The best manual breast pumps can provide you the convenience of portability that an electric breast pump simply cannot, but is it better overall?
In some ways, a manual breast pump is better than its electric counterpart, in some it’s not. Today we’re here to find out what those ways are.
Electric breast pumps seem to be all over the place nowadays. I too am a great propagator of the convenience of one simply because I can just lay back as it does all the work.
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But, I’m a stay-at-home mom and I don’t need to go around as much as some of you working moms.
For other mamas who like something a bit more portable and that doesn’t work for as long as the battery allows it, but rather functions for as long as your arm does, then a manual pump is arguably the best choice for them.
That said, a friend of mine did let me try her manual breast pump so I could simply see how it’d function and I have noticed some of the benefits over electric ones, but some of shortcomings as well.
While many maintain it’s not as effective in obtaining the same amount of milk in the same amount of time, some of the best manual breast pumps beg to differ.
Not only that, they have a variety of other benefits over electric breast pumps that might make them more suited to your needs than the former.
With that in mind, here are some of my top picks for the best manual breast pumps.
The 8 Best Manual Breast Pumps
1. Medela Harmony Breast Pump
First on our list is the Medela Harmony manual breast pump, a quality pump made by a quality company.
Through the use of unique 2-phase expression technology, Medela’s lever pump is designed to first utilize the smaller lever, controlling the vacuum around the nipple and entering the stimulation phase.
This is where the pump massages the breast to help with milk letdown and, as the phase implies, stimulate milk flow.
Once you feel comfortable, you swap to the other lever to maximize the amount of milk flow through increasing the vacuum in the pump and creating slower, more powerful suction.
The initial breast shield that comes with the purchase is 24mm in size, but you can purchase the flange size that best suits your needs separately.
Still cheaper than an electric breast pump to be fair, albeit a touch more inconvenient.
The other bits that come with the purchase of the pump are two 5-ounce storage bottles with their own lids, a bottle stand, 2 membranes and a valve – all BPA-free so you know it’s safe for your baby and you.
2. Philips Avent Manual Comfort Breast Pump
Arguably one of the best brands on the market for baby products, as far as silicone based ones are concerned like baby bottles and pacifiers, Philips Avent doesn’t let us down in the breast pump department either.
This silicone manual breast pump is, most importantly, BPA-free, much like many of the ones on this list – I take the safety of our little ones as priority.
Silicone breast pumps differ from the lever ones as you just adjust the flange on your breast and press on it to create a vacuum to apply suction, then squeeze on the base of the pumper to let the milk flow.
Some might say that it’s slightly uncomfortable, but again, it depends from woman to woman.
As far as the mommy’s comfort is concerned, the Philips Avent Manual Comfort breast pump doesn’t slack in that regard, featuring an angled neck for easier application and 5 petal-like bulbed areas on the breast shield called massage cushions.
These help the process feel a bit more natural than the conventional, which might feel like a forced plunger at times.
The neck bottle also functions as its own baby bottle, complete with a silicone nipple with a design reminiscent to that of the usual Philips Avent baby bottles that are on the market – the same ones that are designed to help prevent nipple confusion and make for easier latching.
Plus, if you’re an avid fan of Philips Avent baby products, the pump is reverse compatible with all of their actual baby bottles and storage containers, meaning you won’t have to purchase extra bottles, which makes it all the more practical.
Lastly, the pump is only made up of a few parts and is dishwasher-safe, so cleaning is as easy as pie.
3. Haakaa Silicone Breastfeeding Manual Breast Pump
Speaking of lightweight and minimal parts, the Haakaa provides both with their one-piece silicone manual breast pump.
Made out of food-grade silicone that is completely phthalate, BPA and PVC-free, as well as with zero bleach-based processes, the Haakaa pump has won many awards for its simplistic and ingenious design.
The same design that makes it look like a tiny little vase with its eye-catching floral pattern around the neck of the pump.
It’s rather simple to use as well and one of the best breast pumps you can find on a budget.
Simply place it on your breast, squeeze the pump a bit until the suction properly aligns the flange with your breast, then a few more times to let the milk flow, and just let it do the rest of the magic for you.
This way, you won’t have to lose any extra milk to a breast pad or something similar and instead get to save it if you are going to breastfeed your baby.
Great on the go, though you have to carry a separate container to empty the milk into since it doesn’t come with a pre-attached one. That’s the one downside of the one-piece construction.
