Best Manual Breast Pumps: Expert Buyers Guide and Reviews

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
December 14, 2021

manual breast pumps

Use a bit of muscle with a lightweight manual pump to produce breast milk to feed your baby later in the day or refrigerate the milk for use anytime. A manual breast pump is an answer when an electric pump won't fit the bill.

Electric breast pumps let you produce milk without any effort on your part, but they can be a nuisance to lug around – and what will you do if no power outlet is available?

This article compiles most of the information you need to make an informed decision about when or if you need to use a manual breast pump.

Pumping Breast Milk: Is it Necessary?

Some women can benefit from using a pump, but it’s not a necessity unless you have one of the following issues:

  • You are returning to work and need to save milk for your baby
  • Your infant isn’t nursing enough
  • You need to produce more milk
  • You are occasionally away from your baby for several hours
  • You want to keep expressed milk for use later

Some women have a problem with engorgement when there is too much milk even after frequent nursing. Pumping when engorged may cause tissue damage, so don’t use your pump for long, or apply excessive suction.

Breastfeeding Moms may need to take a medication that is harmful to infants. If this is the case, you can pump milk for your baby and store it before you begin taking the drug.

You don’t need to decide if you need a pump until after the baby is born. Manual pumps are available online and in pharmacies. They’re easy to set up and use, so you can start pumping right away.

How to Use a Manual Breast Pump

Consult your instruction manual for specifics on how to use your pump, as each brand is slightly different. The procedure outlined below covers most pumps:

Make sure the breast shield is clean and properly assembled. Put the shield on your breast and place it over your nipple.  Start to pump, but it may take a few minutes for the milk to appear. When the milk's released, adjust the pumping rate, so it's similar to a baby's natural sucking rhythm.

Pump one breast for about five minutes, then switch to the other one. Most Moms find that one breast produces more milk than the other; it’s rare that both breasts produce the same amount of milk.  Each breast will take 15 minutes of stimulation before developing milk, so be patient.

When you're done with the pumping, remove the breast shield, and cap the bottle.  Wash or sterilize parts of the pump that have touched your breasts. Let the pieces air-dry.

Refrigerate milk immediately (for up to five days), or store in a cooler for up to a day. Label the bottles with the date of pumping. If you’re on the road or can’t get to a fridge or ice chest, milk will stay fresh for four to six hours.

If you’re not pumping enough milk despite spending enough time on each breast, you may want to take fenugreek or try another lactation-enhancing herb.

Why Choose a Manual Breast Pump over an Electric Breast Pump?

Electric and manual breast pumps both help feed your bundle of joy, but manual pumps are smaller and less expensive. Here are a few more reasons you may want to use a manual pump instead of an electric one.

An Electrical Outlet May Not Be Available

If you opt for an electric breast pump, it may be difficult to find an outlet to power the unit when you are traveling. If there is an emergency and power goes out (or if you don’t have fresh batteries to replace dead ones), you’ll need to breastfeed or have a manual breast pump as a back-up.

Manual Pumps are Easier to Transport

Electric pumps also tend to be bigger and harder to carry when you travel. Manual pumps are easier to store and carry, and can be used in small spaces like the back seat of a car or even an airplane bathroom!  If you travel a lot or pump at work, a manual unit with a carrying case will better suit your needs. Ease of transport may not be an issue if you only need to pump at home or in the same location all the time.

Ability to Control Pump Speed

You can control a manual pump’s suction and speed to your liking. It doesn’t have the settings of an electric pump. If you’re the impatient type, manual pumping may make you tired, and you may stop before collecting enough milk for your infant.

Most Popular Manual Breast Pump Brands

There are a few crucial elements to consider when buying a manual breast pump, and you should look at them before choosing one brand over the other.

Brands included in this guide had to meet all (or most) the following criteria:

Flange Sizes

Manual pumps that included different-sized flanges are highly recommended for new Moms. Some pumps come with two flange sizes so you can use the right one for your breast. You may be too big or too small for a one-size fits all flange, and this can interfere with producing milk and make you feel uncomfortable.

Some women may have no problem using single-flange pumps, so this feature is a matter of personal preference.

Ergonomic Handle

An ergonomic handle relieves pressure during pumping sessions and reduces the chance that you'll stop pumping because you're tired. These curved handles are usually soft and prevent the hand fatigue that is common with harder materials.

Cushioning

Silicone cushioning can stimulate milk flow and help massage breasts. Some brands have textured petals or other brand-exclusive features to improve the volume of milk pumped. The cushioning also makes the shield and pump more comfortable and easier to use. You won’t need to struggle so much to produce milk.

Ease of Assembly

A manual breast pump that requires no assembly or has a few parts to put together will save time when you’re traveling. Some pumps have four or more pieces to assemble (stem, diaphragm, valve, bottle, breast cushion, etc.) while others are smaller and easier to transport.

