How to Choose Between a Manual Versus Electric Breast Pump

Whether you plan to pump exclusively, occasionally, or alternate between nursing and pumping, it's important to know how manual and electric breast pumps differ so you can choose the best pump for your needs. 

Differences Between Manual and Electric

When it comes to deciding between a manual pump versus an electric pump, there are multiple factors to consider, including pumping frequency, pumping goals, where you’ll be pumping, access to power, and more. Whether you'll be pumping exclusively, only occasionally, or regularly alternating between nursing and pumping, it’s important to pick the right breast pump for your needs

Manual Breast Pump

Manual breast pumps are used on one breast at a time and are hand operated. You can place the shield over your breast and use your other hand to operate the pump.

Advantages

  • Portable. Manual pumps are easy to transport and are much lighter than electric pumps. 
  • Convenient. Because manual pumps are hand-operated, there’s no need for a power source. They’re more convenient if you are pumping in a car or any place where electricity is not easily accessible.
  • Easy to use. Operating a manual pump is pretty straightforward and easy.
  • Affordable. If budget is a concern, a manual pump is the most affordable option.
  • Easy to clean. With fewer parts and accessories, a manual pump is easy to clean.
  • Quiet. A manual pump is quieter than an electric pump, so pumping is more discreet.

Disadvantages

  • Limited output. Suction on a manual pump can be limited. We typically recommend using a manual pump as a convenient backup option to your double-electric breast pump or while traveling when it may be more challenging to pump on the go.
  • Time consuming. Because they can only be used on one breast at a time, it takes longer to express milk with a manual pump.
  • No customization. Unlike electric pumps, you cannot customize the experience of a manual pump with different expression and stimulation modes.
  • Not hands-free. Because you need both hands to operate a manual pump, you cannot perform other tasks while pumping.

Electric Breast Pump

Double electric breast pumps make pumping quick and easy, giving you more time to relax and snuggle your little one. These pumps are a great option if you work outside the home, your time is limited, or you plan to both nurse and pump for your baby.

Advantages

  • Fast and efficient.  Double electric breast pumps allow you to express milk from both breasts at the same time, making pumping quicker and easier. They’re especially helpful if you’re a mom of multiples who doesn’t have a lot of extra time. In fact, most of Medela's double-electric breast pumps come with our PersonalFit Flex™ Breast Shields, which were designed to optimize milk flow and are clinically proven to increase milk volume by 11.8% (compared to the traditional 90° breast shield).
  • Effective. Because they have a motor, electric pumps typically have stronger suction than a manual pump, allowing you to express milk faster for your baby and find the settings that maximize your milk supply and flow.
  • Supply building. An electric pump allows you to pump and store more milk in a shorter period of time, making it easier to build up a milk supply. What’s more, many electric pumps allow you to customize your experience with different expression and massage modes. This extra stimulation enables you to conveniently increase or maintain milk production. 
  • Hands-free. Different accessory options, such as the Easy Expression® Bustier, can make hands-free pumping easier, allowing you flexibility to perform other tasks while pumping.

Disadvantages

  • Financial investment. There are more attachments and features on an electric pump, making the price higher than a manual option.
  • Bulky. While some electric pumps can be cumbersome and not as portable as manual pumps, newer, modernized models like Medela’s Swing Maxi™ Double Electric Breast Pump and Freestyle® Flex Double Electric Breast Pump were designed to be very lightweight (weighing in at less than 1 pound!), compact, and easily portable. If you’re an on-the-go mom, you’ll want to be sure to do your research on different pump offerings so you can confidently choose the pump that best meets your unique needs.
  • Limiting. An electric pump requires a power source to operate, limiting your options on where and when you can pump. Even battery-operated models require the batteries to be recharged eventually, so if you frequently travel or are away from an outlet for long periods of time, then a manual option will likely be a great backup to have on hand. 
  • Noisy. Some electric pumps can be noisy, making them indiscreet while in use and loud during those late-night pumping sessions when everything is still and quiet. 

How Often Will You Pump?

A manual pump is ideal for women who are primarily nursing and don’t pump every day or who don’t spend long periods of time away from baby. It’s also great for moms who are alternating between nursing their baby and pumping between feeds.

A double-electric breast pump is recommended for moms who want to pump exclusively or for moms who plan to both nurse and pump for their little one. If pumping exclusively, we recommend our hospital-grade (multi-user) Symphony PLUS® Breast Pump. Because Symphony PLUS® is engineered with Initiation Technology™ to help initiate, build, and maintain your breast milk supply, using this pump soon after birth can significantly increase your milk supply* to support exclusive pumping for your baby.

Finally, a double-electric personal use pump is ideal for moms who wish to regularly alternate between nursing and pumping, or for moms who work outside the home.

What's Your Budget?

Your budget should be a consideration when choosing between manual and electric pumps. Manual pumps are more affordable than electric pumps. However, your health insurance may cover some of the costs of buying an electric pump, so be sure to check!

Choosing the Best Breast Pump for Your Needs

If you still can’t quite decide, we recommend you take our quick survey to help you choose which type of pump will work best for you and your baby.

*Meier,P.P., Engstrom,J.L., Janes,J.E., Jegier,B.J., & Loera,F. Breast pump suction patterns that mimic the human infant during breastfeeding: Greater milk output in less time spent pumping for breast pump-dependent mothers with premature infants. J Perinatol 32, 103–110 (2012).