Before I had a baby, I visited a friend's house and saw her giant stash of breast milk taking up half of her freezer. At the time I thought it was both kind of gross and strange. Fast forward 3 years to my first baby and I totally understood what she was up to. Nothing beats the convenience of having a great stash of breast milk ready for outings, daycare, days with dad, and other situations that inevitably arise. But this is no easy feat unless you have a breast pump that is comfortable, portable, easy to use, reasonably priced, and easy to clean.
To find the best breast pumps of 2018, we got together a group of new moms who were currently breast feeding. Some already had a go-to breast pump, some hadn't tried one yet, and others were looking for something better. We had the moms try out the different versions, take a look at all the parts, try cleaning them, and give us their honest opinions. After pulling together all their thoughts we were able to find the top breast pumps of 2018. Our hands-on tests included consideration of the following factors: automatic versus manual pumping, single versus dual pumping, BPA and phthalate content, portability, milk storage options, comfort (see our top-rated nipple creams here), expression phases, safety, battery life, and of course, price! For more details about how we considered each of these factors in finding the best breast pumps of 2018, scroll down to the bottom of this page. Otherwise, here are the results of our tests:
|Model and Link to Amazon||Our Rating|
|#1. Medela Symphony Breast Pump|
|#2. Medela Pump-in-Style Breast Pump|
|#3. Spectra Baby S2 Breast Pump|
|#4. Lansinoh Signature Pro or Smartpump|
|#5. Medela Sonata Breast Pump|
The Best Breast Pumps of 2018!
This is the gold standard in electric breast pumps, but anyone unwilling to spend upwards of $2000 on a breast pump should skip to #2 for Medela's more reasonably-priced option. Nothing really compares to the effectiveness and reliability of this breast pump. It is the choice of most hospitals and midwives, and sets the bar very high for any other breast pump available on the market. In our testing, this pump out-performed every other pump in terms of fast operation and the quantity of breast milk produced. The initial ejection of milk occurred in very little time, and the flow was really fantastic. Medela was the first to invent the 2-phase expression technology, which works amazingly well. You can use it for one or two breasts simultaneously. This is the go-to breast pump for moms experiencing NICU stays, poor latching, C-sections, or any other reason to produce high quantities of breast milk in a single sitting. Because it's hospital grade, that also means that it is designed with hygiene in mind, so that multiple moms can use the same pump as long as they bring their own accessories. That's what makes a hospital grade breast pump truly "hospital grade," in addition to its powerful pumping mechanism. Compared to the Medela option below, this one is much more comfortable, has a much higher quality motor, and produces like no other pump we've tried. But we also want to mention that the two Medela options use many of the same parts: the breast flanges, membranes, bottles, and bottle caps. But you will need to purchase the Symphony tube kit, which includes the tubes and caps that attach the motor to the hoses. So, things get pricey here, with the pump coming in at around $2000, and the tube kit around $50. Not to mention that there are none of the accessories that are included with the Pump in Style Advanced, like the cooler bag, freezer pack, battery pack, and carrying case. Not a high portability pump, but if you want the best breast pump on the market, it might be worth it. Note that you can also rent these pumps, though some people think that's not the most sanitary method. We also want to note that these have very high resale value, so once you're finished using it, you will be able to sell it for a considerable chunk of change. The price being the primary downfall, but the functionality clearly paying off in the long run. Some other minor gripes are cleaning the skinny tubes, which can be a bit of a pain, and the membranes are tiny so they are easy to lose or accidentally drop down the drain. Overall, our experience with this breast pump was truly fantastic, and we highly recommend it for anyone willing to spend this amount on the best quality breast pump on the market. Interested? You can check out this Medela Symphony Breast Pump here.
