right pump for you depends somewhat on what you need one for.

If you are planning to exclusively breastfeed your baby (no bottle feeding, just straight from the tap as much as possible) then you may not need the "gold standard" double electric pump. A manual pump like the Medela Harmony or a HaaKaa may be just fine. Especially if you learn the art of hand expression.

That said, most breastfeeding people do find that they need or want to express some milk so baby can also be fed breast milk by bottle. And if you are like many parents with plans to return to work outside the home, a breast pump will be an essential part of your breastfeeding relationship. So for most people - especially people planning to have bottle feeding in their baby's life - a double electric is really the way to go.

So now what? Where do I go to get a breast pump?

We always recommend people start by looking at their insurance plan to see which pumps are covered. Your insurance should have coverage for breastfeeding support and supplies, a call to your provider will confirm this. Often there's a webpage where you can see which pumps are included and how to order them. You won't be putting a breast pump on your registry to purchase at a retail store, you'll need to order your pump through an in-network Durable Medical Equipment provider (your insurance provider will have a list and that DME provider will have a list of pumps you can order). 

Brands that are often covered by many plans include Ameda, Lansinoh, Medela, and Spectra. (There are lots more, and these aren't necessarily going to be the ones available through your plan. Each plan is different so make sure to call the number on the back of your insurance card to ask!)

The Ameda, Lansinoh, and many other pumps are fine. They'll most likely work for you, but we don't super love them and don't recommend them when you also have either Medela or Spectra to choose from. 

Our Favorite Breast Pumps. (And Why!)

Medela is one of the most recognized brands. They are carried in most retail shops that parents spend a lot of time in (ahen, Target). There are a few different pumps available, but the one most frequently covered by insurance is the Pump In Style. This is a "no frills", basic, double electric pump. It's a good pump, but not our favorite. (Within the Medela brand, Freestyle is another good option. It's smaller and more portable than the Pump In Style. It's battery is rechargeable so it does not need to be plugged in.)

Medela Pump In Style PROS: Small, lightweight, can use a battery pack adaptor when an electrical outlet isn't available, pump parts are readily available at most retail stores that sell baby items.
Medela Pump In Style CONS: Not super comfortable, limited ability to adjust cycle speed and vacuum, open system (shouldn't be shared), motor not as strong when running on battery power.

Spectra is quickly becoming a go-to brand for many pumping families. We absolutely LOVE the S2 and S1 pumps, and we have seen the S2 included in lots of different insurance plans. The S2 is a hospital grade, closed-system pump. It's comparable to the Medela Symphony in that respect. But we've personally used Spectra and every type of Medela pump and there's no comparison in terms of comfort, the Spectra wins hands down. If you have any of the Spectra pumps on your insurance list, that's what we recommend.

Spectra PROS: Very comfortable, lightweight pump, extremely quiet, customizable cycle speed and vacuum with built-in memory, powerful motor, closed system, great customer service.
Spectra CONS: Replacement parts aren't as easily accessible at local retail stores (available for online ordering). The S2 needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet. (The S1 has a rechargable battery and the 9Plus is also rechargable and portable). S1 and S2 are less conveneint to travel with because of size (travel bags are available).

When to Get Your Pump

You can start working on getting your pump towards the end of your pregnancy. Some insurance plans won't approve your pump until your baby has been born, but many allow you to place your order prior to your baby's birth so you have it on hand right away.

If you can't get your pump ahead of time, don't sweat it! Your hospital will have a pump you can use if that's necessary, and there are local options here in Asheville for breast pump rental

Looking for more breast pump reviews? You can find a good one here.

Need more information on breastfeeding benefits and insurance coverage? Check out this awesome guide and toolkit from the National Women's Law Center.

And as always, feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about pumping or choosing the right breast pump for yourself.

Check out our other blogs for our favorite breastfeeding essentials and pumping at work tips!

Christine Robinson

Doulas of Asheville, LLC, 777 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC, 28803

Doulas of Asheville is western North Carolina's premier doula agency, providing birth doulas, postpartum doulas, and placenta specialists to Asheville families. We are proud to support any and all birthing choices, parenting styles. Our postpartum doulas are available to support families with new babies around the clock, from a few daytime shifts, to overnight newborn care, to 24-hour live-in support.