Speaking of one piece, though, it does make it so much easier to clean afterwards. Whether it’s by steaming, boiling, or putting it through your dishwasher, all methods work just fine.
4. NatureBond Manual Breast Pump
An alternative to the Haakaa silicone breast pump, the NatureBond features a similar design with a few added accessories.
While a similarly lovely pattern remains on the neck of the pump, the NatureBond somewhat improves on the design by adding little segments to the storage part of the pump.
These segments help moms easily identify the level of suction that they want to apply for milk extraction during their pumping sessions – bottom for the lowest amount of suction, the middle for medium, and the end near the neck for the strongest effect.
As far as accessories are concerned, they consist of two:
- a pump safety strap that goes around your neck and helps keep the pump secure while it does its work, so you can have your hands free to nurse your baby;
- a pump stopper, which, while looking somewhat odd, does prevent any milk from spilling out – acting like a cork so you can carry it around if by some odd misfortune you don’t have a nearby container to empty the pump into..
And, as with all of these pumps on this list (for your safety and your little one’s), the pump is free of any lead, BPA, PVC or phthalates, and is also dishwasher safe.
Plus, much like the Haakaa, it’s made out of pure, 100% food grade silicone, so even the construction itself does not pose a risk.
5. Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump
I will admit, Lansinoh isn’t a company I’d heard much about during my usual online research, but their manual breast pump is quite promising and they seem to be quite popular, so I don’t know how I managed to miss them before.
Founded by a breastfeeding mom that wanted to improve on the designs to eliminate any problems for new mothers, Lansinoh brings yet another lightweight pump design, though with a bit more color to it.
It’s a lever-operated pump that easily switches between two phases, similar to that of the Medela, but with a somewhat easier swapping mechanism.
It goes to the stimulation phase first with soft yet rapid sucking motions to “loosen” the nipple up and provide the necessary letdown before swapping to the expression phase with those slow and powerful sucking motions to help express the maximum amount of milk in less time than your average manual pump.
Again, quite reminiscent of the Medela’s 2-phase expression technology, except it’s easier to wield with the way their handle is shaped and moved.
The parts, as always, are made free from any BPAs and phthalates, keeping baby and mommy safe.
The pump, like Philips Avent is reverse compatible with the products of the same brand, leaving you ample storage bags to store your milk in for the baby.
Speaking of parts, it comes with an extra valve and a flange, which is as comfortable to your breast as the original flange.
6. Bumblebee Manual Breast Pump
This next one is quite a potent contender against all the other manual breast pumps on the market, one that prides itself on its strong suction.
A pump made from quality, food-grade silicone, perfectly sterile, and safe for your kids to grab onto and gnaw on without the risk of any harmful chemicals getting into their system.
The unique design is perfect to help deal with nipple pain and breast engorgement in general.
The beauty of it is that it can be used completely hands-free to help pump milk out of one breast while you carry on with your regular breastfeeding session with your little one on the other.
It’s simple, lightweight and your back will thank you for it rather than having to haul heavy, battery-powered, electric breast pumps.
If you’re a mother that wants to go green, this one is definitely more eco-friendly too, though you’ll have to replace the automatization of an electric pump with your own muscles, but that shouldn’t pose too much of an issue.
This cute little piece of baby gear also comes with an adorable green, heart-shaped stopper to seal the breast milk once the pump is full before pouring it into a storage bag for later use.
Finally, the folks over at BumbleBee will gladly help you replace the product in the first 60 days of purchase if the delivered one turns out to be defective.
7. Evenflo Manual Breast Pump
A manual silicone breast pump with the design of a lever-based manual breast pump.
Evenflo made quite a combination and it’s apparently quite the useful pump.
It comes with two flange sizes, one 28.5 mm (a.k.a. the regular one) and a smaller, 24.5 mm one in case you need to size down.
It has a rather one-of-a-kind MemoryFlex fastener that helps you return back to your most comfortable pace for pumping milk in case you forget with all of the potential chaos that might be happening around during pumping time.
Despite having 8 whole pieces of assembly, it’s still as easy to reconstruct as it gets and this makes it easier to transport around in your tote bags, leaving even more space than other manual breast pumps.
Why did I talk in past tense, you may ask?
Well, that’s because the product has sadly been discontinued by the company as they swapped to an electric breast pump model.
