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What is the best breast pump?

I wrote a version of this article when I started this business 8 years ago as a way to explain the differences between the 3 main pumps available from Spectra - the S1, S2, and 9 Plus.


Spectra now have 6 models available, all of which I sell and rent, so I thought I would add them, plus other information I have learnt over the years.


Before I start, I have to make a little disclaimer – at no time am I saying that every mother needs to express – this is a personal choice.  Some express to increase their supply, for some it is a preference, and for others it is necessary for going back to work or their life circumstances.  Many LC’s will say there is no need to buy a breast pump before baby arrives.  I agree with this, but would add that you should know about the different types and where to get one quickly, should the need arise. 


If there are no issues with baby latching directly or supply, it is best to avoid expressing for the first ~6 weeks. This is to avoid accidentally creating an oversupply and so you can concentrate on learning your babies cues and establish breastfeeding.


I sell Spectra breast pump (and have done for 8 years) because I have seen that they are consistently one of the most effective and affordable pumps - they may not work for everyone and there can be lots of variables that affect milk supply, but they seem to be one of the most reliable pumps currently on the market.


"What is the best breast pump?"

This question is often asked on social media or directly to me when customers contact me.


The simple answer is - there is no 'best' breast pump.


The longer answer is - it depends on why you're expressing. The 'best' is what works best for you, in your circumstances.


And before you say 'to express breast milk' - yes, we get that, but why?


  1. Because baby is not latching well/at all, and you need to express milk to feed to your baby every (or almost every) feed?

  2. To increase your supply because baby can't do it themselves?

  3. To express milk occasionally to feed to baby when you cannot be with them? Eg you need to go out for a few hours and/or returning to work.


If it is for the first 2 reasons (see further below for more information on what circumstances these might involve) then you most likely need a 'hospital grade' breast pump, if it is the third reason then you might be OK with an 'occasional' pump.


Spectra breast pumps - Dual S, S1, S2 (top row, L-R); Dual Compact, 9 Plus, Wearable (bottom row, L-R)


Definition of 'hospital grade' breast pump

There is no official definition of ‘hospital-grade’, but among those in the breast pump business and IBCLCs, it usually means this:


A pump that is a closed system so no milk will get into the motor of the pump, can be shared between multiple users, and it is probably capable of initiating and maintaining milk supply, without the baby ever having to latch to the breast, and could potentially increase the supply


The Spectra® Dual S, S1, S2 meet this definition.  Other brands of hospital-grade pumps are the Medela® Symphony, Ardo® Carum, and the Ameda® Platinium*.  Mamivac® (a German-based company) also makes hospital-grade pumps that are meant to be on par with the others.


Technically all Spectra® breast pumps (and a few other models from other brands) are closed system, but they may not have the motor efficiency to maintain or increase the supply long term.


When should a hospital grade pump be used?

They are used primarily when baby cannot directly latch to the breast.  For example:

  • Baby is admitted to a Special Care Nursery/NICU and either cannot be fed directly, or their mother cannot be with them 24/7 to feed directly. 

  • If the mother is unwell and cannot be with her baby for an extended period of time. 

  • If the baby has a medical condition that does not allow him or her to latch (such as a cleft lip, or cardiac condition).  Or is unwell and cannot latch for an extended period of time 

  • If the baby is struggling with attachment and/or is not transferring enough milk from the breast to meet their needs (this should be 'diagnosed' by an IBCLC).  Using a hospital grade pump to express after a feed can help increase supply.

  • Or it can be a personal choice not to have the baby latch directly.


Occasional pumps

The Spectra® 9 Plus, Dual Compact, and Wearable are closed system pumps but are usually not capable of initiating, maintaining, and increasing supply (some have used them to exclusively express, but many who have used both types note that the 9 Plus is not as strong).  These are usually defined as 'personal' or 'occasional' pumps. 


Other examples include the Medela® Swing, Pumpables®, any wearable pump, and other small, portable pumps. If it has a battery and fits in your handbag, it is probably an 'occasional' pump.


