Manual Vs. Electric Breast Pump: Which One Is Best For You?

Are you deciding on a manual vs an electric breast pump? You’re in the right place!

Whether planning on breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or doing a combination, you should register for at least one breast pump. 

I’ll walk you through the pros and cons, features to look for, and my personal experience. 

Pro Tip: If your current breast pump isn’t working for you and you’re wondering if you should switch from electric to manual, consider talking to a lactation consultant for some troubleshooting tips. It could be something simple like a faulty valve or the wrong size flange. 

Mother using double electric spectra breast pump

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Finding the right breast pump is a personal choice for new moms, and many factors go into making the right decision. 

There are two main types of breast pumps: manual vs. electric. 

I started with an electric breast pump that I got for free from my insurance, but I found that when my milk supply came in, a manual pump was all I needed. 

Manual Pump

Manual pumps are a great option for moms who only occasionally need to express milk, who need a portable type of pump, or moms who don’t need to express much milk.

If you purchase a manual pump (like the Medela or Haakaa I have), they are less than $30 and can be easily found at major retailers.  

How Does a Manual Breast Pump Work?

Most manual breast pumps (also called hand pumps) work by you pumping a handle to create suction on the nipple. The milk will flow and collect in a bottle attached to the pump. Generally, the more suction you apply, the stronger the milk flow. 

Manual Pump Pros And Cons

  • Single pumping (pumping on one side) only.
  • You don’t need a power source.
  • Some don’t require physically pumping a handle.
  • Don’t have a lot of pump parts to clean.
  • It is less expensive (unless you have insurance).
  • You’re in complete control of the amount of suction and speed.
  • You have to pump each side separately.
  • They may take longer to pump (not always!).

Features to Look For:

Manual breast pumps are basic but have come a long way in the last few years. There are some features that you might want to consider when finding the right pump to purchase:

  • Flange: The Philips Avent pump has a comfortable flange (a breast shield) silicone with massage nodes. It promises a more comfortable and secure fit. Make sure to check if the pump has multiple flange sizes. Not sure what size you need? Use this flange measurement tool
  • Expression Modes: I chose the Medela Harmony because of the price and the 2 phase expression modes. The handle has two sides that can be used to mimic your baby’s sucking (one side is shallow and quick to stimulate letdown, and the other creates a deeper and slower suction). 
  • Collection Cup Holder: Manual pumps are top-heavy because the handle sits on top of the collection bottle. Some manual pumps have a convenient bottle holder to set the pump down without worrying about tipping over. 
Manual vs. Electric Breast Pump Medela electric breast pump and Medela Harmony manual breast pump on a counter

My Manual Pump Experience

I liked my manual pumps (I used a Haakaa and this Medela Pump) more than my electric pump for the first 6 months of breastfeeding and pumping. 

During the first few weeks of breastfeeding, I only used my Haakaa to collect enough milk during the day for my husband to feed my son at night.

I love my Haakaa pump so much! It makes it easy to create a milk stash without extra time or effort. You want one on your registry!  

Once my supply was regulated, my milk supply was still high, and I only needed to pump for a few minutes with the manual pump to collect all the milk I needed for bottles. I liked that there were fewer parts to clean, and I could sit anywhere and in any position.  

When I returned to work, my milk supply started decreasing, and I needed to pump for longer periods to collect enough milk. I switched to my electric pump when my pumping sessions were 20 minutes or longer. 

Mom Tip: Did you know you can score hundreds of dollars worth of other free breastfeeding supplies and freebies?

Electric Pump

There are four types of electric pumps:

  1. A double electric breast pump: A double breast pump allows you to pump milk from both breasts simultaneously.
  2. A single electric pump: A single breast pump only allows you to pump one side at a time.  
  3. A hospital-grade electric breast pump: See if you may want a hospital-grade pump.
  4. A wearable electric breast pump: An electric pump that can be worn under your bra and doesn’t require a power source.

Pro Tip: It’s hard to know whether you will want to double pump or pump on a single side. Most modern pumps allow you to do single or double pumping. I highly recommend getting a double electric pump that can do both single and double pumping. 

How Does an Electric Breast Pump Work?