But, that doesn’t mean that Amazon or your local retail stores like Walmart or Target don’t have them.
They’re still easy to come by, but you may need to search a bit for parts if one ends up getting damaged.
8. MAM Manual Breast Pump
When talking about familiar baby brands, MAM is another one that comes up often.
The same applies for manual breast pumps too.
They know what’s important when making their baby products and thankfully here is no exception, as their manual breast pump is BPA and BPS-free.
Not to mention the comfort that always comes with their products.
In this case they have made a plastic, lever-based pump, but have included a silicone funnel sleeve for extra comfort and to allow you to customize it as you see fit.
The silicone funnel comes with an added cover to protect from any filth or dust particles from getting into the neck of the pump or further, and contaminating any milk you may have already stored inside.
And, thankfully, they – much like Philips Avent and Lansinoh – have thought about reverse compatibility.
They’ve made their pumps work with all of their MAM bottles, especially the great anti-colic ones (one of which comes with the pump for free!)
So, if you’re using any bottles already, be prepared to be a happy mom because you’ve just saved yourself some money and potential spills.
The same bottle comes with a slow flow nipple with a silicone nipple design that mimics the real thing, prevents nipple confusion and makes latching all the easier, much like our friends at Philips Avent.
And, not only that, but the whole package (apart from the spare parts) comes with an extra sealing disc to turn your bottle into storage containers for later use if you’re pumping outside of breastfeeding time, like at work or similar.
Is it better to go manual or electric?
While the two types of breast pumps share similarities, the difference in speed of breast milk collection is what mostly sets them apart.
Now whether you go with a manual pump or an electric pump when you start pumping depends on a few factors:
The Pros Of A Manual Pump
1. Portability. The fact of the matter is that not all electric breast pumps are the most portable since many of them need an outlet to function.
And, if you aren’t near one (you’re somewhere outside) or maybe, God forbid, a power outage occurs, or you simply forgot to charge the battery before you went out, it’s as good as a paper weight.
Meanwhile a manual can be used at any time and any place (within reason), plus it’s not as heavy as an electric one, given the lack of need for a battery, so your posture and back will thank you for a bit less weight in your tote bag.
2. Price. This one doesn’t need much explanation.
Due to the fact that most of the work is done through self-pumping via manual labor, manual breast pumps are a lot cheaper than electric ones, since they don’t require any fancy parts to function.
3. Noise levels. Another one that doesn’t need too much explanation.
With the lack of an electric motor, the manual breast pumps produce way less noise and are virtually silent, save for the occasional popping noise that some of them make in comparison to most electric pumps that can sound like an airplane taking off.
There are exceptions, certainly (the Spectra series that I use is rather quiet, for instance), but it’s still a factor to be considered in all of this.
4. Complexity. Due to having fewer parts, manual breast pumps are a lot easier to use, much simpler than electric ones where you have to familiarize yourself with all the different settings and essentially earn a college degree in operating it.
With a manual breast pump, you just get to ease and squeeze – no buttons, no nothing. You control the strength of the suction; you control the pace.
All to your liking.
Plus, they’re more flexible, allowing you to pump one breast while breastfeeding on the other, whereas the double electric breast pumps don’t allow for that.
5. Ease of cleaning. Once again, the fact of having fewer parts comes in clutch for the manual breast pumps, allowing for easier cleaning.
Whether you put it through a dishwasher or just hand wash and leave them to dry in the open air is up to you and depends on the pump at hand, but it’s certainly easier than cleaning most electric breast pumps.
6. Size. Manual breast pumps tend to be a lot smaller than most electric breast pumps, on top of being a lot lighter, leaving ample space for any extra baby accessories that you might want to fit inside or simply provide more milk storage space for your expressed breast milk.
7. Comfort. The final pro is the benefit of comfort. Manual breast pumps feel more personal than electric breast pumps and some moms find them better.
Quite a few of the local moms I’ve talked to say that they feel more of a person and less of a farm animal who is due for their daily milking when they swapped to a manual one, making them happier.
I’ve personally never had this issue, so I stuck with my trusty electric, but it all boils down to personal preference.
The Cons Of A Manual Pump
1. Pumping effectiveness. Let’s face it, our hands will never be able to pump out as steady a milk supply with a manual pump as an electric breast pump’s motor would; the milk production strength of high-grade pumps is just that powerful.
Not unless we’re some professional athlete, but even then it would barely come close.
