If you’re like most breastfeeding parents, you may occasionally find yourself in a situation where you need to pump milk—after all, it’s nearly impossible to be with baby for every single feeding, especially as they get older. Then, there are those times when you’re feeling a bit full and need a quick way to express milk. For those times when you don’t want to drag out your electric pump, a manual breast pump can come in handy.
“A manual pump is great for occasional or emergency use,” says Chrisie Rosenthal, IBCLC, a lactation consultant with The Lactation Network, a mission-driven company that connects families with insurance-covered breast pumps and lactation consultations during pregnancy and postpartum. “It’s the perfect pump to keep in your bag for ‘pumping on-the-go’ situations where electricity may not be available, or when a full pumping session isn’t needed.”
If you don’t own a manual breast pump and you’ve considered adding one to your breastfeeding arsenal, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best manual breast pumps for you to consider.
Manual vs. Electric Breast Pumps: What’s the Difference?
While manual and electric breast pumps both work to express breast milk, they function a bit differently. An electric breast pump needs batteries or electricity in order to operate and provides a pumping motion on its own that simulates a baby’s nursing actions, prompting letdown. In contrast, a manual breast pump needs neither batteries nor electricity and functions on mechanical motion alone, either via hand pumping or with natural suction.
Pros and cons of manual vs. electric breast pumps
Many parents find that they get better milk removal with an electric pump. “A high-quality double-electric pump is the standard for regular milk removal,” says Rosenthal. Not only do electric pumps boast powerful suction, but double-style models also allow you to drain both breasts at the same time, which cuts down on the amount of time spent pumping. If you use a manual breast pump, you may have to continuously squeeze the pump handle (depending on the type). “They also tend to be more aggressive on a parent’s nipples, which can lead to sore nipples.”
That said, manual pumps are superstars when it comes to portability. “Their small size and lower price make them great for travel and occasional use, and the ability to use the pump without electricity is another plus,” says Rosenthal. Ultimately, moms love manual breast pumps for their affordability, portability and the ability to use them wherever, whenever, without having to worry about recharging or staying close to an outlet.
Types of Manual Breast Pumps
In the past, the term “manual breast pump” was used to indicate the type of pump that has to be squeezed by hand in order to express milk. In recent years though, other types of pumps have emerged that don’t require any active pumping. Here’s a quick breakdown of the various types of manual breast pumps:
- Handle pumps. This classic style is operated by manually squeezing a handle or lever to create suction, which pulls and releases your nipples and draws out milk using vacuum pressure, just as baby naturally does.
- Silicone pumps. These pumps also use suction to actively remove milk, Rosenthal explains, but they don’t call for continuous hand-pumping—once you establish suction with an initial squeeze, and the pump relies on vacuum suction to allow some milk to be drained. They’re often used to collect milk from one breast while baby nurses from the other.
- Milk catchers. This type of pump doesn’t require any pumping—rather, it collects milk that otherwise would leak into your bra or nursing pad. “Milk catchers fit inside the bra, up against the breast and are entirely passive, collecting milk that drips or leaks from the breast between breastfeeds or pump sessions.”
How to Use a Manual Breast Pump
Wondering how to actually use a manual breast pump? Of course, it will depend on the type of pump you’re using. Take a look at our step-by-step guides below.
Align the flange so your nipple is directly in the center of the tunnel. With the bottle attached, gently press down on the handle repeatedly until milk begins to flow.
For a two-phase expression pump, press down on the handle and hold for one to two seconds, then release in order to get the most milk during the letdown phase.
- Squeeze the pump to release air inside it.
- Still squeezing the pump, attach it to your breast.
- Release your grip on the bottle, which allows it to suction to your breast.
- Align the opening with your nipple.
- Place inside your bra (for most models).
- Allow the milk catcher to collect the milk that leaks from your breast.
Best Manual Breast Pumps
If you’ve decided a manual breast pump is for you, check out our list of some of the best manual breast pumps.
Overall Best Manual Breast Pump
Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump
The Medela manual breast pump is a fan-favorite among parents who say it’s the most effective manual pump out there. An easy-to-use handle features a two-phase expression that works with your letdown to collect as much milk as possible. For added convenience, you can use this manual pump with other Medela accessories, like shields, membranes, and valves.
