Modern-day moms can rely on electric pumps to take the work out of pumping their breastmilk – but high tech isn’t always better. While electric breast pumps won’t work without an outlet or fresh batteries, the best manual breast pumps will work for as long as you have the strength to squeeze the handle. You can always count on your own manpower!
Besides reliability, there are plenty of other reasons to go with the low-key option of a manual breast pump over an electric. But with so many options out there, it can be tricky to decide which one to choose. Since you’re going to be getting pretty intimate with your pump, it’s worth taking the time to buy one you really like.
Let’s explore what to look for in a quality manual pump and how to use one, plus take a closer look at some of the best models available on the market in our detailed manual breast pump reviews.
- Doesn’t make any noise
- Easy to setup and compact
- More affordable than other pumps
- Comfortable to hold
- Comfortable to use
- Easy to pump
- Expresses milk quickly
- Lightweight and very easy to clean
- Soft and comfortable
- Easy to clean
- Comfortable against breast
Is a Breast Pump Necessary?
Not every woman needs a breast pump, but it’s a good idea for most women to have one on hand. Obviously, as a new mom, you’re going to want to spend as much time as possible with your baby, and you may have the luxury of being around whenever your baby needs to feed.
But sometimes it isn’t always possible for you to be there at every feeding. The hustle and bustle of daily life will interfere with even the most organized of moms.
I missed several feedings a day with my first child because of my busy work schedule. I worked in an office setting, not in my home, so I had to count on someone else to give my baby her meals. Without a breast pump, those meals would have been formula. Luckily, breast pumps make it possible for moms to give their babies the most nutritious food they get.
If you’re a lucky mom who can be an on-call milk bar as and when your baby needs you, it’s possible to skip the breast pump. But if you plan on returning to work, or even if you plan to take a day to yourself once in a while, you’ll need to have a breast pump if manual expression is not right for you.
Who Should I Choose a Manual Pump?
There are many differences between manual and electric breast pumps. Moms who want to pump multiple times a day may want to consider one of the best electric breast pumps, but if you’re just looking to pump occasionally, like once a day or less, a manual pump is the way to go (1).
Advantages of a Manual Pumps
Manual pumps are much more inexpensive than electric pumps. There’s no electrical component, which drives down the price. If you aren’t going to use your pump often, there’s no need to spend the extra money on buying an electric pump when a cheaper option is available. Motherhood is expensive enough!
Manual pumps can go anywhere you do. They’re easy to put in your purse or suitcase for last-minute travel or for pumping at work. It’s more difficult to take electric pumps with you on the road because they won’t work unless you have an outlet handy, or you carry enough batteries with you. Plus, electric pumps are heavier than manual ones.
Unlike electric pumps, manual pumps are quiet. Once in a while, you’ll hear a squeaking sound, but overall, it’s much easier on the ears than electric pumps. This is great if you have a sleeping infant nearby or you’ve had a long day at work and don’t want to deal with the noise.
Easy to use
You don’t need a Ph.D. to figure out how to use a manual breast pump. Unlike electric pumps that can sometimes be intimidating, manual pumps are pretty straightforward. What you see is what you get.
Easy to clean
There are fewer parts to worry about with a manual pump compared to an electric model. They’re easy to disassemble and once you have them clean, you simply let them air dry till the next time you need them. I know the less time I have to spend cleaning, the happier I am.
Some women, even those who pump a lot, prefer manual breast pumps because they feel they’re more comfortable. Unlike some electric models, you control the suction on a manual pump – you can pump slower or faster depending on what works best for you. Manual breast pumps are also not so impersonal; you feel more like a human being and less like a dairy cow!
Disadvantages of Manual Pumps
Not as effective
Some moms find that manual pumps don’t do as good a job of getting all their milk out as electric ones.
If you’ve got a lot of milk to pump, you can start to feel like a manual laborer slaving over an old-fashioned water pump. You might feel like the workout if you’re already exhausted.
Since you have to extract every pump of milk physically, you might find you take longer to get finished than if you had an electric pump.
Types of Manual Breast Pumps
Unlike their electric counterparts, manual pumps are pretty simple and intuitive to use. There are two basic types:
These consist of a nipple shield attached to a valve that opens into a bottle, making them look a little like air horns. This is a common design that allows moms to pump the lever and create suction against the breast to draw the milk out. Some models have levers that go two ways: a small pump is used in the beginning to massage and encourages letdown, a larger pump is used once milk flow begins.
Some models come with a cushioned part that goes between the cup and your breast, and some can be used with just one hand.
Silicone Models or “Milk Catchers”
These are also more passive milk catchers which consist of a single piece of shaped, food-grade silicone that fits around your nipple. There are two ways to use these: you could either fit the pump on one breast to catch any leaks while you breastfeed on the other, or you could manually squeeze the reservoir to create suction and pump milk.
