Electric vs. manual breast pumps: which one is best?

Breast pumping moms everywhere are united with one common question: Electric or manual? Outside the world of breast pumping, most people may feel confused over the question. Electric what? Manual what? No, we are not referring to the Electric Slide or the choice of a manual or automatic transmission—this question refers to finding the ideal breast pump.

Both the electric and manual breast pumps have their benefits and drawbacks. Expense, efficiency and equipment are among the factors to consider when deciding on the type of pump to purchase. Below we’ll jump into the basics about electric and manual pumps. 

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The case for electric pumps

Electric pumps are your set-and-go style, requiring less effort than a manual pump. You can adapt the speed and suction, as well as choose from a single or double-pump style. Electric pumps are known for their efficiency and ease of use. The drawbacks of electric pumps can include the need for more equipment, a less-than-quiet process and the possible need to stay attached to an outlet. However, some do offer rechargeable batteries. For a “hands-free” version of the electric pump, try a wearable style. 

Are manual pumps better?

Unlike the electric pump, which as the name implies, uses electricity to power the stimulation needed for expressing milk, manual pumps use only your hands for the pumping action. More effort is needed to power a manual pump, but they also offer a quiet, low-maintenance and affordable pumping option. You can purchase a manual pump for around $25, but many electric pumps cost over $100—some well over this amount.

How to use a breast pump

Regardless of the pump you choose, hygiene is the first step in the use of either an electric or manual pump. Always make sure the pump and your hands are thoroughly cleansed before use. The next step is finding a space for pumping that ideally supports a sense of relaxation. A tense mama is not the best promoter of milk production! 

When using an electric pump (and after you found your sense of calm), set up the pump, connecting the breast shield (or shields for a double pump), milk bottles and any other parts of the equipment. Next, position the breast shields on the breasts and continue holding the shields on the center of the nipples. If you experience discomfort—pumping should not be painful!—try readjusting the position of the shields or the level of suction. Now you’re ready to pump—start up that pumping machine!

Electric pumps will either automatically adjust the speed or allow you to change the speed for comfort and efficiency. Pay attention to your body signaling that the milk flow has lessened or even stopped. Shut down the pump, remove the shields, unscrew the bottle and cap them. Wash the components of the pump that came into contact with you or the milk. Follow the instructions provided, but typically warm, soapy water is recommended for cleaning the pump after each use.

Manual pumping begins by preparing the breast with gentle massage and expressing by hand. Center the nipple in the flange part of the pump to a flat position. Start handing pumping—think about modeling after the pattern your baby uses when feeding. Repeat this process one breast at a time, alternating breasts. Finish by again expressing the breast by hand, without the pump.

After pumping is complete, remember to refrigerate or freeze the milk! How the pumps stimulate milk production and the cost of the pump are two main differences between electric and manual pumps. If you plan to pump a lot, a double electric pump may be your breast friend. But if you only want to supplement breastfeeding with the occasional breast pumping, a manual pump may be your breast bet. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist). Either way, let the pumping begin!

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