Choosing the right breast pump for you and your baby can be a tricky process. There are quite a few factors to consider, like how often you will be pumping, if you will be breastfeeding as well, what your budget looks like, and how much time you have available to pump each day.
For moms who are occasionally pumping and just aren’t sure what they will need long-term, a top manual breast pump is a cheap and easy place to start.
In this article we will review the following manual breast pumps:
Manual Hand Pump Designs
Most manual breast pumps you are familiar with are likely levered pumps. These pumps come with several pieces to assemble, including the:
- Bottle or storage cup
- Lid with breast shield
They work just the way you’d expect a pump to work. Place the breast shield straight over the nipple and areola, and squeeze the handle.
You will continue pumping slowly, at regular intervals, until the breast has been completely drained.
There is a second type of pump that you may not be as familiar with, and that is the milk catcher.
These are typically a single piece – no valves, membranes, handles, etc. – that attaches to the opposite breast when you are breastfeeding your baby.
The idea behind them is to simply catch the milk that starts to let down from the breast you aren’t feeding from so that no milk is wasted and you keep your clothes dry. Just place the shield over the nipple while squeezing the bulb and let go once it touches your skin.
This should create a seal that will help it stay on your breast without holding it.
You can slightly pump these as well if you want to express some milk outside of a normal breastfeeding session.
Just squeeze the bulb of the catcher a little bit to pump out additional milk.
They are not as efficient as a levered pump in this way, so you don’t want to use it as your primary manual breast pump.
However, they can be a great companion to your regular breastfeeding routine.
Your hand will get tired when manually pumping your breast milk, but you don’t want it to get tired quicker than is necessary. This is where an ergonomic handle is a must have.
An ergonomic handle is shaped to fit the contour of your hand just right to alleviate pressure as you squeeze repeatedly.
It is also positioned to make it easy to grasp without holding your wrist at an odd angle or your hand too close to your breast.
Of course, this criterion doesn’t apply when you are specifically looking for a milk catcher type of manual breast pump.
Breast Shield Size Options
In order to pump comfortably and efficiently, you need to ensure that the breast shield is the right size for you.
Most manual breast pumps don’t come with multiple shield sizes, but some manufacturers do sell them separately.
If you know that you need a size different from the average woman, you will definitely need to consider the cost of purchasing another shield size. Keep in mind that milk catcher pumps don’t have the option to change shield sizes.
Not all manual breast pumps are the same; some allow you to vary the suction power (albeit only slightly) by how much you squeeze the handle while others don’t change at all.
Your pump’s suction power is going to determine how efficiently you drain your breast. You don’t want to put in a lot of work for very little milk.
Be sure to read reviews for what other mothers have said about their pump’s suction power.
Secure Capture and Storage
Few things are more heartbreaking than pumping an entire bottle of breast milk only to knock it over and watch it spill over everything.
Even a few drops that don’t quite make it into the bottle can be disappointing.
You will want to make sure your pump has a good seal between your breast and the shield as well as where the lid attaches to the capture container so that no milk is wasted.
It is also a good idea to find a pump that includes a stand and/or stopper that fits into the opening of the shield to prevent spills or tipping over.
Ease of Cleaning
When you need to clean your breast pump after every use, you don’t want to have to deal with a bunch of little parts that are hard to scrub or easy to lose.
You want a pump that has fewer parts to disassemble and easy enough to fit a cleaning brush into.
It’s also a great bonus if your breast pump’s parts are dishwasher safe. You can rest easy knowing they are completely clean and sanitized.
Just make sure to let them dry completely before reassembling.
Best Manual Pumps
Below we review the five hand pumps that we thought were the best on the market.
If you would like to understand more about the components in a pump, and how to use it properly then also check out our post on how to use your manual breast pump.
Lanisoh is another great brand to consider for all of your breastfeeding and pumping needs. From nipple creams to this manual breast pump, Lanisoh’s products are some of the best.
This manual breast pump also comes with an ergonomic handle similar to the one on the Medela Harmony.
It also comes with a stand to prevent the bottle and pump from tipping over and spilling your breast milk.
There are two big advantages to purchasing this manual breast pump. First, it comes with two flange sizes, 25 mm and 30.5 mm.
The other is the fact it comes with attachments that allow you to pump directly into a storage bag, which prevents excess gas buildup when transferring milk from the bottle to the bag.
- Ergonomic easy-press handle
- Dual mode pumping
- Includes 2 flange sizes (25 mm and 30.5 mm)
- Allows pumping directly into Lanisoh storage bags
- Has a stand to prevent tipping over
- Only fits Lanisoh bottles
- Comes with several small parts to clean
- Letdown mode is difficult to use
- Suction weakens over time
This pump comes with everything you need to get started with manual breast pumping: 2 bottles with lids that hold up to 5 ounces each, all of the pump pieces (including one valve and 2 membranes), and a stand for the bottle to prevent it from tipping over.
When it comes to the Medela Harmony manual breast pump, the biggest thing worth noting is its handle.
The ergonomic shape helps to prevent fatigue while the swivel function allows you to hold it at just the angle you need to be comfortable.
You can even manually control the vacuum by adjusting how hard you squeeze.
- Ergonomic swivel handle
- Manually controlled vacuum
- Comes with a stand to prevent tipping over
- 2-phase expression technology
- Dishwasher safe
- Rubber O ring breaks and/or wears out quickly
- Leaks occasionally with the included bottle
- Loses suction over time and may need replacement parts
- Expensive and inconvenient to purchase another shield size
Philips Avent makes some of the best bottles for breastfeeding babies. So, if you are a fan of their feeding products, including the Natural and Anti-Colic bottles, this manual breast pump is a great choice for you.
