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Manual breast pumps

By Lisa Galliers

Manual breast pumps are cheaper than the electric versions, but they don't suit everyone. Find out whether a manual breast pump is the best choice for you

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Manual breast pumps are generally cheap, quick and simple to use with a lot fewer settings than electric versions, but you'll have to do all the hard work when expressing milk to feed your baby.

A manual breast pump works by mimicking the sucking action of a breastfeeding baby. A cup, or breast shield, is placed over your nipple and then you pump the handle to create a vacuum over your breast, which stimulates milk flow.

38%mums who own a manual breast pump*

Breast milk is collected in an attached container. This can be stored and fed to your baby when it's convenient – great if you have returned to work or are away from your baby for the night.

Manual breast pumps are cheaper than electric versions, so expect to pay anywhere between £15 and £35 for a manual breast pump. Electric breast pumps can start from around £50 or £60, so it's easy to see the appeal of starting with a cheaper manual version if you're new to expressing. 

Manual breast pumps: pros and cons

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Compact – easy to fit into your handbag
  • Quiet
  • Simple-to-use mechanism
  • Cheaper than electric breast pumps – and cost nothing to run after you've bought one.

Cons

  • Slower to use than an electric breast pump
  • Repetitive pumping can be tiring over time
  • Can be difficult to get into a regular pumping rhythm.

Discover which are rated as the best breast pump brands

Manual breast pumps – what to look for

Whatever your reason for using a breast pump, the basic design of a manual breast pump is fairly consistent across different models and brands – but there are factors to consider when choosing a suitable manual pump for you.

There are several different brands making manual breast pumps, including Medela, Tommee Tippee and Philips Avent. 

72%of mums found their manual breast pump useful*

Size and portability

You may need to express milk when you're out and about or at work – so a discreet and travel-friendly manual breast pump may be worth considering. They are generally lightweight and fairly noise-free, which can make them a good option for expressing when you're away from home.

Most will easily fit into your bag without the need for a power cable or spare set of batteries. Some even come with a carry bag or case. If you're comparing models in a shop, pick them up and compare how heavy and bulky they are.

Expressing milk in comfort

Comfort is a top priority for expressing mums. Using a breast pump shouldn't hurt – but some women can find the suction uncomfortable. The good thing about manual pumps is that you're directly in control of the pumping and can stop, start or change pace instantly.

Some mums find manual breast pumps gentler than the more powerful electric varieties. Look out for cushion or massage cups/breast shields that are designed to be more comfortable.

Manual breast pump accessories

Lots of manual breast pumps come with added extras that can come in handy – including travel bags, breast pads and spare containers so you can express more than one bottle's worth of milk, and suction cups of different sizes and styles for you to try out and see what's most comfortable. Some manual breast pumps will be more adjustable in terms of suction strength than others.

How often will you express milk?

Choosing a manual breast pump is a good low-cost option if you're only expressing milk every now and then, or when you're away from home. If you choose to feed your baby solely with expressed milk, however, investing in a more expensive – but more powerful – electric breast pump could make expressing quicker and easier.

Mums who chose an electric pump over a manual pump did so because they felt it's faster to express milk, less hassle and these mums felt they were more comfortable than using a manual. 

* Which? survey of 1,046 parents with children under five who have used or were given a breast pump within the first two years of their child's life.

Coronavirus update 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has said there is no evidence that the coronavirus can be carried in breastmilk. Mothers with suspected or confirmed coronavirus can continue to breastfeed.  

The RCOG says that the main risk of breastfeeding is the close contact between mother and baby, which could lead to infection through airborne droplets. They recommend discussing the risks and benefits of breastfeeding with your family and maternity team.

If you choose to breastfeed your baby, the following precautions are recommended:

  • Wash your hands before touching your baby, breast pump or bottles
  • Try and avoid coughing or sneezing on your baby while feeding at the breast
  • Consider wearing a face mask while breastfeeding, if available
  • Follow recommendations for pump cleaning after each use
  • Consider asking someone who is well to feed expressed breast milk to your baby
  • Sterilise all feeding equipment according to NHS guidelines
  • If you are expressing milk in hospital, a dedicated breast pump should be used

Content last updated 23/03/2020. Please check out Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for any more recent updates.

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