This, in turn leads to your pumping times taking longer and longer as the manual pump extracts less milk per… well, pump.
2. Fatigue. Speaking of athletics, manual pumping may as well be considered a sport as it can get quite tiring constantly squeezing the darn thing.
To me personally it created a slight level of stress the few times I used it, stress I’d rather not have since motherhood applies a healthy dose of that as is.
I want my pumping time to be relaxing and as physically unintensive as possible.
Plus, electric pumps are usually hands-free so you can do something else while they function (like write an article!)
With all this in mind, there are clear pros and cons to both pumps, (more detail on the electric ones in their own article), which finally leads us to the initial question: Which one to get?
Personal bias aside, if you plan to only get occasional use of your pump – like pumping one, maybe two times a day – get the manual breast pump since it’ll be less expensive and less cumbersome to carry around.
If you are like me however and pump several times a day and your pump sees frequent everyday use, get an electric breast pump, with a rechargeable battery if you still want the comfort of using it away from an electric socket.
This will be the best bang for your buck and will pay off more in the end with the amount of free time you obtain. (Preferably a closed system one so you can sell it later and to not risk milk contamination.)
If you’re feeling spendy, you can get one of each.
Nobody is stopping you. Carry the manual one around while leaving the electric one for home use.
Types of manual breast pumps
The division between electric and manual breast pumps isn’t the only one; manual breast pumps have their own small hierarchy as well as was evident above: the lever-operated manual breast pumps and the silicone, milk-catcher ones.
Lever-operated pumps tend to have this 2-phase expression system where one side of the lever provides the early stimulation phase.
This helps mimic the quick and aggressive sucking of the baby to get the milk out of their mother’s breast and catch the initial letdown.
Once that’s done, it swaps to the expression phase that then mimics the slow, strong suction once the baby gets their first taste of mommy’s milk, allowing for an even flow and letting your breasts express milk at an optimal pace.
Afterwards, you usually just remove the pump itself and use the bottom container as storage or a bottle for instant baby gratification (if the pump part allows for that).
You can attach another container if you feel like there’s still some milk left and start the process again afterwards.
Then you have the, so called, milk-catchers or silicone-based pumps, which are normally a one-piece construction.
How they work is that you first have to squeeze the bottle a few times, a bit of rapid suction to attach to the breast firmly before choosing where to squeeze on the bottle to adjust for the level of suction.
Bottom for the softest, top for the strongest.
Once the pump manages to engage the milkflow, you can safely let it rest if you attached it properly in the first place and have your hands free.
The one downside is that some of them don’t come with plugs, which may lead to the occasional spill here and there if you leave it on the table and your baby decides to get frisky, but you can easily purchase a pump-stopper or similar to help prevent that.
As an added precaution, some silicone manual breast pumps like NatureBond also add a security strap or lanyard to help keep the bottle in place and not spill in case the suction were to wear out.
Between all of the massive options with all of these manual breast pumps in my breast pump reviews, you can see that each of them provide a variety of options and their own unique niche, each excelling in one aspect of milk collection.
For some it’s the suction strength, for others it’s the price, maybe the level of concealment, the effectiveness of milk production, or perhaps just the comfort.
In the end, it’s all up to personal preference, as all mamas have different versions of comfort that they’re used to and factors like those should be considered when purchasing.
To me, it’s always comfort over price, but someone else might think otherwise.
Either way you slice it, I’m personally still sticking with my Spectra S2, because that’s what I find the best for me (and because I don’t like how manual pumps look like air horns).
But, maybe you’ll find better use in a manual breast pump than a double electric pump – only you know.
If I had to choose, I’d probably stick with a tried and tested product like the Medela pump, given how it has a lot of customizability to best suit the needs of every mom.
Between the 2-phase expression lever-operated system, the reverse compatibility with their own bottles, and the different flange sizes to adjust to my own breast size, it’s nothing short of a dream.
Plus, it doesn’t try to complicate too much with the design. It’s simple and effective.
And, if I ever decide on a third baby, I’m sure it’s a quick fix for any potential engorgement issues that I might have.
With that said, I hope I have given you the proper insight needed to help you come to an easier decision when it comes to your milk collection habits, and that you’ll end up making the right choice for yourself.
Remember: Just pick what feels right to you.
I know most mommies like it manual since then they feel more accomplished. Until next time, my dear mamas.
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