You can usually purchase a cap or stopper to seal off your milk, which can amount to a few ounces even without any active pumping on your part.
Choosing the Best Manual Breast Pump
Easy to Use
Most importantly, you should look for a manual pump that’s easy to use. You don’t want to get cramping in your arm or hand from your breast pumping sessions.
Comfortable and Ergonomic
You’ll want to go for a design that’s comfortable and ergonomic. The shape of the pump can be crucial because you’re going to be holding it for what can feel like hours, pumping your milk sometimes quite vigorously.
Hands Needed for Pumping
Some manual pumps require you to use two hands, while others can be used with just one, which means if you become adept at pumping, you’ll be able to pump one breast while your baby is feeding on the other.
A good pump will match the firm latch of a feeding baby, so take note of how strong the suction is when considering different pumps. Stronger suction means faster pumping, which means saved time for you.
Amount of Milk it Expresses
Lastly, you want to drain your breasts to keep your milk supply up fully and to avoid an infection known as mastitis which can happen with a clogged milk duct. If you give up because you know you’ll never fully empty your breasts thanks to your pump’s subpar suction, you’ll have fewer ounces of breast milk for your baby to eat.
Best Manual Breast Pumps of 2020
Finding the right manual pump is a great feeling. You get to catch and keep all that precious breast milk and you do it with minimal fuss and stress. Here are what we think are the 5 best models currently on the market.
1. Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump
When you have low milk supply, you’ll want to find a manual pump that offers great suction. You’re going to need that suction to get every last drop out of your breasts, because fully draining your breasts will encourage your breasts to produce more milk.
The Medela Harmony includes the breast pump, a 24 mm breast shield, one 5-ounce bottle with a lid and a stand, and all the breast pump parts you’ll need.
It uses 2-phase expression technology. During the first phase, you prepare your breasts for letdown, by using the lever that is closest to the breast shield. But once your milk begins to come out of your breast, you use the longer lever to pump the milk until your breast is emptied.
Moms may like that although the suction is great with this pump, it feels more gentle than some other manual breast pumps. Although this pump does come with instructions, you might not need them because it’s pretty easy to figure out.
- It doesn’t make any noise.
- Easy to put together and compact enough for a large purse.
- The suction power seems to lessen after repeated use.
- Some users have reported the o-ring on the pump breaking easily, which could mean you may end up needing a replacement piece.
2. Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump
When you have to pump at work, and you can’t afford a double electric breast pump, a manual breast pump is a good option. You’ll want to find one that can drain your breasts quickly because you don’t have long to get your milk expressed when you’re on the job.
This pump uses two different modes – a stimulation mode and an expression mode. It has breast shields that fit two sizes, both standard and large, which will help moms find the right suction and a fit that will work for them.
Its ergonomic design and the easy-express handle will stop your hand from getting pins-and-needles from all those repetitive movements. The pump can be used with Lansinoh’s Momma bottle and their milk storage bottles.
The wide-neck bottle attached to the pump makes it a cinch to transfer the milk into a storage container. Taking this bottle apart to clean it only takes a minute or two. After an easy cleaning process and after the pieces have airdried, putting the bottle back together again just takes a moment.
- Lightweight and easy to travel with.
- More affordable than other pumps.
- Comfortable to hold.
- The suction isn’t as great as some manual pumps.
- Not compatible with some bottles.
3. Philips Avent Manual Comfort Breast Pump
When you use a manual breast pump every day, it has to be a model that's designed to put up with heavy usage. You don’t want to spend your hard-earned money only to have the breast pump break because it can’t keep up with you. Look for a sturdy pump right from the start.
You should be able to use this pump without fear of killer hand cramps because of its unique design, which helps moms find a comfortable pumping position.
It has a textured massage cushion that is supposed to help with letdown to start a woman’s milk flow. The pump is lightweight, and its compact design makes it perfect for traveling. You can easily fit this unit into an oversized purse.
Finding a good position on your breast with this pump is an easy feat, and it’s also simple to continue to hold it in place while you pump.
Moms who have Philips Avent Natural and Classic bottles will be pleased to know they’re compatible with this breast pump. But moms who have standard size bottles may want to look at other breast pumps because this one only fits wider-mouthed bottles. The pump pieces are easy to clean, and they can be placed in the top rack of the dishwasher.
- Comfortable to use.
- Easy to pump.
- Expresses milk quickly.
- It can be a little squeaky during use.
- It doesn’t fit standard size baby bottles.
4. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump
It can sometimes feel like everything about motherhood is hard work. Breastfeeding and pumping is no exception, but thankfully there are ways to get a few 'free' ounces of milk a day without much effort. 'Milk catchers' are not so much pumps as collection devices that take advantage of the flow you might have in one breast as you breastfeed on the other.
