Breastfeeding is an amazing thing, but it can be jolly inconvenient at times. Luckily, manual breast pumps are here to save the day, allowing you to express and store milk for future feeds when you have to head back to work or step out for the night, keep your milk supply up by getting out every last bit (that’s Econ 101, friends: supply and demand), and pass the baton (or rather, bottle) to partners for their turn at bonding. The best manual breast pumps are gentle, convenient and ergonomic; our helpful tips below will help you work out which is best for you.
Even if you’ve gone the adoption or surrogacy route, or if your partner has given birth but you want to share in the joy, manual pumps can actually be very helpful when it comes to stimulating milk production. This manual stimulation and, in some cases, the use of hilarious-sounding but remarkable herbal or prescription remedies called ‘galactagogues’, can be an effective way to achieve induced lactation, but as with anything, we recommend checking with your doctor before you embark on any grand schemes.
Manual breast pumps have a number of advantages over their battery- or mains-powered cousin, the electric breast pump (opens in new tab). First off, they’re far less expensive, which is always great news for first-time parents who find themselves bewildered at just how much stuff one tiny human demands. They’re quieter, except for perhaps the odd squeak, and thus much more low-key, a blessing whether you’re feeling conspicuous on the go or tiptoeing around a house with a sleeping baby in it. They also free you up to do other things, unlike electric breast pumps which tether you to a power point for the duration. Finally, they’re just a bit less intimidating. Putting one of the most sensitive parts of your body into an automated sucking machine can understandably feel a bit hairy, so having a pump where you control the flow and, in some cases, set the strength, can take some of the edge off.
So, you know you need one, but which one? The best manual breast pumps are comfortable, easy to use, easy to clean, and won’t leave you with a useless claw for a hand after a few minutes of pumping, and each of our picks displays these virtues in varying degrees, so there’s not a bad one in the bunch.
That said, there are a couple of things you’ll want to keep an eye out for when buying a breast pump. First, not all brands of pump are compatible with all brands of bottle (opens in new tab), and while we’ve flagged up where we know this to be the case, it’s wise to keep in mind that manufacturers will usually favour their own bottles where sizes vary. Second, take a look at the size of the pump and bottle, and think about how well it’ll squeeze into the gaps in your day – back-at-work and always-on-the-go mums are likely to appreciate a breast pump small enough to fit in a handbag or changing bag, while others might be all about the capacity.
As with every element of breastfeeding, it’s whatever works for you, so keep reading below for our thoughts on the best manual breast pumps available right now.
For its five-star-worthy combination of being easy to use, lightweight and portable, and comfortable, this Philips Avent pump takes the crown as our best manual breast pump. Its design is simple but ergonomic, engineered so that you don’t have to lean forward or adopt any odd, unintuitive positions in order to be able to pump, or worse still, get the dreaded ‘claw’ from long minutes of lacklustre pumping. Reviewers also loved that the petite size made it easy to slip into a bag, making it ideal for mums who’ve gone back to work, and how simple it was to use and keep clean. A winner all round.
It’s not often you get to squee over the design of something quite so functional as a breast pump, but this MAM breast pump is a happy exception in a world of perfectly good, but occasionally boring designs. It’s not all about the cute raccoon motif and springy green accents though – after all, it has a job to do, and reviewers were super impressed with how it performed. The flexible funnel is topped with four secure-holding cushions, and it can be rotated 360 degrees, giving you the freedom to change position while expressing, and from assembly to changing the strength of the expression, plus the ability to pump straight to the bottle, reviewers found this a very easy to use manual breast pump.
There are two big sellers at play in the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump. First, there’s the ComfortFit cushions. These are designed to provide superb fit and strong suction without causing any discomfort, and reviewers agreed they were the most comfortable they’d ever used, whichever of the two modes they had going. Second, but no less important, is the ease of use and cleaning reported by breastfeeding mums. Almost all commented on how superbly easy it was to assemble and use, and loved how easily it could be taken apart for cleaning, meaning no icky mouldy milk to contend with as in some more fortified models.
For efficient and comfortable letdown – the process of the milk being released from the breast – the Tommee Tippee Manual Breast Pump is one of our top picks. The secret is the cushion, which has massaging ripples to stimulate milk flow and mimics baby’s natural feeding action. If you’ve had some difficulty expressing or breastfeeding before, happy reviewers say not to be put off, praising this pump’s pain-free pumping and easy-to-clean design, and although some found that it took a little while to get the knack (tilting away a bit when removing and keeping up a good rate are top tips) it wasn’t long before they settled into a comfortable and simple pumping experience.
This pretty pump might initially distract with its floral design, but rest assured it really is all business. Its big thing is an ergonomic handle, designed to make it easy to pump with one hand without cramping up, meaning you can go about your business (or rather, whatever business you can respectfully complete partially clothed) without having to interrupt your day too badly in order to express. It also boasts a smooth motion and pressure-sensitive suction that ups or drops the strength according to you, making for a tailored and more relaxing than average experience.
With its eminently boastable virtue of being the only manual breast pump in the world to use so-called ‘2-Phase Expression’, the Medela Harmony pump might just be the most natural-feeling breast pump out there. Those two phases it speaks of are the alternation of short sucks and longer, stronger sucks that a breastfeeding baby would normally rely on to get the most out of dinnertime, and reviewers vouched for the fact that this made expression faster, but didn’t do so at the cost of comfort, remaining gentle on the breast.
Breastfeeding is rarely easy, and some of us might need a little more of a hand than others when it comes to keeping up supply, which is where combination feeding can be a viable solution. If you’re interested in the different types of baby formula available, you can read our guide to the best options right here.