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How to Pick the Breast Pump That Fits Your Needs

How to Pick the Breast Pump That Fits Your Needs

Ready to make a pump purchase? We did the research for you. 

Like so many feeding and parenting decisions, picking a breast pump is personal. Your goal should be to find the pump that fits your lifestyle needs without compromising your comfort or the amount of milk you make — but with so many options out there, this is easier said than done! 

Below, we’ll walk through different types of pumps and share tips for what to look out for. 

Pump Overview 

There are a few different types, or categories, of pumps to consider. Factors like whether you're chosen to pump exclusively, where and when you plan to pump most often, and the number of kids you have at home can help you decide which pump to choose.

In some cases, you may even choose to purchase more than one pump! Many moms like to have a backup for travel or work, or prefer to use one pump for night feeds and another during the day. Feeding is a journey, and your needs will likely change over time. 

Traditional Pumps 

Traditional pumps, sometimes called wall pumps, may be what you have in mind when you think about pumping. (Cue: image of a mom with cords and bottles poking out of her pumping bra!) These pumps usually need to be plugged into an outlet and have a large motor that can be carried around during your session. 

Most traditional pumps use a tug-and-release suction pattern that mimics a baby's latch to pull milk from the breast. They start in a stimulation mode to induce letdown, then can be moved to expression to encourage a steady flow of milk. 

Historically, these were the pumps that most moms used as their primary pumps, although this is changing as more and more options are available. They’re a good choice if you'll mostly be pumping at home and don't mind dealing with limited mobility. Additionally, they’re often relatively easy to assemble and use, and milk can often be stored directly in the bottle you've pumped into. 

Wearable Pumps 

Wearable pumps are another option. The most important thing to know about these is that they're not all created equal, so you really need to do your research.

The defining characteristic of these pumps is that they do not need to be plugged in while you pump. Beyond that, they can vary quite a bit!

For example, some wearable pumps have hospital-strength suction and many customizable levels of stimulation and expression, but others don't. 

How we do it at Willow: both of our pumps are hospital-strength and can be customized per side (because no two breasts are alike!). Willow 360 is built with smart suction that adjusts to your body to automatically switch from stimulation to expression at the right time.

Some pumps are totally hands-free and in-bra, while others have external motors that sit on top of the milk container or even need to be clipped to your pants or carried in your hand. 

How we do it at Willow: both of our pumps are built with a donut-shaped internal motor that creates an even weight distribution for increased comfort, and allows the shape to mimic the breast for discretion.

Some pumps are app-connected with real-time milk volume tracking, but others require manual control (meaning you need to reach into your bra to start, pause, adjust suction, manage modes, etc). 

How we do it at Willow: both of our pumps are app-connected and controlled, and the Willow 360 is even compatible with Apple Watch. In addition to pump control, our apps also offer access to expert-backed content and services.

Finally, some pumps allow for a wide range of leak-proof mobility while others require you to remain pretty upright. 

How we do it at Willow: Willow 360 offers an unprecedented 360° of leak-proof mobility, meaning you can pump in any position without spills. Willow Go is leak-proof up to 45°. 

Wearable pumps are great if you want to pump while playing with your baby or toddler, getting things done around the house, or once you've returned to work. Since they're quiet and discreet, they really can go wherever you go.

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Passive Pumps

Passive pumps, sometimes called milk collectors, are what they sound like — passive! Designed without a motor, they're usually made of silicone and create natural suction to induce letdown without any stimulation. (Don’t get them confused with “catch cups,” which are also often made from silicone and sit inside your bra to catch leaking milk but don’t create any suction or induce letdowns.)

Many moms use passive pumps in the early days of breastfeeding to help establish their supply, nursing on one side while wearing the pump on the other side. This also helps to ensure that you're not losing any milk, since letdown occurs in both breasts simultaneously. 

Passive pumps are a great way to deal with acute conditions like plugged ducts or engorgement, since relief depends on continued milk flow, or simply to take the "edge off" if your breasts are feeling too full in-between feeding sessions or when weaning. 

Manual Pumps

Next, we have manual pumps or "hand pumps." Like traditional pumps, they usually have a flange connected to a bottle, and some have two phases for optimal letdown and efficiency. The major differentiator is that they aren't electric, and instead require you to manually press on a handle to stimulate milk flow.

If you're nursing most of the time and only need to pump occasionally, it might be the only pump you need! On the other hand, if you're primarily pumping, you will likely want an electric pump in addition to a hand pump. 

Like passive pumps, hand pumps can also be helpful when establishing your milk supply in the early days of breastfeeding, or trying to relieve painful conditions like clogged ducts. They’re also a great option if you’re going to be away from your baby for a short period of time and just need to express milk once or twice while you’re out. 

Hospital Pumps

Finally, you might have heard of hospital pumps that you can rent until you're ready to purchase your own pump. Unlike the other pumps we've talked about, these are "multi user" pumps that feature a protective barrier to prevent cross-contamination. They provide powerful suction but are pretty heavy and bulky. 

Most moms find that they can get great milk output without going this route. But if this is something you think you’ll be interested in, you might consider getting in touch with your hospital and learning more about your options before you deliver! 

What to Look Out For

No matter what type of pump you pick, there are a few things to look for — and to look out for. 

The first is FDA approval. Breast pumps are medical devices, and FDA clearance means that they're safe to use. Unfortunately, pump brands aren't always straightforward about this — so make sure to do your research. 

The second is a brand with a customer care team that's based in the US and available in real time to answer your questions. Like all things baby feeding, pumping comes with a learning curve — and access to support is critical when you're getting started. You'll likely need it! 

Finally, you'll want to look for a pump that's mom-centric in its functionality and design. For example, can you choose the capacity size? Can you customize your suction on each side? Pumping is personal, and your pump should support a personalized experience. 

Now you’re ready to pump. Happy shopping! 

Learn more about Willow’s wearable pumps and shop here