For the working parent, exclusively pumping parent, or the parent who just needs a break, the right breast pump is an invaluable tool for the breastfeeding journey.
As you start shopping around for the best option for you and your nursling, the first big decision to consider is whether a manual pump or an electric pump is right for you. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between a manual vs electric breastpump.
Manual vs Electric Breastpump
The difference between these two pump options are simple: 1) an electric pump is operated electrically while 2) a manual pump is operated by hand. However, there are other differences to consider outside of what (or who) powers the pump.
Manual pumps tend to be more compact, with just one body and no motor to lug around. Because they don’t need electricity to run, they can quite literally be used anywhere. However, they usually come with only pump, so it can be difficult to pump both breasts at once. Electric pumps are often larger, including a motor and two pump bodies allowing for expressing milk from both sides at once. Cost is also a big difference to consider, manual pumps are much more affordable, costing anywhere between $20 and $40 dollars. Comparatively, electric pumps typically cost between $150 and $500.
Manual Breast Pump Benefits and Types
A manual breast pump helps nursing parents express and collect breastmilk without requiring power provided by a battery pack or connection to a wall outlet. The benefit of this type of pump is most certainly ease of use since you can easily express milk wherever it is convenient for you. These compact pumps are highly portable, fitting in most purses or backpacks, and are easy to clean. On the flip side, they’re not the most efficient pumps out there, either requiring the parent to manually initiate pumping or passively collecting milk. This makes them great for the parent who pumps occasionally or as a supplement to electric pumps or for a parent that has great letdown on their own without a lot of suction needed.
There are two types of manual breast pumps you might encounter:
Active Manual Breast Pumps
Essentially, these are pumps that you manually pump with a handle to initiate suction power. Your typical manual breast pump has a breast shield that connects to the small body of the pump. The body of the pump is where you’ll find a diaphragm that creates the suction power that pulls milk from the breast, through the flange, and into the collection container via a valve. The parent initiates the suction manually using a handle, allowing them to control both the strength and speed of the suction. The Tommee Tippe pump is an example of an active manual breast pump:
Passive Breast Pumps
Newer on the market are passive breast pumps, which use natural suction to create a seal that can initiate a gentle letdown and catch milk flow. These can be used on their own, or more commonly, in conjuction with another pump or while a baby is actively nursing.
Both the Elvie Catch and Haakaa Breast Pump work as passive breast bumps, catching every last bit of milk that might be lost throughout the day. The Haakaa Breast Pump is a one-piece pump with a flange that can be suctioned to the breast and a collection container. Once it is placed on the breast, it collects any milk that would be lost during letdown while you nurse your baby on the other side. The Elvie Catch can be placed directly into your bra on one side while nursing or on both sides throughout the day to passively collect milk.
Electric Breast Pump Benefits and Types
Electric breast pumps are great for moms who will be away from their baby consistently for work or school or those who exclusively pump to feed their baby breastmilk from a bottle. These pumps are the most efficient at expressing milk and don’t require manual effort to get the job done. Most electric breast pumps are double pumps, allowing you to empty both breasts at the same time. With these pumps, it is also possible to control the strength and speed of the suction. Many have a function that is meant to trigger letdown with rapid suction mimicking a baby’s suckling when they first latch onto the breast.
Here are some of the types of electric breast pumps you’ll encounter:
Double Electric Breast Pumps
Most double electric breast pumps have a separate motor that plugs into the wall. Double pumps have two bodies, with flanges that suction to the breast, a diaphragm that pulls milk from the breast, and a valve that moves collected milk into the attached containers. Tubing connects the body to the motor, which does the work of initiating suction. Many of the pumps covered by health insurance are electric, double pumps.
Hospital Grade Strength Pumps
Some electric pumps are built with hospital grade strength and suction. These may not be fully covered by insurance and can cost more than a regular electric pump. They are high-quality pumps with strong suction, often the most efficient at expressing milk.
If you are spending time in the hospital, this option may be available for use during your stay. Many hospitals and birthing centers offer the option of renting a hospital-grade pump.
Lastly, there are electric, wireless pumps like the Elvie and Willow pumps. These pumps can be placed directly into your bra, allowing you to pump hands-off and untethered to an outlet. These amazing models have the motor, container, and breast shield as an all-in-one and are charged between uses through a USB port.
Being able to multi-task while pumping is invaluable for many busy moms, whether they’re at home getting dinner in the oven or in the office catching up on emails. These pumps are also well-loved because they’re discreet, they can be placed in your bra, and then do their thing while you’re fully covered with your normal clothing. One downside of this option is the expense, both the Elvie and Willow cost $500. Some insurance plans don’t cover these models at all while others may reimburse you for a portion or all of the cost.
How to Choose: Manual vs Electric Breastpump
Choosing the right breast pump option can be intimidating for some. As you start looking into the best pumping option for you and your babe, consider the frequency of use, where you will be pumping, and insurance coverage. Here are some other factors to consider:
How often you’ll need to pump
Parents who will pump exclusively or several times a day while they’re away from their baby will need an electric pump. An Elvie or Willow pump could allow you to discreetly work and pump at the same time, but a hands-free pumping bra can turn other electric pumps into a hands-free option. Parents who need an easy way to pump on-the-go for the occasional night out might prefer a manual pump since they are low cost, easy to transport, and easy to clean.
Your own body
You’ll also want to consider how your own body and milk production works. For some people, a manual pump is just fine because they express milk with no problem. For others, myself included, a manual pump just wasn’t enough power. And not fully emptying your breasts can leave you at risk for complications such as clogged ducts and mastitis, so you’ll really want to be careful when choosing electric vs. manual.
Where you’ll be pumping
Where you will be pumping (such as in an office setting, in a private area, at home, in the car, etc.) might influence your decision concerning which pump to buy. Electric pumps with tubing attaching the motor to separate, pump bodies aren’t nearly as discreet as in-bra options like the Elvie or Willow, which can be fully covered by your shirt. These pumps also allow you to move around, while a pump with a separate motor will tether you to one spot. Also, keep in mind that it’s important to know your nursing rights at work: all employers are required by law to provide a space for you to nurse or pump that is not a bathroom.
Your insurance coverage
Most insurance providers are covering pumps for new moms, but not all pumps are covered, or may be covered in full. Check into your plan options before making your purchase to narrow down your options. My insurance actually directed me to a portal so I could order my pump online using my insurance information. This meant I didn’t have to cover the cost upfront and I didn’t have to submit a receipt for reimbursement.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does a manual breast pump work better?
Some parents might find a manual breast pump does a better job triggering letdown because they can control the speed and intensity of the suction. However, electric pumps can be more efficient since they can express pumps from both breasts at the same time.
Can Haakaa be used as a manual breast pump?
The Haakaa can be used as a manual breast pump, but the milk collection is achieved passively. It suctions to the breast to catch milk on one side while you nurse or pump on the other.
Do I really need an electric breast pump?
It depends on how much you will rely on expressed breastmilk to feed your baby. If you pump exclusively or work away from your baby, an electric pump is an efficient way to express milk throughout the day or night.
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