This is the ultimate in reasonably-priced automatic breast pumps, and it is so high up on our list for very good reasons. With either a tote that is very similar in size to a typical diaper bag or a backpack for a sportier and sleeker look, the Medela Pump in Style Advanced is the most versatile option on the market. One of our moms had been using an Evenflo pump until trying this one, and was floored by how much more milk the Medela was able to pump in a similar amount of time. This powerful pump really gets milk flowing, with its 2-phase pumping (stimulation mode for 2 minutes, then expression mode), powerful vacuum, and reliably consistent pumping rhythm. It is highly portable, with a rechargeable battery and an included cooler for cold storage until you get to a refrigerator or freezer. Moms thought that things packed away in a well-organized manner and didn't find the bag too heavy for daily carrying, like to and from the office. The let-down button was a great feature, moms loved the flexibility they had, allowing them to customize their pumping phases to their individual body. The moms who had been using this system already for over a year, said several great things. First, there are several breast shield sizes that vary widely and are easy to attach/detach. Second, the system is highly reliable and they reported no issues with malfunctioning or failure. Third, they said it is not very loud which helps when trying to be discreet and not alert the entire office that you're currently pumping. In terms of cons, they noted that it has only a single vacuum speed and pressure dial whereas some other systems allow you to separately adjust vacuum pressure and pumping speed. The pump is also secured into the bag, which makes washing the bag somewhat difficult and you need to keep the bag nearby while pumping (since you'll be attached via the tubes). Speaking of the tubes, they can sometimes get a bit of milk in them so moms reported that it was annoying to clean the tiny tubes. Overall, our research shows that this is an excellent pump with several features. If it's too bulky and large for you, Medela makes a more portable version of this pump, the Medela Freestyle breast pump, but the pumping strength and battery life aren't anywhere near the Pump in Style Advanced. We found it available online, usually for less than $200, which is a good deal given that it includes bottles, shields, ice pack, and everything else you need to get started ASAP. Want to pump both breasts hands-free? We suggest also purchasing the game-changing Hands-Free Double Breast Pump Bra. Interested? You can check out this Medela Pump in Style Advanced breast pump here.
Some great accessories for the Medela Pump in Style Advanced: Pump n Save Breastmilk Bags, Quick Clean Wipes, Quick Clean Microsteam Bags, Nursing Bra Pads, Tender Care Lanolin, and assorted Breast Shield sizes.
With a smaller footprint and more features than the Medela, and high comfort and reliability, this is a great choice. To be honest, we were surprised that this relative newcomer received such positive reviews from our moms. In terms of accessories, it's not the ultimate in automatic pumps; there is no accompanying bag, backpack, or cooler and ice pack. What you're getting here is a nice, sleek, hospital-grade breast pump that our moms really fell in love with. While the Medela Pump in Style is designed for extended outings, such as bringing it to work or the office, we believe this Spectra system is better for stay/work-at-home moms looking for something that will sit next to the glider or on the bedside table. It is perfect for that, since it doesn't include the carrying bag, ice packs, etc that the Medela comes with. The moms who tested the Spectra S2 thought that it had more comfortable suction than the Medela, but not quite matching its suction power for those who want a more powerful unit. There are some great features here: the suction strength and speed are separately controlled (so you can fully customize to make the suction exactly like your baby's), you can do single or double breast pumping without losing power, it has a nice night light, a timer, and it is very lightweight and easy to move around. We also thought it was very quiet, definitely quieter than the Medela, and something you could use next to a sleeping baby without too much worry. We also thought the battery life was quite good, lasting through three full pumping sessions. Seems like you would only need to charge it overnight, unless you're pumping more than a few times per day. Only a few cons with this unit. First, the parts are somewhat difficult to find as they are not available in most stores that we're aware of. If you need a different breast shield size or other spare parts, you'll need to order them online unless your local medical supply company can figure out how to order them. We do note, however, that the Medela bottles did fit this unit quite well. That brings us to our second con: the bottles Spectra provides are not as nice as the Medela bottles. Finally, this doesn't come in a custom sized bag with all the goodies like the Medela. Overall, this is a fantastic option if you're looking for a hospital-grade breast pump, though it doesn't come with quite as many goodies as the Medela. Usually available online for about $150. Interested? You can check out the Spectra S2 breast pump here.
