Bob Dylan did it, but it doesn't mean you have to. Here are some pros and cons of electric versus manual pumps.
Last year we spoke with 100 mums, to find out how they really felt about breast pumps. We didn't need to ask much to get the conversation flowing. It turns out that mums feel quite strongly about this pumping thing, and have opinions and stories to share.
There were so many insights from the survey, that we've cut it up into posts for easier reading. However, if you're into digesting large slabs of material, or are scrolling through your phone for something to read while you pump, then you can find the full report here.
This post shares what we learned from mums about electric and manual pumps.
Should I go electric?
Which pump do you recommend?
We don't want to promote one pump over another, so we'll keep this quite broad. Having said that, our survey did find that most (over 90%) of mums used electric pumps, and over half (56%) used both.
What are the pros and cons of each?
Before we launch into comparisons, let's start with definitions. We define a manual pump is one that you either use your hand to squeeze, or which passively sits onto your breast. An electric pump is one you plug into the wall or runs on batteries.
Examples: Ameda manual, Ardo Amaryl, Haakaa Silicone pump, Evenflo manual, Freemie Equality, Medela Harmony, Spectra Handy, Tommee Tippee Manual.
Can mimic the rhythm of your baby's suck more easily
No mechanical noise, so it's a bit less depressing
Fewer bits and pieces
Can passively collect milk that would otherwise be lost from your other breast, while you're pumping or feeding from the other.
Possible hand or wrist pain. Mums who used a manual pump had higher rates of hand and wrist pain (at about 57%) compared with mums who used only electric pumps, where about 30% had wrist pain. Some mums said they played around with positioning, and tried to use their thumbs or palms to try to pump for a break.
Possibly collects less milk. Anecdotally, mums told us that they moved to electric pumps because they were able to collect more in one sitting.
Not hands free. It may be obvious, but if you're using your hands to pump, you're not free to do anything else.
Examples: Ameda Purely Yours, Ameda Finesse, Ardo Calypso, Ardo Carum (hospital grade), Evenflo Advanced Electric, Freemie Freedom, Freemie Independence, Freemie Liberty, Lucina Melodi, Medela Freestyle, Medela Swing, Medela Symphony (hospital grade), Philips Avent, Spectra S1, Spectra S2 (hospital grade), Spectra DEW350 (hospital grade), Spectra M1, Tommee Tippee Electric.
More powerful, which some imply that they can collect more milk. It's very difficult to prove this though, so watch out for claims about 'more efficient' or 'more productive' pumps. The real value of having more power, is that it allows you pump two breasts at once. This halves the time you spend pumping. Great if you're busy! And who isn't?
Can be hooked up hands free, allowing you to do other stuff. Which, let's be honest, is probably just chilling out on your phone. Having said that, we have heard from some amazing mums who can do work, eat lunch, drive or exercise while they pump. We are as impressed by these mums as we are by the ones who can wander around with a baby feeding on their breast. Boss!
Lower chance of pain in the wrist or hand. Electric pumps mean that you don't have to repeatedly squeeze the pump. We found that about 30% of mums using electric pumps had wrist pain, compared with about 57% of mums using manual pumps.
The suction can go quite high, which means its tempting (if you're trying to increase supply, or collect more milk in less time) to dial it up and sit on it for a long time. Take care - it can cause damage, swelling and abrasions to the nipple and areola.
Can be restrictive in pumping rate, although there are pre-set rhythms that you can choose from in some pumps that are meant to mimic the different sucking patterns of babies.
Noisy, although some pump brands are working on this.
Lots of bits and pieces to clean, store and carry.
Some electric pumps aren't portable, so you can feel stuck.
So what should I do now?
Think about why you're pumping and your routine at the moment. Do you need to save time because you're back at work or have other kids running around? Are you trying to increase your supply, or exclusively feed via pumping, and are stuck on the pump several times a day? An electric pump might take the edge off in these situations.
Regardless of your reason for pumping (and you may have more than one), remember that most mums will try more than one pump before they settle on something that works for them and the stage they're at.
So don't be afraid to try a few out. Ask your (close) friends if you can try theirs, or hire one for a bit. We're all different.
Didn't answer your question?
Hmm... Check out these posts, which have more detail on electric and manual pumps or read the full report here. If you're still left wondering, or you think we've got something wrong, then please send us your question.
What mums say.
We'll leave you with a quote from one mum about going to electric from manual pumping.
"With my first baby I didn’t pump for long because it was awkward and time consuming. But with my second, we hired a pump and I did both at same time which was much more efficient."
And from another about how electric pump made her feel.
" I developed a lot of sympathy for dairy cattle"