The Haakaa breast pump has a bit of a cult following and for a good reason. Its iconic design couldn’t be simpler, with a single piece of perfectly shaped silicone that you use to suction your breasts manually.
Fold the flange back, place over your breast then release the flange back again to create a super stronghold. The Haakaa is best used as a milk catcher rather than relied on as a pump. Wear it while you breastfeed on one side, and it will take advantage of the letdown on the other, scoring you a few more ounces of milk without actively pumping it.
Some moms have been able to pump by squeezing and releasing, but others find it’s better as an occasional relief only and still use a stronger pump at other times.
- Lightweight and very easy to clean.
- Soft and comfortable against your breast.
- This model is almost certainly not strong enough to actively pump much milk.
- Might not suck as well after repeated use.
- Some moms have complained that the measurements are not accurate.
5. NUK Expressive Manual Breastpump
When you have larger breasts, it can be difficult to find a breast pump that will fit them comfortably. Some brands and models are better than others for the buxomer among us. You’ll want to look for a breast pump that won't make you feel like you're struggling to fit in, so to speak.
This pump, made for occasional use, costs a lot less than many of its competitors. Moms can adjust both the speed and suction of this pump as they use it, and the milk pumps straight into any NUK bottle that you attach.
The NUK manual pump allows moms to do all their pumping one-handed so they can accomplish other tasks at the same time. The pump only weight 5.5 ounces, which feels like nothing in your purse. Plus there are very few parts to this pump, which makes it easy to assemble and clean, and it comes with a comfy silicone breast cushion.
The NUK has an ergonomic handle to help reduce the strain on your hand and wrist while you pump. Moms will find this pump works best when they lean slightly forward – that allows the milk to go into the bottle and not run out of the unit.
- Easy to clean.
- Easy to assemble.
- Soft and comfortable against your breast.
- Even with the ergonomic design, this unit is a little uncomfortable on your hand.
- Makes a popping noise while pumping.
How to Use a Manual Breast Pump
Using a manual pump is easy, even for those slightly squeamish moms who haven’t pumped milk before (2).
There are just a few steps to get started:
- Wash your hands to make sure you aren’t contaminating the storage bottle or any of the pump parts that will come in contact with your breast milk.
- Put the breast shield over your nipple. Your nipple should be centered and not touching the sides of the shield.
- Start pumping by squeezing the handle of your manual pump. You’ll need to do a few pumps before you see any milk coming out.
- When you are done pumping one breast for around 5 minutes, pump the other one. You don’t want your milk supply to dry up because you continuously favor one breast over the other.
- Once you’re done and have either fed your baby or stored the milk, wash the pump and let the pieces air dry until the next time you need them.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Do I Use a Manual Breast Pump?
Women pump breast milk for many reasons. A manual breast pump might come in handy whenever your breasts feel uncomfortably full, or you need to express milk to store to give to your baby later. The benefit of a manual pump is that it’s portable and simple to use compared to an electric one.
If for whatever reason, you need to maintain milk supply even though your baby is not actively breastfeeding, or if you have an oversupply, a manual breast pump allows you to collect and store the excess. This is great for working moms or whenever you’ll be away from your baby but still want to offer them breast milk.
How Do I Clean a Manual Breast Pump?
Manual pumps need to be cleaned thoroughly after each use. Wash with ordinary dish soap or specially formulated bottle detergent, rinse well, then allow to air dry until you’re ready to use it again.
For those parts of the pump that touch milk, you could use a bottle sterilizer to deep clean once in a while, but this is not necessary.
Does a Manual Breast Pump Hurt?
It shouldn’t. When a breast pump (manual or electric) is used properly, it will not cause you any pain. If you’re new to pumping or breastfeeding in general, the sensation can be strange or a little uncomfortable at first. But once your body gets used to it, pumping milk can often be a quiet and relaxing part of your day!
If the pump hurts, stop and try to attach it again, making sure that your nipple is properly centered. Some women do nevertheless experience discomfort with some pumps and not others, but this usually comes down to personal preference.
The Bottom Line
Our top pick as the best manual breast pump is the Medela Harmony. It offers a good mix of performance and affordability. It’s comfortable for moms to use, and so quiet that no one nearby will know what you’re up to.
This is a great option for women who occasionally pump, especially for moms who only pump once a day at their workplace or while traveling. With how quiet this pump is, it’s a good choice. Although manual pumping does require a bit of a learning curve, once you get the hang of it, you’ll find it becomes second nature.
So in the beginning, even if it feels a bit awkward, stick with it. You’ll catch on sooner than you think. While you may have a few good reasons to want to give up your pumping efforts, you have the best reason of all to keep trying – your baby.
If you’ve got any questions or comments about our manual breast pump reviews, please share below. We always love to hear from our readers!