When researching the best breast pumps it is easy to get overwhelmed. There are so many different models, brands, and types; it can be hard to narrow it down.
You simply want the best for you and your little one. However, there is rarely a best breast pump. Rather, there is likely one that is the most suitable for your needs.
For most mothers that can be narrowed down to these two: the Spectra S2 and the Medela Pump in Style Advanced (PISA).
What makes these two the top choices, and how can you decide which one is right for you?
Feature Comparison Table
Video Product Demos
Obviously, you want anything that is going to go into or near your baby’s body to be clean, but you may not necessarily think of your breast pump as one of those things you need to be really picky about.
The fact that it touches your breast, where your baby’s mouth will be, and stores her milk, which will be ingested by her, means that your breast pump needs just as much attention as your baby’s pacifiers and bottles.
Cleaning the pump parts (bottles, tubes, flanges, etc.) is the best way to prevent bacterial growth and milk contamination, but you may not be aware that the way the pump operates – open or closed system – can also make a difference with how clean it stays.
Opened vs Closed System
The Spectra S2 uses a closed system. In simple terms, this means that there is a barrier between the collection container and pump motor.
This keeps the quality of your milk pure and prevents potential contamination.
The opposite is true of the Medela PISA. This model operates with an open system.
While there may not be an obvious difference between open and closed systems, there is actually a very big risk you take with using an open system pump. Without a barrier to keep your milk contained, moisture can build up in the tubes leading to the pump motor, and if left unnoticed, mold can begin to build up.
Open system breast pumps require much more cleaning than closed ones do.
It is recommended that you boil the tubes between uses to prevent mould growth. The FDA and renowned lactation consultants also recommend that this type of pump only be used by one woman, and be changed out if there are recurring yeast (thrush) infections, as there is no guarantee that the system can be completely cleaned.
Pumping on the go is a necessity for some mothers, and for others it is just nice to have the option.
Whether you are a working mother or simply venturing on a family road trip, you want to know that you can easily bring your pump along where you need it.
When it comes to a pump that is ready to go with you, the Medela PISA takes the cake. There are actually three bag options you can choose from, each designed with a certain type of mother in mind.
- The On-the-Go Tote is considered the standard for this pump. The bag looks like a standard black tote bag, but one that your pump is built into. It also comes equipped with bottle holders and pockets inside that can easily hold the tubing.
- The backpack is great for those moms, like me, who like to be hands-free. After all, you have enough to handle when you are carrying your little bundle. Just like the tote, the pump is built into this bag, always keeping it with you wherever you go in the off chance you need it.
- The Metro Bag is probably my favorite. While the built-in option is nice with the other bags, the removable pump is nice with this one, as there may be times that the entire bag is too bulky or you just want to pack the pump into a suitcase. There are also bonus items included with the Metro Bag, including two PerfectFit shield sizes (24 and 27 mm), a work surface, and mesh storage bags.
This is also an important thing to consider when looking at your pump’s portability.
You more than likely do not want to be lugging around a heavy pump just in case you need it, and considering airlines charge for additional or overweight bags, you will want a lightweight pump if you travel often.
The Spectra S2 is perfect since it only weighs 2.5 pounds. In addition to its small size, the minimal weight makes it great for travel.
On the other hand, the Medela PISA weighs between 8 and 9 pounds, depending on the bag you choose. Now, the fact that it comes in its own carrying bag helps, but if you just want something to take to the office or easy to maneuver between rooms in your house, this one may be a big much.
To me, portable means nothing tying you down or tangling you up. Ultimately, it means cordless. Whether it is a phone or a breast pump, having the option to run on batteries is a must for maximum portability.
The Spectra S2 is lacking in this area. There is no option for a battery, whether rechargeable or not.
This can make it difficult to use on the go without an extra car adaptor or without the hassle of trying to find an outlet at the café.
While the Medela PISA does have a battery option, it is still not the most ideal. 8 AA batteries are required to operate this pump without plugging in, which are not included.
It is nice to have the option, but rechargeable would be better in my opinion.
Whether you are exclusively pumping or alternating with nursing sessions, time is of the essence.
You only have so long on your break at work to get the job done, and you do not want to feel like your breasts never get a break between your pump and your baby.
Finding a pump that does the job completely and efficiently is crucial.
There is no denying that the best breast pump you have is your baby, so the best manmade pump will need to mimic your baby’s sucking pattern.
Naturally, your baby begins nursing with strong, rapid sucks (about 2 per second). This triggers your body’s letdown reflex, which tells your breasts to release their milk.
After the milk begins to flow, your baby’s sucking will slow down, becoming more drawn out as she is receiving and swallowing milk.
Many breast pumps only have one suction mode, but a good one will mimic the same pattern as your baby’s sucking in order to ensure maximum efficiency. Thankfully, both the Medela PISA and Spectra S2 do just this.
The Spectra S2 employs Natural Nursing Technology, which includes a massage mode. It operates at 70 cycles per minute and the vacuum level is not as strong as it is in expression mode.