It was only a matter of time until one of the breast pump companies made a smart breast pump that could communicate with your smart-phone - and here it is! This Lansinoh Breast Pump will connect to your smartphone (Apple or Android apps) via Bluetooth and automate your scheduling and tracking of pumping sessions. They basically took the already excellent Lansinoh Signature Pro breast pump and added an app; so this review is not only applicable to the Lansinoh Smartpump but also the Lansinoh Signature Pro, which is exactly the same except for the Bluetooth and app capability. And as evidenced by how fantastic the Lansinoh Signature Pro is, the Bluetooth and app capability are not the best features, or the reason that we're ranking this Lansinoh pump so highly. Instead, this breast pump is truly excellent in several more fundamental ways. First, it is a hospital-grade breast pump, which means that it can be used by multiple moms as long as each brings their own accessory kit. This means that the system likely does a good job isolating the pump and tubes from any milk, moisture, or bacteria (they usually call this a hygienic closed system). We do note, however, that the term "hospital grade" is not regulated by the FDA, so breast pump companies can realistically use it however they'd like. But in our testing, we thought this Lansinoh breast pump did a really great job keeping the pump itself and the tubes from getting wet with milk or full of moisture. Second, it is a very powerful pumping mechanism, leaving several of its competitors in the dust! It has two pumping modes (2-minute let-down and longer expression), three pumping styles to match your baby's natural feeding habits (short pulses, medium pulses, and long pulses), and eight suction levels. Those suction levels get really powerful, and when you combine it with a longer pulse pumping style (pump style #3), you get some serious action out of this pump. It really is "good to the last drop," and we were really impressed with its power. And all of the settings can be easily changed using intuitive buttons on the system itself. And when you stop pumping, the system automatically tells the app so that it knows exactly how long you pumped for (and you can enter how much milk you produced as well). Third, the breast shields are padded and make for some super comfortable breast pumping. We can't tell you how nice the padding feels, and what a difference that little feature makes when you're pumping several times a day! Fourth, it comes with a lot of great accessories, including the cooler, extra bottles, caps, and nipples that you can attach right to the milk collection bottles and use to feed your baby, rather than connecting to a different baby bottle. Finally, the system is super portable and lightweight. It fits nicely into the included bag, but can also be slid right into most diaper bags without a hassle. It can be plugged into the wall using the included AC adapter, or can be turned into a more portable breast pump by popping in 6 AA batteries to make it a battery powered breast pump. The pumping strength was similarly good with the wall adapter and batteries, though the batteries only lasted for a single pumping session. So you're definitely better off just plugging it in! Downfalls? Well, not many, but if we're being picky there are a couple. We found it to be quite a bit noisier than most of the other top-ranked systems on this list, which made it a little less ideal for discreetly pumping at work or elsewhere. Also, the screen is awesome, but it has no back-light so it doesn't light up at night, making night-time pumping very difficult unless a light is on. Usually available online for about $120. Interested? You can check out the Lansinoh Smartpump breast pump here, or the original Lansinoh Signature Pro double electric breast pump here (without Bluetooth or app capability).
