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Many of us do not have the luxury of staying home with our newborn baby for a prolonged period of time. Unlike many other developed countries, there is no legally required paid maternity leave in the US. Returning to work can be stressful for many new moms. You don’t know if your baby will be taken good care of when you are away from home, you feel guilty that the baby won’t see you when she wakes up in the morning, you worry that your colleagues will doubt your commitment to work because now you have more obligations at home. If you are breastfeeding, it can be even more difficult. You worry about how to carry the breast pump to work every day, where to pump, when you’ll find time to pump, how to store the breast milk, the list goes on and on. Choosing a good breast pump is the first step. A good breast pump designed for working mothers can help keep their milk supply up and shouldn’t require too much maintenance.
This guide is for mothers who are ready to return to the workplace or want to take a break from staying at home. We first walk you through the criteria and factors to consider when evaluating a breast pump. Followed by our recommendations for the best breast pump for working mothers based on our tests.
What to Consider When Buying A Breast Pump for Working Moms
- Mechanism: There are manual breast pumps and electric breast pumps. The manual breast pump is operated by pressing a lever or handle by hand. It gives you better control but is more time-consuming. The suction capacity is also limited. Most working moms choose electric breast pumps. They use electricity to power a built-in motor that creates suction. It has a greater suction capacity and is more efficient. Electric breast pumps nowadays are much more popular, especially for those who don’t have the luxury of time.
- Pumping Capacity: There are single pumping and double pumping systems. Manual breast pumps can only pump one side of the breast at a time. Many electric pumps can support two breast shields to be used at the same time. Double pumps are the most efficient but usually take more space and are heavier.
- Power Type: Electric pumps can be powered by two sources: battery or power plug. Some portable breast pumps are powered only by a battery and cannot be used while charging, some pumps don’t have a built-in battery and have to be plugged into a wall. There are also pumps that can be used both through a power adapter and a rechargeable battery.
- Breast Shield Size: There are 21mm, 24mm, 27mm, 30mm, and 36mm. The measurement is based on the diameter of your nipples. Choosing the right breast shield is very important. The right breast shield feels more comfortable, and most importantly, is more efficient. With the right size, you can draw more milk in each pumping session. Also, keep in mind that the size you need will probably change during your breastfeeding journey.
- Pumping Modes: There is a massage mode and an expression mode. The massage mode mimics the suckling of a baby to stimulate your milk flow. It is mostly used at the beginning of a pumping session. Once the letdown is triggered, you can change to expression mode, in which the pumping frequency decreases. Not all breast pumps have a massage mode. Another thing to consider is if the number of cycles per minute can be adjusted and what the range is.
- Suction Strength: The level of suction intensity a breast pump can achieve is measured by millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The maximum capacity of most breast pumps ranges from 220 to 350 mmHg. You can find more information on this Breast Pump Comparison Chart. Some breast pumps use the setting of low, medium and high, while others use numbers to indicate. Some breast pumps may not even have adjustable suction strength. Many moms think that the higher the suction capacity the better, but it’s not necessarily the case. It all depends on what makes you comfortable. Overly intense suction may cause pain and even damage your nipples.
- Closed or Open System: The only difference between a closed and an open system is that the closed system has a barrier (or media separation) between the pump and the expressed milk. This barrier helps keep the pumped milk from overflowing to the pump mechanism. It also prevents impurities such as dust, airborne bacteria, viruses from getting into the milk.
- Grade: There are hospital-grade breast pumps and standard ones. A hospital-grade breast pump is designed for mothers with certain medical issues. It offers stronger suction power, special wavelength, and programming that helps extract the maximum amount of breast milk. A standard breast pump can have the same suction strength but is designed for personal use, and does not accommodate any special needs.
- Weight and Size: Most electric breast pumps weigh between 2 to 4 lbs. If you are planning to carry your breast pump around, or you don’t have a place to store the pump in the workplace, you may want to look for one that is lightweight and can fit in your handbag.
- Number of Parts to Clean: No matter what type of breast pumps you use, you need to clean them in between uses. It is also recommended that the parts be sterilized every day. Cleaning itself may not be a big issue but the drying of the parts can take a long time. When you select a breast pump, also take into consideration how many spare parts you will need while you are waiting for one set of parts to dry.
- Wearability: Wearable breast pumps are the ones that you can fit into your regular bra while pumping. They don’t need to be held by hand. Wearable breast pumps are a fairly new invention. Comparing to the traditional stand-alone breast pumps, they are much more portable but also come with certain constraints, such as shorter battery life and less suction strength. Traditional breast pumps can also be hands-free if you use a pumping bra. You can hook the breast shields up through the bra to allow support of the pumping bottles. The drawback of doing this is that you may need to change between the pumping bra and your regular bra throughout the day.
At WIC, we evaluated 15 different breast pumps with nursing mothers. We only focused on the standard electric pumps as they are much more efficient and more suitable for use at the workplace. Considering all the factors laid out above, we have listed the three best models based on our evaluation. They are all closed systems and have both massage mode and expression mode.
Most worth-it, compact and convenient
SUMMARY: The Medela In Style Double Pump with Tote has all the necessary features for efficient and comfortable breast milk pumping. It is easy to carry and the price is comparatively affordable.
WHERE IT STANDS OUT:
- Can be powered by a built-in rechargeable battery as well as a power adapter.
- Built-in in a tote bag. You can store all the pumping supplies in one place. The bag is big enough for your other personal items so that you don’t need to carry separate bags. Many mothers say that the design of the bag makes it discreet, which is a big plus.
- Detachable pump. You can remove the pump and use it without the bag.
Most portable and quietest
SUMMARY: The Elvie wearable breast pump can be worn in a regular bra. That allows for maximum freedom while pumping. It is the most lightweight and quietest breast pump we tested. The drawback is that it has more parts to clean, although cleaning is as easy as other pumps. It can only be powered by battery, which means you need to always make sure that it is fully charged.
WHERE IT STANDS OUT:
- Wearable in a regular bra. It gives you the freedom to walk around or perform light tasks.
- Lightweight and quiet. It weighs only 7.9oz whereas most other pumps weigh around 3 lbs. Among all breast pumps we tested, the motors on the Elvie are the quitest.
Efficient, simple and user-friendly
SUMMARY: The Spectra Baby S1 can be powered by a rechargeable battery or a power adapter. Compared to the other two pumps, this one is heavier (weighs 3.3 lb) and much bigger in size.
WHERE IT STANDS OUT:
- Built-in nightlight for easy use in the dark
- Auto shuts off after 30 minutes. Most pumping sessions last about 20 minutes. Spectra Baby S1 has a timer so that you don’t need to constantly check your phone or the clock for the duration of your pumping session.