Electric breast pumps have flanges with collection bottles like manual pumps. Instead of attaching to a handle that you can squeeze, electric pump flanges have rubber tubing that attaches to a motor. The motor creates suction by pulling air through the tubes.

Open vs. Closed System Breast Pump

  1. Open System: The milk flows through the tubing.
  2. Closed System: No milk goes through the tubes.

When buying an electric breast pump, trust me when I say you MUST buy a closed-system pump. Cleaning the tubing would be a nightmare and a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Yuck 🤢.

Pro Tip: Most modern pumps are closed systems, but double-check before you purchase.

Pros and Cons of Electric Breast Pumps

  • You can get one free through your health insurance.
  • They use advanced technology to mimic infant nursing for the best milk flow and collection.
  • They can save time if you’re pumping frequently or have a low supply.
  • There are multiple battery options to find a pump that meets your needs.
  • Option for hands-free pumping.
  • Speed and suction settings for comfort.
  • They are bulky.
  • Even newer models can make a lot of noise.
  • They have lots of parts to clean and replace.
  • You have less control over the speed and suction. This typically makes them less comfortable.
  • You need a battery or power source.

Features to Look For

Electric pumps have more features to consider than manual pumps.

  • Power Source: Some pumps are battery-operated, rechargeable, and don’t need a power outlet. Other pumps have a car outlet adapter. Both of these are convenient options if you will regularly be pumping on the go. 
  • Hospital-Grade: These pumps have more powerful motors and can help mothers get the most breast milk possible. Most hospital-grade pumps can only be rented from your hospital or a supplier like Aeroflow.
  • Expression Modes: The more expression modes, the better when buying an electric breast pump. Expression modes relate to the speed of the pump and the amount of suction your pump uses. Customizing the expression modes will help you get the most milk while being the most comfortable. 
  • Noise: Electric pumps have come a long way in noise reduction. You might not think noise is an issue when it comes to pumping, but even quiet pumps could get in the way of watching TV or talking on the phone.
  • Hands-Free Pumping: Some newer pumps, like the Willow and Elvie, have flanges and milk collection bottles that fit right in your bra. There are no wires, tubes, or power sources needed. Allowing you to do anything you want- even grocery shopping- while pumping.
  • Parts to Clean: Consider how many parts your pump has to clean. Although this shouldn’t be a deciding factor, if you’re torn between two, choose the easier-to-clean 🫧.
  • Carrying-Case/Diaper Bag: Some electric breast pump brands like Spectra and Medela offer carrying cases designed explicitly for their pumps. These bags can double as diaper bags when you aren’t using them for your pump.

Pro-Tip: If you pump multiple times a day, consider buying a hands-free pumping bra to allow you to read, work, or do anything else you would do with your hands while you pump. 

My Electric Pump Experience

During my first pregnancy, I got a Spectra S2 through insurance. Two years later, with my second pregnancy, I was eligible for a new pump. I decided to try the Medela Pump in Style.

I used both pumps to express breast milk when I returned to work. Although I preferred the comfort and control of the manual pump, I relied on hands-free pumping with a pumping bra so that I could work while I pumped.

The Medela Pump in Style doesn’t have nearly as many expression modes as the Spectra S2, and I couldn’t get enough milk during each session. I barely used my Medela for this reason. The only thing I did like about the Medela was the plug-in battery pack that allowed me to be untied from a wall outlet.

Get A Free Electric Breast Pump With Insurance 

If you are in the United States, the Affordable Care Act is a law that requires your insurance company to provide you with a free electric breast pump!  

I used Aeroflow for both breast pumps. The process was amazing. You enter all your information online, and within a day or two, you can access all of the pumps your insurance covers on their website.  

Pro Tip: If you get a free electric breast pump from your insurance, don’t forget to register for a manual pump or a Haakaa. 

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Hi, I'm Jacqui, founder of Mommy Maker Teacher and mom of two toddlers. With a degree in education, 12+ years of experience as a K-12 teacher and curriculum developer, and courses in childhood psychology and language acquisition, I share research-backed parenting tips and advice. I provide helpful content for moms on all stages of motherhood - from trying to conceive and pregnancy to postpartum, breastfeeding, and parenting.