Medela provided us with a promotional sample of this excellent new breast pump that is made in the USA! Most similar to the Spectra in terms of form factor and ease of use; it's small, sleek, simple to use, and the moms who tested it for us had some great things to say. Let's start with the positives. We found the pump to be very powerful, especially for its small footprint; it seemed more powerful than the Pump in Style, but less so than the Symphony. Even when it was operating on battery mode, the pumping felt just as powerful as when it's plugged in. Speaking of the battery, in our testing we found that it would last for 2 full pumping sessions. You might be able to squeeze out a third, but the battery might die along the way, it all depends on how long you're pumping for and on which setting. So that's a pretty decent battery life, especially for the small form factor (and small internal battery). Another highlight is its quiet operation (likely the quietest on this list), which is great for pumping on-the-go (or late at night) when you want some privacy: you can pump in your office without all of your neighbors hearing the rhythmic pulsing of the motor. Like the other pumps, it has a two-phase expression, with a one-touch let-down, and two pumping rhythms for your comfort. Also has a convenient timer right on the front, so you don't need to keep checking the clock to track pumping durations. We found the breast shields comfortable, though the adapter sections were a bit heavy and reduced comfort. One thing that really sets this pump apart is that it's a "smart" pump, using Bluetooth to communicate with your smart phone. Download the app (on Apple or Android) and you can keep precise track of all of your pumping, and it will also give you a smart alert for low pump battery life. This is an awesome feature, bringing breast pumps into the 21st century! The best part is having an accurate log of pumping sessions, including when they happened and how long they lasted. So there are a ton of great features here, and as a result the price tag is a bit higher than most others on this list. So, what are the negatives? Well, first the screen display is a little odd and hard to read at times. Second, the shields and flanges cause a strange back-splashing of breast milk against the nipple before the milk moves down into the flange. That's not a big deal, though two of our testing moms commented that it's a strange sensation. Finally, this is a completely new model for Medela, and you can expect some hiccups along the way. As they improve upon the model over the next few years, we anticipate it will really begin to stand out against the crowd. In the meantime, you might need to rely on Medela's excellent customer service to resolve any issues that arise. We found this pump is usually around $299 online. Interested? You can check out this Medela Sonata breast pump here.
Spectra has a wide range of excellent breast pumps, with this one being the most portable breast pump available of the group. We finally got our hands on this breast pump for testing in early 2018, and our testing parents had tons of great things to say about it. Let's start with the features. The size of this breast pump is fantastic, it's about the same size as an old Game Boy (if you remember those!), and is lightweight and easy to carry. It fits right into a jacket pocket, a diaper bag (see our reviews of those here!), or a purse. But don't let the size fool you. This breast pump has two speeds: a faster one called "massage" which is intended to stimulate let-down, and a slower expression mode to continue pumping. And the suction strength is adjustable as well, so you can customize to what feels best for your unique situation. It's a double breast pump, but note that those controls are for both suction lines, you can't control them independently. The screen is small and simple. It provides a timer, tells you what your current suction level is, and tells you how much battery remains. Speaking of battery, this breast pump is super portable and has a battery that lasts for up to 3-4 pumping sessions (about 30 minutes each)! That's really impressive given its small size. The moms who tried this pump out for us said that the breast shields were comfortable and nicely sized, the bottles were fine (though some preferred larger ones), and things were easy to disassemble and clean. We also found out that the other Spectra Baby USA bottles that come with the S1 and S2 pumps will fit onto this one as well. The narrower-mouth Medela bottles don't seem to fit, but we did get several AVENT bottles to fit without any issues. So overall this is a great, highly portable breast pump that is perfect for moms on the go. The battery life is great, features are good, comfort is high, and from what we could tell it is very reliable. Only a few minor drawbacks were reported by our moms. First, if you're used to a very powerful pump like the Medela Pump in Style, or the S1 or S2, then you might find the suction on this pump a bit on the weaker side. Most moms don't have trouble with this, but if you're coming from a more powerful pump this might be an issue. Second, the breast shields are a bit expensive (see them here), though you can get the ones made by Maymom for quite a bit less (they are here).We found this breast pump is usually around $180 online. Interested? You can check out the Spectra S9 breast pump here.