This pump is compatible with all Philips Avent feeding products, attaching directly to the bottle without the need for any adapters or additional pieces.
One of the most unique factors of this pump is the soft, textured massage cushion.
This piece fits directly onto the breast shield and has silicone petals that help to massage the breast and promote better milk flow while pumping.
- Soft, textured massage cushion
- Compatible with other Philips Avent feeding products
- Lightweight and easy to hold
- Can be used anywhere easily and discreetly
- Simple to assemble
- Expensive and inconvenient to buy a different breast shield size
- Noisy/squeaky when pumping
- Takes quite a bit of time to pump a full bottle
- Leaks slightly around the rim
Moving away from the levered manual breast pumps, let’s look at a couple of great milk catchers.
The first is the popular Haakaa manual breast pump. It is made completely out of silicone and only has one piece, meaning there is no complicated assembly and it easy to transport and clean.
Just boil it in water for about 2 to 3 minutes, and it’s all sterilized and ready to go again.
It comes in two sizes – 3 ounces and 4 ounces – so it is slightly smaller than a traditional baby bottle, but you are likely not looking to pump a full bottle’s worth of milk with this type of pump anyways.
- Comes in two sizes
- Simple to use
- No complicated assembly
- Easy to clean and sterilize
- Compact for traveling and discretion
- Baby can kick it off easily while feeding
- Tips over easily if set down
- Loses suction if too full
- Measurements on capture container are slightly off
Another great milk catcher is the Bumblebee manual breast pump. It is very similar to the Haakaa breast pump, but it comes with a few more accessories.
The Bumblebee manual breast pump comes with a stopper and a dust cover lid to help prevent spills, leakage, and contamination.
It also comes with a travel bag to keep all of your pieces together, and to keep your pump clean and ready for use.
- Simple to use
- Easy to clean
- No complicated assembly
- Compact for traveling
- Stopper prevents spills
- Measurement marks are slightly off
- Suction wears out over time
- Difficult to remove without spilling when full
- Falls off easily if bumped
Do I need a Manual Pump?
Before choosing a manual breast pump, you need to determine if manual pumping is right for you.
There are some great advantages to manual pumping, like how easy they are to clean and transport as well as their overall cost.
However, there are disadvantages to consider as well, especially if you are looking to breast pump on a full-time basis.
Advantages of Manual vs Electric
Manual breast pumps are much easier to clean than electric pumps for the most part.
Electric pumps come with motors that can be affected by malfunctions due to moisture buildup, and there are extra parts, like tubing, that need to be cleaned after every use.
Manual pumps have fewer parts, making it easier to take apart and clean. Some manual pumps can even be cleaned in the dishwasher since there are no electronic parts.
Transportation & Discretion
Mothers who are pumping on the go could really benefit from having a manual breast pump. Their compact size and simplicity make them very easy to travel with, fitting right into a purse, briefcase, or breast pump bag.
Their smaller size also makes it easier to use them discreetly in public. They can easily fit under a loose top or a nursing cover, and you can pump quietly without the noise of a running motor.
Manual breast pumps are significantly less expensive than electric breast pumps.
This can be a great advantage for the mother who is shopping on a budget or simply looking for a breast pump for occasional use.
Quick & Easy Relief
When it comes time to wean your baby, you will still endure some discomfort that comes with engorgement.
Having a manual breast pump on hand can really be useful for those time you just need to pump and dump a little bit of milk in order to relieve the pressure on occasion, signaling your body to produce less milk.
Disadvantages Manual vs Electric
Efficiency & Suction Power
Manual breast pumps are typically less efficient than electric ones. You don’t have the option to adjust the suction power too much; only as much as the pressure on the lever allows.
You may find yourself needing to pump for a longer period of time than you would with an electric pump in order to capture the same volume of breast milk.
It is also common for manual pumps to lose suction over time due to worn out parts. Milk catcher pumps are also easy to knock off the breast due to their limited suction.
Discomfort with Sustained Pumping
Pumping for longer periods of time by hand can also be very uncomfortable no matter what type of pump you have.
You may need to switch hands a few times during a pumping session due to cramping and fatigue.
Most manual breast pumps come with everything you need to get started. However, there may be a few additional items that need to be purchased in order to make the most out of your manual pumping experience.
It is highly likely that you will need to purchase more breast milk storage bags and/or bottles.
Some pumping systems allow you to attach the bag directly to the pump, which can be a less expensive means of pumping and storage since you won’t need as many bottles.
You always want to make sure the bottles and attachable bags (if applicable) are compatible with your pump.
If you aren’t pumping directly into the bag, then any brand of breast milk storage bag is fine.
A lot of manual breast pumps also only come with one breast shield size.
For most women, the standard size may be fine; for others, you may need to look into purchasing another size from the manufacturer. This can be a bit costly as an additional breast shield may cost as much as the pump itself.
In addition to these primary items, you may want to consider a travel bag for your pump to keep it separate from other items in your purse or diaper bag.
This will keep the contents of your purse or diaper bag clean as well as the pump itself.
There are so many great options out there when it comes to manual breast pumps; it can be hard to narrow down your top choice, especially when you are comparing a levered pump to a milk catcher.
Overall, we would say that the Lanisoh manual breast pump is our top choice simply due to its versatility.
This pump gives you the option to either pump into the bottle or directly into a storage bag, which can prevent spills and reduce the amount of gas buildup during transfer.
It also comes with two different flange sizes so you don’t need to purchase the size you need separately if your breasts are larger than average.
If a milk catcher is what you are looking for, then the Bumblebee would be our pick. We love the accessories that are included.
You get a stopper and dust cover lid to help prevent spills and contamination, and you even get a cute travel bag to carry it all in.
Regardless of what type of pumper you are, a manual breast pump is a great tool to have on hand.