Best Manual Breast Pumps

Here’s an in-depth look at the best manual breast pump available today and some runners-up.

Our #1 Choice

Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump

  • Wheels have two speeds
  • Develops musical ability
  • Play phone and Activity center

The Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump offers a compact, easy-to-use solution for Moms. It has several advantages you’ll appreciate, especially if you’re new to manual pumps.

This breast pump is portable, discreet, and lightweight, and you can take it with you on vacation, road trips, to work, or on errands.

The Medela Harmony features exclusive 2-Phase Expression Technology. It allows you to imitate the stimulation phase of breastfeeding when babies suck lighter and faster, and milk flow begins, followed by the slow, deep expression phase, when milk flows faster

The box contains everything you need, including a PersonalFit Breast Shield, two breastmilk bottles with lids, a bottle stand, nipple and collar, a cap and white membrane.

PROS

  • Quiet; suitable for use in an airplane
  • Expresses milk faster
  • Easy to pause and restart
  • Two-phase expression technology
  • BPA-free
  • Ergonomic swivel handle

CONS

  • Not suitable for daily use
  • Suction wanes after a few months
  • The tube leading to the bottle

Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump Review

The Medela Harmony is a single-pump breast pump designed for occasional use. There are two standard pumping settings for long or short bursts, but the pressure and amount of bursts depend on how hard you compress the handle.

Extra-large and XXL shields will work on the pump, so you won’t need to worry about your breasts being too large. It’s an open system, which means it has no barrier between the pump mechanism and milk collection device.

Reviewers love the Medela Harmony because it’s small, easy to clean, and easy to assemble. Several users like it because it’s easy to use on the go or traveling. The Harmony can also be used to collect milk from one breast while you are nursing from the other breast.

The collection bottles and breast shields are compatible with Medela electric models should you move on to an electric pump or use the manual as a backup unit.

Other Top Manual Breast Pumps

Here are four other highly-rated manual breast pumps. They all offer some (if not) all of our recommended features.

Manual Marvel

Philips Avent Manual Comfort Breast Pump

  • Textured massage petals
  • Easy to assemble and break down
  • Ergonomic handle for more comfort

The textured massage cushion makes the Avent more comfortable and helps to stimulate milk flow. The design lets you sit comfortably without leaning forward so you can produce milk without effort or strain. The breast pad is gentle on your nipples, letting you express longer without fatigue.

The cushion has five petals designed to imitate your baby’s suckling and stimulate milk flow. The design makes it easy to position on your breasts, whether they’re small or large. This device expresses milk fast, so it’s perfect if you’re impatient or busy.

PROS

  • Compact design
  • Ergonomic handle
  • Easy-latch system
  • BPA-free
  • Textured massage cushion

CONS

  • The suction may be lax at times
  • Can’t use pump with standard bottles

Philips Avent Manual Comfort Breast Pump Review

The Avent’s BPA-free compact design makes it easy to express at home or on the road. The ergonomic handle helps prevent hand fatigue, and you can generate a lot of milk without getting tired. There’s a collection container that attaches to the pump.

It is more effective for milk production than some double electric pumps, and teh comfort cushion will make e experience much easier for most women.

The container is a bottle that works along with the breast-shaped nipple. The faux nipple helps your baby latch on easily to transition between your breast and the bottle.

This pump is easy to assemble, disassemble, and clean, adding to its appeal as an occasional travel pump. Clean by boiling in hot water for five minutes or use an AVENT sterilizer.

This pump can be used with Classic or Natural bottles from AVENT or their line of milk storage containers. You can also use the UGrow app, available via the company’s website to track your baby’s progress.

If the pump makes a squeaking sound during use, some users have found lubricating it with food-grade silicone grease will alleviate the problem.

Travel Buddy

NatureBond Manual Breast Milk Pump

  • Pump while doing house work
  • Compact and easy to transport
  • Great for catching let-down

One of the smallest manual breast pumps you can buy, a NatureBond is perfect if you don’t want to carry around a bulky tote bag with your pumping gear in it. You can fit this pump in your purse. There’s a lid included for easy storage.

These small pumps can be worn on each breast while you walk around the house and do laundry or get ready for work. You don’t need to sit down and have an official pumping session; milk will collect in the bottles naturally.

PROS

  • Made from safe, food-grade silicone
  • Catches leakage
  • Comes with extra lid
  • Fits any size areola

CONS

  • May work for leakage only
  • Suction may be poor
  • Too small for some users' production

Zenda Naturals Manual Breast Pump Review

The Zenda pump fits like a suction cup over your breast, and most Moms notice a trickle of milk within minutes – or even seconds. Use the Zenda pump on one breast and nurse on the other, or pump on one or both breasts.