The Freemie line of breast pumps are relatively new to the market, but they are making quite a splash. These are the best breast pumps for moms who want to pump discreetly and even without removing your bra or shirt. The way the Freemie pumps work is by using an innovative cup to collect the breast milk while it pumps. The cup is shaped like a dome, so it fits nicely over the nipple and breast, without sticking out like typical shields and flanges. The way it works is by placing a shield (they include a 25mm and 28mm set) into a cup-shaped reservoir that holds the expressed milk until you're done pumping. When you're done, you turn off the machine, remove the shield/cup, and then detach the shield from the cup so you can pour the milk into a storage container. The cups look small but they actually hold 8 ounces of milk each, which is more than enough for most moms. The moms who tried out the Freemie Freedom breast pump thought that it was comfortable, discreet, very effective, and all of them commented that it was a very innovative system. However, there were a few downfalls they mentioned. First, the system itself is only operated with the power cord, it cannot be battery operated so it doesn't have the portability that most other pumps have. Second, the pump itself is powerful and reliable, but it doesn't have a massage/let-down phase, so if you have found the massage aspect helpful for stimulating let-down, this isn't a great option for you. Third, the cups can't be used for milk storage, so you need to pour the milk out of the cups into a storage bag or bottle. The pump itself is pretty limited in features, so some of our testing moms found a good solution: they hooked the cups up to their existing breast pumps. One hooked it up to the Spectra S2, and another hooked them up to the Medela Pump in Style. They both thought this was a great solution because you get the discreet convenience and effectiveness of the cup collection, but with a more feature-full breast pump. We agree that this is a great way to use this system. In fact, you can just buy the accessories separately (like here) for about $60 and hook them up to your existing pump! By comparison, we found the whole breast pump system is usually around $160 online. We also want to point out that if you love this system but don't think it's small, portable, or discrete enough, then you might want to check out the battery powered Freemie Liberty breast pump, which is the more portable (and much more expensive!) version of this top-rated breast pump. Interested? You can check out this Freemie Freedom breast pump here.
The Philips AVENT breast pump is probably most similar to the Medela Pump in Style in terms of features, size, and portability. It has some great features that our moms pointed out were really quite nice, especially for the lower price point (about $199). After stimulation mode, the AVENT has three different expression modes (low, medium, high) that you can choose between once let-down begins. This model also has a unique design that lets you sit upright without leaning forward to get the right alignment of the bottle. Speaking of which, AVENT makes some of the best baby bottles available on the market, which can be screwed right onto this breast pump. It also has a unique breast shield design, with flower petal-like parts that are soft and comfortable against the breast. Overall, our moms thought that it was a good no-frills second option to the Medela Pump in Style, but without some of the better features like the cooler and ice pack, battery for cord-free use, and continuously adjustable suction (rather than simply 3 different categories of suction). Another con is that the AVENT reliability isn't quite on par with the Medela. Long-term users report various issues with the unit that can render it useless until it is repaired or replaced. If you can splurge the extra $20 or so, we suggest the Medela Pump in Style. Interested? You can check out this AVENT breast pump here.
This is a relative newcomer to the electric breast pump market, and we are impressed with its bang-for-the-buck. It is a no-frills pump, similar to the Spectra pump above. It can be used on one breast or both simultaneously. We really liked the versatility of this pump: it has separate adjustable suction pressure and speed, each of which is adjustable across 5 levels from low to high. It uses two-phase pumping, starting with stimulation and then continuing with expression. One of the nice features about this pump is that it's compatible with the Medela Pump-in-Style parts, which is great if you're looking for a more comprehensive primary pump for at home (the Medela) and a simpler and less expensive secondary one for at work or elsewhere. The mom who reviewed this for us used it for a total of 3 months. She said the form and fit aren't quite as good as the Medela or AVENT, the parts were similar to the Medela in terms of cleaning, and that she was able to screw Dr. Brown's bottles directly onto it. But she also noted that it was quite a bit noisier than the others, and that it got consistently louder over time. Finally, she noted that it's a bit cheaply made, and was concerned about longer-term reliability. Overall, this pump gets the job done with only some minor drawbacks; at the lowest price on this list for an electric pump (under $100), it's a great bang for the buck. Interested? You can check out this BelleMa Melon breast pump here.
