The Best Manual Breast Pumps for On-the-Go Parents
If you’re like most parents that choose to breastfeed baby, you may occasionally find yourself in a situation where you need to pump—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 set up 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.
While manual and electric breast pumps both work to express breast milk, they function a bit differently. An electric breast pump needs batteries or a mains connection in order to operate and provides an automatic motion that simulates a baby’s nursing actions, prompting letdown. In contrast, a manual breast pump doesn’t need batteries or electricity. Instead it functions using a mechanical motion, either by 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. Plus, modern hands-free models can often be worn inside a pumping bra for discreet sessions on-the-go. 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.
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.”
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.
If you’ve decided a manual breast pump is for you, check out our list of some of the best manual breast pumps available now.
The Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump is a winner—in fact, it was highlighted as the year’s best manual breast pump in our Best of The Bump roundup of best breast pumps. And it was selected for so many reasons. Efficient? Check. Lightweight? Check. Easy to clean? Check. This affordable set comes with a five-ounce bottle, 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.
After rigorous review, our Best of The Bump product tester told us, “the effectiveness was wonderful. It brought my letdown almost right away.” The pump itself has an ergonomic handle that reduces hand fatigue and is dishwasher-safe for easy clean-up. The plastic shield is rimmed with silicone for a tight seal that enhances suction, while two-mode technology maximizes milk expression during letdown. Plus, both flanges are designed with ComfortFit Technology to reduce irritation to the nipple and breast area during pumping sessions.
“In an emergency situation, I’m so glad to have this pump. It truly relieves anxiety.”
- Flexible rim is soft on skin while still maintaining a good seal
- Easy to assemble
- Flange can fall out easily
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
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 stress-free 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
- Shorter shields don’t work well for large breasts
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 walks 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 busy parents who need to easily stow their manual breast pump while on the go.
- Firm suction
- Dishwasher-safe and easy to clean
- Some parents say the pump is visible when worn under a shirt
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
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
This manual breast pump 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
We get it—parenting requires a lot of gear, especially if you plan to breastfeed baby. To streamline your decision-making process, our goal is to do the bulk of the research for you, so you don’t have to spend hours scrolling through online retailers. We do this by considering a list of criteria when sourcing manual breast pumps, including, quality, suction, value, capacity and how easy it is to clean. This way you can count on getting the best bang for your buck, while also having a dependable breast pump that will meet your needs.
To decide which products are the best options on the market, we leverage our familiarity with leading nursing and pumping brands to make sure items are from reliable manufacturers. We read user reviews to get the low-down on how these products work for parents, and typically don’t consider anything with less than an average four-star rating. And since many of us are also parents, we rely on our writers’ and editors’ experience using these products with their own families.
To make sure we’re highlighting products that are safe and effective, we spoke with a certified lactation consultant to understand essential features and considerations to keep top of mind when you’re shopping.
Interested in learning more about our editorial process? Read about how our team develops and reviews all articles here.
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.