Similarly, the Medela PISA’s patented 2-Phase Expression Technology uses the Stimulation Phase to initiate milk letdown.
Both do a great job at getting your milk flowing almost as quickly as your baby does, and keeps it flowing quickly and efficiently as it switches to phase 2: Expression Mode.
The standard unit of measuring vacuum pressure is in millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg), which is “a unit of pressure equal to the pressure exerted by a column of mercury 1 millimeter high at 0°C.”
Without going into all the technical mumbo-jumbo, this is the unit used to measure a breast pump’s suction strength, as well as blood pressure and tire pressure.
While suction strength can be helpful for some mothers who have trouble expressing, it is important that you know that suction strength does not mean a higher milk yield. A decent suction strength, which usually falls in the 200-300 mm/Hg range, just means that your milk flow will continue just as it would if it was your baby sucking.
I did not pump my milk very often; I had the privilege of staying home with my baby and exclusively breastfeeding. However, I did take advantage of my insurance’s offer to pay for a breast pump.
I have experienced the frustration of a low pressure breast pump previously where it would take me at least 10 minutes to even get the milk flowing. Then another 30 to get about 4 ounces of milk.
Not only is this incredibly frustrating, but it is also a massive waste of time! A normal nursing session with my daughter typically lasted a total of 20 minutes (she was a power sucker!).
Take it from me: suction strength makes a huge difference when it comes to efficiency.
Both the Spectra S2 and Medela PISA have decent suction strength, at 50-280 mm/Hg and 40-235 mm/Hg respectively, and the Spectra is considered a hospital grade pump. You really cannot go wrong with either one for suction strength.
Single vs Dual
Finally, when it comes to efficiency you also want to consider whether you want the option to pump both sides at the same time. This is necessary for most working mothers, but may not matter as much to stay-at-home moms.
Both the Spectra S2 and Medela PISA come with everything you need to dual pump: two sets of tubing, two flanges, and at least two containers.
Neither come with a hands-free option, but you may be able to purchase a “belt” separately if you so desire.
Other Important Features
There are other factors to consider that do not fall into the above categories, as well as bonus features associated with each of these pumps that may make or break your decision.
If you wish to be discreet at work, you want to pump in the same room as your sleeping baby, or you simply do not want to lose your mind with the whirring and whining of a noisy pump (been there, done that!), you will want to look at how loud each of these pumps are.
It is nearly a dead heat between these two models. If you had an incredibly sharp ear you would notice the Spectra marginally quieter. The difference is small enough for it to be insignificant for your decision in most cases.
Both measure between 45 to 46 decibels (respectively), which is similar to the hum of a refrigerator.
To some, this may still seem be a bit noisy, especially when you are in a completely silent room. If this is the case, you may need to consider pumping in a separate room from your sleeping baby or in the bathroom at work if you do not wish to be noticed or disturb anyone.
Having multiple options when it comes to the size of the nipple flanges, or breast shields, is important for both flow and comfort. Just as you need to have a proper latch with your baby, you need to have a properly fitting shield.
The Spectra S2 comes with two sizes: 24 and 28 mm (2 each). However, there are no other sizes offered by the company. Some mothers have found other brands that work with this pump, but it can be a hassle to find and return them if they do not fit.
The Medela PISA offers five different sizes.
The 24 mm is included with every model that Medela offers, and as a bonus, the 27 mm is also included with the PISA Metro Bag model. In addition, 21, 30, and 36 mm options are also available from Medela, ensuring that you are able to find just the right for for you.
Each of these pumps comes with some bonus features that may make one or the other more suitable for you.
The Spectra S2 is fitted with a timer and nightlight, which are great for those late night pumping sessions. The digital display also makes it easy for you to see and adjust your cycle and vacuum levels.
Each of the Medela PISA options comes with 4 extra bottles and a cooler that is just the right size for pumping and storing on the go.
No pump is one size fits all; it is all a matter of finding which one is most suitable for you. If you have narrowed down your options to these two choices, here is what we consider for each:
This pump is most suitable for the exclusive pumper. The strong suction strength ensures you extract all of your milk at each session.
Its closed system allows for more frequent use since the tubing does not need to be cleaned as often. The nightlight and timer are also a bonus as there are bound to be some midnight pumping sessions.
While the lack of a carrying case and no battery option may seem like hindrances to the mom needing to pump at work, the light weight and small size make it easy to pack and take with you (and you are likely to find an available outlet at work anyways).
This pump is most suitable for the on-the-go pumper. The pump already comes fitted in its own to-go bag, and has the option to run on batteries if needed.
The bonus cooler is great for taking bottles along with you and keeping them cold after a pumping session.
At 8-9 pounds, it may seem like a pain to carry, but being fitted into its own carrying case means it is hardly noticeable and is one less thing to pack and carry.
Which pump is right for you?
Questions or comments? Let us know below. And share this link with other mothers who may also be looking to make this tough decision.