When we first got our hands on this Ameda Purely Yours breast pump, we were excited to give it a shot because it has some great features for a breast pump coming in at only about $160. These features include single or double electric breast pumping, adjustable expression speed and suction power, compatibility with Medela storage bottles, no BPA or phthalates in parts that contact breast-milk, flexibility of using the AC wall adapter or batteries (AA size), a dual hygiene system designed to keep moisture and milk out of all tubing, and a very small and lightweight form factor that fits into a relatively small diaper bag or the included carry bag. So there definitely is a lot of potential for this to be a great double breast pump that is versatile, portable, and feature-rich. After using it for a few months, we weren't as impressed with this Ameda breast pump as we thought we might be. When we first started using it, we came to the realization that it doesn't really have the suction power that most other breast pumps reviewed on this list, and this was especially the case when we were using batteries. On 6 fresh AA batteries, the suction would start off strong for about 10 minutes, but then slowly get weaker as the batteries were drained. And over the course of a few months using the pump, the same thing slowly happened when we had the pump plugged in - it lost its suction strength. It was unclear whether this was due to the motor or the relatively poorly-sealed pump parts that seemed to leak air. In any case, it put a bad taste in our mouth for this pump. The good news is that we contacted the Ameda customer service and they actually sent us a replacement pump overnight, so kudos to their customer service team - if only their product design team was as good! So overall, the Ameda Purely Yours is a somewhat disappointing addition to our list, and after reading some of the reviews online we came to the realization that it wasn't just a fluke - these are common problems with this breast pump. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, we're going to try out the Ameda Finesse Hospital-grade Breast Pump, and hope for better results. Interested? You can check out this Ameda Purely Yours breast pump here.
Medela has been doing breast pumps for a very long time and they truly know what they are doing. From the Harmony manual pump for about $30 to the hospital grade Symphony, you really can't go wrong with a Medela breast pump. Lansinoh also makes an excellent manual breast pump, the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump with Stimulation and Expression Modes, so be sure to check that out here). The Harmony is really the ultimate in super-portable breast pumps, but as the only manual pump option on our list it also requires the most amount of work on behalf of moms. In our testing, this worked quite well for a manual pump. It has a two-phase stimulation and expression option; first you use your thumb to pump for stimulation, and when let-down occurs you switch to the long handle and use your entire hand. The breast shield is also very nicely contoured and soft, the handle pivots for comfort and left- or right-handed use, and it's super portable and extremely quiet. The quietest on our list by far - not surprising given it's manual. After using, moms thought the clean-up was relatively easy without the mess of tubes and membranes, and there was relatively little to put away after use. No wires, chargers, or batteries, and no long tubes. But of course, a couple moms noted that their hands got a bit tired after 5 minutes of pumping their breasts, and one mom flat-out called it ridiculous and wondered why anyone would get a manual pump in the first place. Other moms appreciated its simplicity and effectiveness, but also noted that they had to use quite a bit of breast compression with their free hand to get things flowing again when the milk supply slowed down. Cons? Well, we think we've just about covered those. But an additional finding is that a little rubber o-ring tends to wear out quickly and cause leaks; it can be replaced by contacting Medela for parts. Interested? You can check out the Medela Harmony breast pump here.
Here are more details about the factors to consider when finding a great breast pump:
Automatic versus Manual. Most moms opt for the automatic powered breast pump, whereas others prefer the manual method. There are a lot of pros and cons for each method. For the electric pump, you benefit from the phased expression that automatically mimics the sucking pattern of a baby, faster let-down with shorter overall pumping times, no hand/wrist strain from manual pumping, and a sit-back-and-relax sort of device that doesn't involve too much work. You can text on your phone or otherwise do some work while pumping, which some moms find super convenient. But with an automatic pump you also need to worry about battery levels, charging, device size/weight, higher cost, and noise. If you work in a small office environment, for example, you might be concerned that the automatic pumps are relatively noisy and others might hear the pump running; let's be clear that they aren't really noisy, but certainly noisier than a manual pump. For manual breast pumps, you benefit from highly customizable speed, no worrying about batteries/charging, a smaller form factor that is more portable, and a basically silent operation that is highly discreet. But pumping times can be a bit longer, you need to figure out when to switch expression phases, and you can't really do anything else while pumping since your hands will be occupied. Moms also report getting sore hands and wrists from manually pumping for extended durations. We think that the best option is the one you're most comfortable with and fits your unique lifestyle. One is not necessarily better than the other, though the electric pump is certainly worth the added cost for the convenience factor alone.