Despite its small size, the Zenda is incredibly efficient. It’s made from food-grade silicone to ensure 100% safety when producing milk or feeding your baby.

It will be easier to catch let-down from your non-nursing breast with the Zenda than most other pumps. You won’t need to use a pumping bra with this device as bottles will stay in place even when you move around the house.

Some users indicate the pump has little to no suction or that suction declines after a few weeks or months. It may be better for catching leaks than as a full-on suction pump.

It may be hard to position correctly, leading to lack of suction and poor milk flow. One reviewer thought it might have caused plugged ducts in her breasts.

Strongest Contender

Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump

  • Two-phase technology
  • Ergonomic handle
  • Can use with storage bags

The Lansinoh Manual Pump is effective at producing milk, partially due to its "Two-Phase Technology."  The first phase of this technology is the "Stimulation/Let-Down Mode." During this phase, you place the stem in the top notch of the ergonomic handle and squeeze it. Breast milk should start flowing, but you may not take advantage of all the suction the pump can create.

The second phase of "Two-Phase Technology is the "Expression Mode" After breast milk has flowed for one or two minutes, press "Push" at the handle tip to set it to the second notch of the stem. You can return to the first mode by pulling the stem tip towards you, squeezing the handle and placing it in the top notch. 

PROS

  • Two-phase technology
  • Better milk production
  • Inexpensive
  • BPA and BPS free
  • Package contains two flanges

CONS

  • Too many parts
  • Thick diaphragm

Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump Review

The Lansinoh Hand Breast Pump features an ergonomic handle to keep your hands from getting cramped or tired.

Instead of pumping into a bottle, you can choose to pump into Lansinoh Storage Bags. The closed pumping system prevents breast milk from backing up in the tubing, and it also stops mold and bacteria from forming. Storage bags are sold separately.

The package contains two breast flanges (25mm and 30.5mm), a silicone diaphragm, one handle, one stem, a wide-neck bottle and storage lid, a white valve, a bottle stand, a cap and collar and a Natural wave Slow-Flow Nipple.

The bottle included with this pump has a wider neck than the one included with previous versions of the pump. Many users prefer the wide-neck bottle for comfort and better storage.

The Lansinoh company was founded by a nursing Mom over 30 years ago, and they provide a catalog of breastfeeding and pumping supplies as well as pumps. The Lansinoh Manual pump is BPA and BPS-free.

The diaphragm on this pump is much thicker than the one on the Avent so that you may get tired within five or ten minutes of pumping. Newer models have no comfort piece, and the pump made some users’ breasts hurt after a few minutes of pumping.

NUK Expressive Manual Breast Pump

  • Massaging rings on breast
  • Customize suction and speed
  • Lightweight and discreet

This easy-to-clean and assemble unit has few parts. If you’re short on time or travel a lot and need to pump and clean on the go, this unit may work well for you.

You can customize suction and speed by increasing or decreasing pressure on the handle.

The NUK provides a soft breast cushion with massaging rings. The cushions cling to your breasts and encourage let-down and a better flow of milk.

This manual pump features an ergonomic handle that is close to the milk bottle while you pump. The handle helps prevent hand fatigue, so you can pump longer and produce more milk.

PROS

  • Ergonomic handle
  • Ultra-soft breast cushion
  • BPA free
  • Made in U.S.A.
  • Easy to clean

CONS

  • Not for everyday use
  • Breast shield has an unusual shape

NUK Expressive Manual Breast Pump Review

This lightweight pump has a few pieces to assemble before use, but you still need to check tst they are tight before use. Make sure the breast pump shield and valve are firmly connected to the milk container before you pump. It’s easy to vary the amount of pressure you put on the handle and control suction and speed.

When you press slowly on the handle after let-down it will imitate your infant’s suckling after breast milk flows.

The box includes the pump, a five-ounce milk container and one slow flow silicone nipple, a collar, cap, seal disk, extra silicone valve, and container stand. The pump weighs 5.5 ounces, quite lightweight even for a hand pump.

Components that come in contact with milk are BPA-free, and the pump is made in the U.S.A. It has a one-year warranty. Hand wash in hot water for five minutes or put it in a dishwasher to clean.

This pump can be rather noisy, so you may want to opt for a quieter model if you need to pump milk in public places or around others at home.

The NUK manual pump is excellent for when you are engorged, but it isn’t for everyday use.

The Benefits of Pumping Breast Milk

Pumping takes less time than breastfeeding. With the right pump, you can produce milk fast. You can feed your baby when necessary or have your partner or another relative feed the baby with the stored bottle. Any time restrictions on breastfeeding sessions can also be alleviated by pumping ahead of time. You can store milk for use when you are at work, traveling or ill.

When breastfeeding isn’t practical, you can use a pump. If you’ve gone through breast surgery, or can’t be stimulated by suckling, you can still use a breast pump to produce milk.

