Continuing to breastfeed your little one after returning to work is definitely not without its challenges: maintaining a pumping schedule, finding a quiet and private place to pump, and blush-inducing wardrobe malfunctions are top of the list. Very few mothers find the process entirely seamless from day one. However, the many benefits for you and your baby definitely outweigh a bit of initial awkwardness, and the many mothers who have successfully pumped full-time agree that choosing the right equipment for your body and working environment makes a big difference.
Single or manual pumps may seem like attractive options at first because of their lower price tags, but to regularly pump a day’s worth of feedings for your baby, you will want the speed, efficiency, and durability of a double electric model, which range from about $150-$200USD. (If the cost is daunting, check with your insurance provider. Some countries, including the United States, require all providers to include breast pumps in their coverage.)
To help you narrow the field, we’ve taken a look at three of the top double electric models on the market (the Medela Pump In Style, Freemie Freedom, and the Spectra Baby S1/S2) and compared them across three of the most important factors for back-to-work mamas: performance, comfort, and convenience.
Still the Cadillac of breast pumps for daily, on-the-go use
Speed is really of the essence when you are pumping on the clock; depending on your line of work, you may only have 15-30 minutes to spend on the task, and the three high-end pumps on our list certainly have the powerful motor (which creates the high level of suction) necessary to fill those bottles quickly. However, the Medela Pump in Style is widely considered particularly efficient because it allows you to easily adjust both vacuum (suction) and cycle (speed) throughout the pumping process; toggling between “let-down” (lighter and faster) and “expression” (stronger and longer) rhythms helps many women get the most out of any given pumping session and also maintain their supply over the long-term.
The Medela also has a good reputation for its strength and durability; many women have found the pump lasts them for years of nursing babies, and performs just as well with the second or third child, even if it has sat idle in the closet in-between.
It’s also pretty hard to beat for portability, as it comes with a little black bag that holds absolutely everything you need for on-the-go pumping, including a removable cooler bag with an ice pack designed to hold four breast milk bottles. It is a simple but terrifically useful feature for working mums who travel frequently, or who don’t always have immediate or easy access to a fridge. There is also a bit of room inside the bag for a wallet, keys, phone, or other small items. The Medela Pump in Style also comes with a battery pack (takes 8 AA) and, with an adaptor, you can even hook it up to your car if you’re out of battery power.
A comfortable, convenient option that won’t leave you in the dark
The Spectra Baby is another very good option for on-the-go working mamas. Like the Medela Pump in Style, it also comes with a battery pack, and a tote bag is sold separately. What its fans seem to like most about it, however, is its comfortable fit. The Spectra Baby is becoming well known for pain-free pumping and well-fitting flanges. The flange (also known as a funnel, cup, or shield) is the horn or cup-shaped attachment that fits on the breast. Though all three models are widely considered comfortable for daily use, it is critical to choose the right size of flange for your body, and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions in terms of positioning to avoid pinching or chafing.
Like the Medela Pump in Style, the Spectra Baby offers fully adjustable vacuum and cycle, and then goes one better with a sleek digital display—complete with a timer and a nightlight, if you’re ever pumping in a dimly lit place or want to combine your pumping session with a power nap. The Medela’s dials definitely look a little old-school by comparison, but both are generally considered easy to use.
An innovative, remarkably discreet design
The Freemie Freedom is a horse of a different color entirely. Unlike the Spectra Baby and Medela, it is not particularly portable. It’s an awkward dome shape, and does not feature a battery pack or car adaptor (though many women have found adaptors made by other manufacturers that happen to work with it). Also unlike the other two, it features adjustable suction but only one speed setting. Some women who have tried both say the Freemie Freedom is a little less powerful than the Medela, though still very effective for many. It competes well with Spectra Baby on comfort, as its kit includes both 25mm and 28mm funnels to accommodate most of the seemingly infinite combinations of breast size and nipple shape out there; a 32mm is available separately. (The Medela Pump in Style offers just one 24mm set in the box, but additional sizes are sold separately as well.)
However, the Freemie Freedom is hands-down the most discreet of the three; the collection cups fit neatly in a regular or nursing bra under your regular clothes. It is not completely invisible, of course, and gives your breasts that cone-shape Madonna made famous way-back-when, but because the cups are designed to be used completely hands-free and the pump itself is pretty quiet, some women are comfortable using it at their desks, continuing to work and even converse with colleagues while pumping.
The Medela and Spectra Baby require a pumping bra for a hands-free process, and while a nursing cover would add a bit of privacy, neither model can come close to the Freemie Freedom unit in terms of simplicity and modesty. In fact, the cups themselves look a bit like Tupperware lunch containers, a plus for women who want to wash them in a busy kitchen without attracting any undue attention. Of course, the flip-side to the discreet under-clothes set-up is that while your colleagues can’t see what’s going on in there, neither can you (and peeking down your shirt to see if you’re going to overflow kinda spoils the incognito effect!). It is also impossible to store the milk in the cups, and pouring the contents into a bottle without losing a drop of that liquid gold does take a little bit of practice.
So, which is the right pump for you?
Commuters and mums who travel for a living are likely best off with the Medela Pump in Style for its versatility (no electrical outlet? no problem!), convenient ice-pack storage system, and well-established reputation as a workhorse. Its chief negatives are that it is the most pricey of the three, the plastic storage bottles it comes with aren’t the greatest, and it’s an open system (meaning you need to be diligent about cleaning and storage to keep working parts dry, and you can’t re-sell it or pass it on to a friend).
The Spectra Baby, on the other hand, is an entirely closed system so it is hygenic to share the pump itself and you never need to worry about milk backing up into the machinery. It is a solid, slightly less expensive option for office workers with access to a private space for pumping (even if that space is the back seat of your car!). Last but certainly not least, the Freemie Freedom is the best bet for nine-to-fivers who want to keep their pumping low profile. It’s the only model that doesn’t require a pumping bra to go hands-free, though these are a valuable investment for use with the more traditional models, for both the modesty and convenience (see our breastfeeding post for a few chic and comfy options). And don’t forget to stock up on breast pads (for absorbing any leaks should you miss a pumping session or become engorged); keeping a spare top or cardigan at your desk or in your car isn’t a bad idea, either.
Ah, the glamorous things we do for our babies!