Ah, the memories of pumping milk in my office and on work travel get me so misty-eyed. No, not really.
I suspect most of us who have been in the position of working and pumping breast milk experience conflicting feelings: Gratitude for the ability to produce milk that nourishes our little ones. Annoyance and frustration at the logistical nightmare that can be pumping at work and on the go. And sometimes horror at the pumping sounds that can come from our offices.
I once calculated that between my two children, I had pumped over 1,000 times over the course of a nearly two-year period. I schlepped that pumping bag with its pump, bottles, milk, and ice packs on planes, trains, and automobiles. And there were definitely things I learned along the way that I wished I had known earlier in my pumping career. (Replace those little white Medela “membranes” and you’ll get better suction! Pump earlier in the morning when your supply is higher!)
If you’re going through the stress of pumping, you want to make sure you choose the right appliance for the job. And you, my dear mamas, have the benefit of some advanced technology that simply wasn’t available when I was pumping in the dark ages, 5+ years ago.
To make pumping at work easier for you, I’ve reached out both to my Mindful Return course alumnae (all new working mamas themselves) and the breastfeeding experts at Metropolitan Breastfeeding to ask their opinions on THE best pumps for working mamas.
The Best Breast Pumps for Working Moms
#1: The Spectra
This pump got the most votes and cheers of enthusiasm from new working moms. Hands down. Bar none. No comparison. The mamas who talked about this pump were true groupies. Almost made me want to pump again. (Almost, but not quite.)
What makes it so great? Here’s what they say:
- It’s speedy. One mom said she pumped half as long and got a lot more milk than from her other pump.
- It’s quiet.
- It’s lightweight.
- It’s more comfortable and “gentler”.
- There’s a built-in light (convenient for night-time pumping) and a timer.
- The flanges are a perfect fit for Avent bottles.
- It’s a “closed system,” so less worry about buying one used.
Only downside? It’s a bit bigger than some other pumps, which can make it a bit more bulky for travel.
Apparently, most insurance only covers the Spectra S2, but with some insurance, you can still get the S1 and simply pay the difference. Mamas loved the S1 for its rechargeable battery than can last several pumping sessions, which can be especially great for long, international trips.
Best working mama quote about the pump? “Without it, I could not have nursed my child as long as I did.”
#2: Rent a hospital grade pump to keep at the office. (E.g. Medela Symphony)
The second-most votes went to “just rent a hospital grade pump for your office” rather than buying a consumer model.
- Saves time – gets the job done faster!
- More effective at getting out more milk.
- Quieter than many of the commercial options.
This option gets a ringing endorsement from my friends at Metropolitan Breastfeeding, too. “Sometimes we find that working parents need a little more power with their pumps,” says Michelle Stulberger, MHA, IBCLC, the Director of Business Operations at Metropolitan Breastfeeding.
“When you’re away from baby and pumping multiple times during the day,” she notes, “it can be difficult to keep up your supply for many reasons, including the fact that many people do not respond as easily to a pump as they do to their baby. This is why we always remind parents that what you pump isn’t always an accurate reflection of your supply!
For these reasons, we love to recommend the Medela Symphony pump as a great option for working parents. The Symphony is compatible with the Pump in Style pieces (you’ll just need a different type of tubing and caps), which many parents have already received from their insurance. There is a ‘letdown’ phase to start, and parents can adjust the speed and suction easily.”
Want more reasons to go this route? Michelle gives bonus points for storage: “Although the rental comes in a hard case, there are pumping bags available to store all items and optional accessories like car power adapters for pumping on-the-go. Using a higher powered pump like the Symphony also can result in faster pumping sessions, which is something that all working parents can appreciate!”
Best working mama quote about the pump? “So much time saved and more milk pumped! For the first few months, I rented a hospital grade Medela, and it was worth every penny.”
This isn’t one I’d heard of, but wow did it get an enthusiastic review from a new working mama.
- The pump is a closed system (again, less risk if shared), and works extremely well.
- Great customer service.
- Limerick is a small, woman-owned company.
- One-size fits all silicone flanges!
The only downside appears to be the price. It is more expensive than its counterparts. (And we hear it’s most similar in function to the Spectra.)
Best working mama quote about the pump? “I loved everything about my Limerick pump! I loved it so much I bought a second out of pocket so I could leave one in my office.”
#4: Medela Freestyle
There were also several shout-outs for the Medela Freestyle electric pump.
What does it have going for it?
- It’s a small and portable double electric pump, that can work without being plugged into the wall.
- Easy for traveling, as it’s very compact.
- “You can walk around wearing it.”
Best working mama quote? “The Medela Freestyle is great! Very convenient for pumping wherever you need it.”
What about hand pumps?
Looking for a hand pump? These can be useful first thing in the morning while nursing on the other side—or in case of emergencies like forgotten pump part or a broken pump. The Mindful Return mamas recommend these two:
- Medela Harmony: Great in a pinch, if you know you won’t be able to plug in, and lugging a bigger pump isn’t a good fit. It fits discretely into a purse and is basically silent when you use it.
- Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump: No parts, quiet, and a “total lifesaver.” One mama used it before she went back to work, to help build a freezer stash of breast milk. She used it throughout the day (without having to take the time to set up an electric pump) and got 2 or 3 ounces a day from it.
Other pumping accouterments?
Three other pumping accessories got shout-outs as well:
- Freemie attachment
The Freemie is simply a collection cup system, with a filter, valve, and funnel that fits over your breast just like the original flanges that come with any pump. “The cups tuck into your bra, making you look a little like Madonna in that famous cone bra, except these seem infinitely more useful,” raved Jewelyn Cosgrove. Because the Freemie makes pumping hands-free and discreet, mamas especially love using it for pumping in the car.
- Pumping Pal breast pump flanges
They come with three different sized pairs, and the word on the street is that they “make pumping a million hours a day so much more comfortable.
- The Dairy Fairy Bra
Having a hands-free pumping bra can make all the difference in your office pumping experience. I heard accolades for The Dairy Fairy line of bras!
A Few Final Thoughts
In addition to insurance covering pumps and supplies these days, be aware that breastfeeding supplies count as reimbursable items through flex-spending accounts. This even includes nursing pads and storage bags!
And finally, remember that whatever you’re able to pump will be enough, mama. Working, pumping, and generally just putting yourself together every day to get out the door requires a herculean effort. Take the time to zoom out, see the bigger picture, and realize that you are doing the absolute best you can. And that baby will be just fine no matter what. When pumping gets you down, and you need a good laugh, read my ode to Dr. Seuss pumping poem, too: Oh, the Places You’ll Pump!
Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.