Women who feel uncomfortable breastfeeding can always use a pump at least some of the time. Pumping is a lifesaver for women who must work long hours or spend time away from their baby. Nannies or spouses can feed the baby when you’re not around, or you can feed your child when you get home.

Pumping helps you maintain your privacy. Even discreet breastfeeding may cause problems in some public locations. Pumping helps you maintain a supply of breast milk for such occasions, saving you the frustration of embarrassment of breastfeeding in situations where others may notice it and even object.

Pumping provides your child with natural breast milk. When you lactate, you won’t conceive, so it’s even a type of birth control! If you conceive, you’ll stop producing milk and need to use powdered milk, which isn’t as nutritious for your baby. Breast milk is healthier for your baby than powdered milk, whether it’s produced by pumping or “real-time” breastfeeding.

A breastfeeding mother receives secretions from her infant's mouth, and her body is exposed to new germs because of it. The Mom's body then develops antibodies to those germs, which are passed on to the baby. Pumped milk stored in a bottle eliminates this transfer of antibodies.

Tips on Choosing the Right Breast Pump

Consider the following facts to choose the right breast pump for your needs in addition to what has already been covered in this article.

Lightweight, Easy to Assemble Pumps Save Time

Manual and battery-powered pumps are easy to carry in a purse or tote bag. You can use them discreetly in airplane or train restrooms and other small spaces. Some manual pumps are easier to assemble than others. If you do a lot of traveling and need to pump milk on a moment’s notice, choose a manual pump with a few parts or a one-piece pump that doesn’t require assembly.

Open vs. Closed Systems

For hygiene purposes, you may want to be a closed system breast pump. A closed system pump features a barrier between the working pump and the milk collection device. This system type helps prevent the pump and milk from becoming contaminated by mold, bacteria, or viruses.

Most manual pumps have a closed system design. A few respected Medela brand pumps have an open system design without a barrier between the pumping mechanism and milk collection container.

However, there aren't any recorded instances of a baby getting sick from a contaminated pump or breastplate. Talk to your lactation consultant if you have reservations about using an open system pump.

Learn as much as you can about choosing the right breast pump to ensure efficient, comfortable pumping and lots of milk for your baby.

Other Products to Buy with a Manual Breast Pump

Several accessories can make using a manual breast pump easier. Some are included with most breast pumps, but you'll have to buy others separately.

Bottle Sterilizers

A bottle sterilizer is used to disinfect bottles and parts of breast pumps with steam. It can also sterilize pacifiers, toys or plastic teethers. Sterilizers may be round or bullet-shaped, and you can choose from plug-in types or units you place in the microwave.

If your baby has a compromised immune system, sterilizers offer you extra protection against dirt and germs. Washing breast pump parts and bottles in the dishwasher, or by hand with soap and hot water will kill germs and viruses, but a sterilizer will give you peace of mind. According to the FDA, a sterilizer will sanitize breast pump parts but won’t sterilize them.

Breast Pump Bags

If your breast pump didn't come with a tote bag, or if you don't like the one in the package, you can buy a fashionable breast pump bag online.  Pump bags may resemble any run-of-the-mill tote bag, a backpack, handbag, or a large, high-end purse. Regardless of the style, they are usually large enough to fit your manual pump and all your accessories.

You may want to invest in a breast pump bag as soon as you get home from the hospital, so you’ll be able to travel at a moment’s notice with all your breastfeeding items.

Choose a bag that has enough pockets to secure all your necessary items, such as a bottle, lids, your pump, pump flanges, pumping bra, ice pack, cooler and extra membranes. The accessories depend on the type of pump you buy, as not all pumps are constructed the same way.

Breast Pump Bras

A pumping bra allows you to express milk without using your hands. They may resemble sports bras or bustiers.

You wear a bustier-type bra only while pumping and attach the flanges to the nipples. A pumping bra can be worn for nursing and pumping.

Breast Pump/Milk Storage and Bottles

Most breast pumps come with BPA-free storage bottles. The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) makes polycarbonate shatterproof and can increase the chance of heart disease and other illnesses in children. Only purchase pumps and milk storage bottles with BPA-free labeling.

Breast milk bottles can be considered better than milk storage bags, which can attract bacteria when they come in contact with something sharp, like an ice cube or knife edge.

Final Review on Manual Breast Pumps

Manual pumps should be used for occasional expression when traveling, working or when breastfeeding isn’t an option. (Some women may be able to use a manual pump daily, but most Moms find it too uncomfortable.) Many women also use a manual pump as a back-up when an electric pump isn’t practical.

If you need to store breast milk for later use, choose the right manual pump for quick, painless expression. Add a few supplies, including a sterilizer for easier cleaning, storage, and transport.

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