- 24mm breast shield that’s designed to diminish pressure on the breast and optimize milk flow
- Bottle stand helps prevent spillage
- Lots of parts to clean
Best Manual Breast Pump for Everyday Use
Philips Avent BPA-Free Comfort Manual Breast Pump
Comfort is the name of the game with the Philips Avent manual breast pump. Features like extra padding on the breast shield and the ability to pump while sitting upright ensure a comfortable pumping experience. With only a few parts—all of which are dishwasher-friendly—this pump is easy to clean and stow in a diaper bag when you’re on the go.
- Soft cushioning for enhanced comfort and stimulating milk flow
- Compatible with other Philips Avent feeding products
- Shield can be short, making it not the best for large breasts
Best Budget-Friendly Manual Breast Pump
Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump
This affordable set comes with a five-ounce bottle with a pump, two flange sizes, and a silicone stand to avoid spills. You’ll have the choice to pump into the included bottle (or other bottles from the same brand) or directly into Lansinoh milk storage bags to ensure your milk stays sterile and no drops get left behind. The plastic shield is rimmed with silicone for a tight seal that enhances suction, while two-mode technology maximizes milk expression during letdown.
- Flexible rim is soft on skin while still maintaining a good seal
- Easy to assemble
- Flange can fall out easily
Best Manual Breast Pump for Travel
The innovative Boon Trove has quickly made a name for itself, using passive collection in order to accumulate up to three ounces of milk. The Trove easily attaches to your breast and expertly tows the line between strong, efficient suction and gentle comfort. Made with food-grade silicone for worry-free collection, the soft, bendable material allows it to fold easily in order to pour collected milk into a bottle or storage bag. With only one part to keep up with, the Boon Trove makes a great option for on-the-go parents who need to easily stow their manual breast pump.
- Firm suction
- Dishwasher-safe and easy to clean
- Very visible when worn under a shirt, some users report
Best Manual Breast Pump With Natural Suction
Haakaa Manual Breast Pump
Lightweight, portable, and just right for on the go or at home, the Haakaa is the best manual breast pump if you’re looking for one that works using natural suction. Simply squeeze the air out, then attach this handy companion to your breast for a super effective way to collect extra milk that might otherwise go to waste. The parent-favorite Haakaa is made from high-quality food-grade silicone, so you can be sure the milk you pump for baby is free of harmful chemicals.
- Users say the Haakaa is the most effective natural suction pump out there
- Cap prevents leaks and suction base prevents tips
- Food-grade silicone is dishwasher-safe and BPA-, PVC- and phthalate-free
- First-generation Haakaas don’t come with the silicone base and can tip easily
Best Milk Catcher
The Elvie Catch is an innovative passive milk collection system from Elvie, the company that also makes a popular hands-free electric pump. The circular collector sits conveniently inside your bra and works as you go about your day. Made with soft, flexible silicone that’s food-grade and BPA-free, the leakproof Elvie Catch mimics the shape of your breast and collects up to an ounce of milk that might otherwise be wasted.
- Rounded shape makes it truly discreet to wear under clothing
- Super comfortable, thanks to a larger nipple hole and soft silicone
- Dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning
- Not the best choice for large breasts or those who produce high amounts of milk
Best Manual Breast Pump Set
Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump Set
One of the most trusted names in electric breast pumps, Medela is our top pick for the best manual breast pump set as well—and this set has everything you’ll need to get started. The handle pump uses many of the same parts as Medela’s electric pump, like the flanges, membranes, and valves. Bottles fit interchangeably as well, allowing you to wash a batch and use them for either your electric or your manual pump. The Medela manual pump boasts a strong two-phase milk expression by holding the handle down during letdown, and a sturdy silicone base for the bottles that helps prevent spills. This set comes with the Medela manual pump with shield, an extra membrane and valve, a four-ounce bottle, and a silicone suction pump with lanyard and lid.
- Easy to use
- Strong, efficient suction
- Several parts to clean
About the experts: Chrisie Rosenthal, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant with The Lactation Network, a mission-driven company that connects families with insurance-covered breast pumps and lactation consultations during pregnancy and postpartum. She obtained her IBCLC through the UCSD Lactation Consultant program. Rosenthal is the owner of The Land of Milk and Mommy, a private practice in Woodland Hills, California. She is also the author of two books, Lactivate! A User’s Guide to Breastfeeding and The First-Time Mom’s Breastfeeding Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide From First Latch to Weaning.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.