Just like most everything, consider lifestyle first when choosing which breast pump is ideal for you. These are my favorites, for a variety of different reasons.
This is the best breast pump for most. For most moms, the Spectra S1 Plus is the way to go. It’s a total workhorse, easy to transport, has a built-in rechargeable battery for outlet-free pumping, is quiet, and generally gets the job done without making you feel too much like a dairy cow. This pump is at least partially covered by many health insurers as well.
This is also the best hospital grade breast pump. For real. Many moms who have rented other expensive hospital-grade grade pumps (Medela Symphony, Ameda Elite) actually find they prefer the Spectra S1 Plus and produce more milk when they use it. If it’s simple to keep things simple, I say… keep things simple.
This is the best breast pump for less frequent pumpers. For those who don’t anticipate pumping very often, do not have their pump covered by insurance, and want to save a few bucks… consider the Spectra S2 Plus. It is about $40 less than the S1 with one major difference: It does not have a rechargeable battery. For those who are exclusively breastfeeding and don’t plan to pump very often, being tethered to an outlet is not the end of the world. However, for those who will be pumping often, consider spending the extra $40 for a bit more freedom.
This is the best hands-free breast pump. For those who want the ultimate flexibility in where and how they pump, the Willow 2.0 is a game changer for discrete pumping just about anywhere. It is super quiet and is completely wireless, fitting right into your bra. The flanges come in three sizes (21mm, 24mm, and 27mm), and you can pump into a reusable container or directly into spill-proof bags, each holding up to 4oz of milk. The suction is not as strong as the Spectra S1 or S2, so it’s not ideal as the sole option for exclusive pumpers, but it’ll get the job done reasonably well when you need ultimate flexibility.
This is a great and less expensive hands-free breast pump. Freemie cups slip into your regular bra, but—caveat—unlike the Willow 2.0, Freemie cups are not self-contained pumping units. The Freemie cups require some tubing and a separate pump unit to operate. They attach to most electric pumps, but for a mobile, hands-free pumping experience, you'll want to pair them with the Spectra S9 Plus. Each Freemie cup holds up to 8oz of milk, and while the suction is not as strong as with the Spectra S1 Plus, this system will get the job done reasonably well when you need more flexibility than a large pump can provide.
There are obviously also lots of other pumps out there. These are them (and why I don’t recommend them as my first or favorite choice.)
- Medela Symphony ($1900 cash) – This hospital-grade pump is definitely a strong one. It is also one that is readily available at hospitals. Although it's very expensive to buy outright, it can usually be rented on a weekly basis from hospitals or providers like Aeroflow. For exclusive pumpers, the Symphony will get the job done, but often the Spectra S1 Plus will get the job done equally well while causing significantly less pain in the process. If your doctor or midwife recommends the Symphony, try it side-by-side with the Spectra S1 Plus to see which one works better for you. Chances are high you'll like the Symphony more.
- Ameda Elite ($1350 cash) – Same exact story as the Medela Symphony.
- Medela Pump in Style Advanced (PISA) ($156 cash) – If you’d like, you can do a little dance to the rhythm of this machine as it milks you and makes you feel like a dairy cow. The PISA gets the job done, but it’s loud, inelegant, and is an open system pump, meaning it can’t/shouldn’t be shared between multiple users. Both the Spectra S2 and the Spectra S1 are superior pumps.
- Elvie Hands-Free Pump ($499) – Compared to the Willow 2.0, the Elvie has less suction and will generally yield less milk. Since it’s a similar price point to the Willow 2.0, you might as well just go with the Willow. (One reason many have chosen the Elvie over the Willow previously is because the Elive features washable and reusable milk storage containers, whereas the first edition of the Willow only accepted single use bags. The Willow now has a milk container option, which makes it superior.)
- Medela Freestyle ($259) – The Freestyle is very similar to the Spectra S9, but it is an open system pump, meaning milk can get into the pumping mechanism through the tubing. This generally does not cause problems, but it does make it unsanitary to share pumps between mothers (and therefore makes it impossible to buy one used or sell one when you’re finished).