BPA and Phthalate Content. When my babies were little we were just beginning the trend toward BPA and phthalate-free breast pumps. Moms were worried that the parts coming in contact with breast milk, like the shields and bottles, might contain harmful chemicals. Nowadays, all of the major manufacturers are making their systems BPA-free, so you no longer need to search long and hard for one of these options. The models we list below are all BPA-free.
Portability & Storage. If you go the manual route, you will have the most portable possible breast pump that you can buy. The compact bottle and breast shield, along with the small pump handle, all fit readily in a medium purse or diaper bag. Automatic systems are much larger since you need to include the breast shields, bottles, pump system, battery pack, charger(s), vacuum tubes, etc. With either automatic or manual you will also need a place to store your pumped breast milk, either in disposable bags or bottles, at or below about 59 degrees (F). So, with either option you will need to also carry a small cooler with a frozen ice pack. According to Medela, the maximum amount of time you can keep the milk in this storage type is 24 hours, then you'll need to move to a refrigerator or freezer (see the breast milk storage guidelines to the right). This is why manufacturers of automatic pumps have shifted toward providing everything in a single bag to maximize portability and convenience; this includes not just all the pumping equipment but also a cooler and ice pack.
Comfort. This is a difficult factor to assess since comfort with a breast pump tends to be highly individualized, and every mom has her own pumping experiences and preferences for pumping patterns, strength, duration, and accessories. Typically, comfort comes down to a few primary factors.
First is you must select the appropriately sized breast shield. Medela, for instance, manufactures 5 different breast shield sizes to accommodate all women. In general, you need to make sure your nipple is centered in the shield and not rubbing the sides as it is pumped, your areola (dark skin surrounding nipple) has space to move up and down as it is pumped, your breast moves gently and rhythmically with the pumping, and feels comfortable during pumping. If any of these aren't correct, your breast shield may be too small, and it is likely that you will not get a good let-down.
Second, you must correctly time the shifts of expression phases to accommodate your body's unique let-down pattern. Typically, pumps will begin in a "stimulation" phase and then after 2 minutes automatically switch to the expression phase. This 2-minute pattern is optimal for many women, but you might find that you need more or less time in a stimulation phase before switching to expression. The Medela pump, for instance, gives you flexibility with this timing by offering a let-down button that allows you to either switch to expression phase earlier, or go back to stimulation phase if the unit switched automatically to expression before you were ready. This customizable phase timing feature is great for optimal comfort during use.
Third, you will likely need to adjust vacuum strength/speed while pumping. Most breast pumps suggest increasing the vacuum speed/strength until you feel slight discomfort and then backing down a bit. This process of selecting the correct breast shield size, switching pump phases as needed, and customizing your vacuum speed, should result in high comfort levels for most women. Of course, if you're pumping exclusively, then comfort is going to be paramount since you'll be doing it more times a day and have more potential for small annoyances to build up into something uncomfortable when you're using 5-10 times per day. Note that some nursing bras are pumping bras that allow you to attach the pumps to each breast without taking off your bra, and the bra will hold it in place hands-free which can be super convenient. Check out our reviews of the best nursing bras here.
Cleaning/Maintenance. All breast pumps, regardless of whether they are manual or automatic, will have a lot of parts that need to be cleaned. Some of these parts are large, like the breast shield and connectors. Some are small, like the valve and little rubber membranes. Some are easier to clean, like the breast shield, and some are harder, like the vacuum tubes. Most breast pumps ask for warm soapy water for cleanup between uses, and also allow you to put the larger components into the dishwasher (air dry only). They also recommend daily sanitization of the parts in boiling water. So there are a lot of parts, and cleanup is a bit of a pain regardless of which system you have. Medela offers a single-piece breast shield and connector which makes life a bit easier