This is not to say that the 9 Plus, Dual Compact or other 'occasional' pumps are not good - they can be great if breastfeeding is well established, and you only need to express for going back to work or if you want to leave the baby with someone for a period of time (eg a 'date night' or long hair appointment).


But they are probably not effective enough to maintain your supply long term.


If you have been using one of these to exclusively express and suddenly your supply drops, or you have been using it and your supply has not increase, it is probably due to the pump, not anything wrong with your body.


What if I have an oversupply?

I sometimes get asked “what sort of pump should I use if I have an oversupply?”  I usually ask how old baby is and why exactly they want to express.  The answer to the second part is usually “for relief”.  My answer usually depends on the answer to the first part.


For the first 6 or so weeks milk supply can be controlled by hormones.  If she has an oversupply in this time, it can lead the woman to believe that she doesn’t need to feed or express as often (or the baby does not want to feed frequently or mask underlying issues with attachment and transfer).  When the hormones drop off, milk supply becomes about supply and demand.  If there has not been much of a ‘demand’ then her body may think it doesn’t need to make as much as it has, and her supply drops dramatically.  Using a non-hospital grade pump in this time may have the same effect – it hasn’t really been expressing the breast milk, but rather the milk has just been flowing out passively, and then when her supply starts to drop the pump is not effective enough to increase her supply again. 


So what is my recommendation?

  • If you need to do a lot of expressing, you need to increase your supply, or maintain it because the baby can’t, then get a hospital-grade pump.

  • If baby is more than 6 weeks old, is feeding well, and you need a pump for going back to work, leaving the baby for a few hours, etc then an occasional pump will probably do.

  • If you have an over-supply before 6 weeks then the choice is up to you – a hospital grade pump will work well to relieve pressure and hopefully ensure you don’t lose any supply, but once your supply has established it may not be necessary and it could potentially increase the supply further.  On the other hand, getting a non-hospital grade pump before your supply has stabilised may work to relieve the excess, but if your supply drops it probably won’t be strong enough to help increase it again.


Make sure you check your flange sizing - this can be quite important if you are trying to increase your supply or doing a lot of expressing.  Click here to find out more on this


If you are struggling with breastfeeding please feel free to get in touch for help - www.cherishedparenting.com.au/breastfeeding-education-and-support


As always, I am happy to answer any questions you might have.  Please keep in mind that I can only rent or sell Spectra® breast pumps in Perth - www.cherishedparenting.com.au/spectra-breast-pumps-hire-or-buy.  All other products on my website can be posted Australia-wide - www.cherishedparenting.com.au/online-store.


*There may be other brands, these are the ones I have heard of.


Summary of Spectra breast pumps and pros/cons:


Dual S

Hospital grade breast pump with 2 motors - this means the vacuum level on each side can be manipulated separately


Pros:

  • Dual motor - good for those with a 'fussy' supply or side - eg you need to really concentrate on the settings and/or vacuum to get enough milk

  • 10 speeds


Cons:

  • Expensive ('most expensive' does not = best)

  • No battery


S1 Plus

Hospital grade breast pump with in-built battery


Pros:

  • Good quality hospital grade breast pump

  • Battery


Cons:

  • Bulky


S2 Plus

Hospital grade breast pump


Pros:

  • Good quality hospital breast pump

  • Good price


Cons:

  • No battery


Dual Compact

Occasional breast pump with 2 motors - this means the vacuum level on each side can be manipulated separately


Pros:

  • Dual motor - good for those with a 'fussy' supply or side - eg you need to really concentrate on the settings and/or vacuum to get enough milk

  • Battery, which can be charged with a USB-C charger


Cons:

  • Only 2 speeds (which is why it is not considered 'hospital grade')


9 Plus

Compact occasional breast pump


Pros:

  • Very compact

  • Battery


Cons:

  • Speed in 'Expression' mode cannot be set independently of the vacuum


Wearable

Single wearable pump


Pros:

  • Pump is completely handsfree

  • Comes with 2 collection containers (each hold 120mls)

  • Has 4 speeds


Cons:

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