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Wearable Breast Pumps: A Lactation Consultant’s Pros and Cons

Published in Birthing Services, Pediatrics, For the Health of It Author: Abby Boelter LPN, IBCLC, Family Birthing Nurse and Lactation Consultant CentraCare – Plaza Pediatrics

Motherhood is an amazing journey, but it comes with many decisions. As a lactation consultant, I get many questions about breastfeeding. One topic that is surfacing more and more is, “Should I get a wearable breast pump?”

Wearable pumps are growing in popularity and are all over TikTok, Instagram and other social media. If you are a breastfeeding parent and following any type of breastfeeding forum, wearable pumps are everywhere in the chatter and appear to be a desirable, go-to item.

When parents come to me asking if wearable pumps are good, I often go through an old-fashioned pros and cons list with them!

What are the advantages of wearable breast pumps?

  • More mobility! Many parents opt for a wearable pump because of the freedom. Being able to freely walk around and do things while you're pumping is the No. 1 reason wearable pumps are so popular. Of course, how mobile you can be will depend on the brand and type of wearable pump you choose. But not being tied to a chair should allow you to prepare food, do dishes and other things on your radar, making it more likely you will stick to a pumping rhythm and routine.
  • Discretion. Wearable pumps tend to be fairly discreet, which for some families can be really important depending on when and where you need to pump.
  • Quiet. Along those same lines, wearable pumps are also fairly quiet as compared to wall pumps.
  • Easy to clean. Wearable pumps are easy to clean because they are put together differently and don’t have tubing like wall pumps.
  • Smart technology. You can connect your wearable to a smart phone to track pump volumes, your output for the day, minutes pumped, etc. These features tend to be appealing to the tech savvy parent.

What are the disadvantages of wearable breast pumps?

  • Price! Wearable pumps can be quite spendy and they aren’t always covered at full price by your insurance.
  • Comfort. For whatever breast pump you have — wall or wearable, it’s super important to have an appropriately fitted flange, which is the cone shaped funnel that fits directly over your nipple. While there are a few different reasons for that, the most notable is comfort. When pumping, you should not feel pain. If encountering pain, your pump may be at the wrong suction level and the flange fit may not be correct. With current wearables, you are not able to see your nipple within the flange tunnel because it is covered by the wearable’s motor, so it is more difficult to visually see potential issues. That’s where a lactation consultant can be helpful. Flange fit is a major reason women schedule an appointment with me after purchasing a wearable. I help troubleshoot problems and find new solutions for comfort.
  • Milk supply/Suction strength. Wearable pumps tend to have lower suction capabilities. For some, this may mean the pump won’t adequately empty the breast and your milk supply won’t flourish. Depending on goals, a wall pump may be a better option. Again, you can meet with a skilled lactation specialist (ideally in pregnancy) who will work to set you up with success.
  • Charging! Because wearable pumps don’t need to be plugged in when pumping, you guessed it, you have to make time to charge your pump. Charging can be a significant time consideration. When done pumping, you will have to remember to put it on the charger. Some wall pumps are chargeable, too, but if the battery is low, you still have the option of plugging it into a wall. For most wearable pumps, that’s simply not an option. If it’s not charged, you can’t pump.
  • Being in the moment. While I know mobility is huge for parents, I think there is a misconception that parents always need to be on the go, to keep moving, to get things done. I think wall pumps give you an opportunity to slow down, read a book or quietly contemplate your day. Additionally, if you have the opportunity to snuggle with baby while pumping, it increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn can raise your milk supply. And, who doesn’t love snuggling with a sweet squishy baby?

What are the advantages of wearable breast pumps for working moms?

Wearable pumps can be advantageous for mothers returning to work. These pumps are mobile, hands-free and provide discreetness and privacy. Whether at the office, at home, in meetings or on the move, wearable pumps can help moms be productive with both breastfeeding and work goals.

What are the disadvantages of wearable breast pumps for working moms?

Mothers who rely 100% on a wearable breast pump may not be emptying breasts completely of milk. Working moms will need to take extra consideration of their milk supply, and always make sure their pump is charged. They need to always ask, “Did I bring the charger with me?” “What if I get to work and I don’t have it, then what do I do?”

Additionally, soreness can sneak up on a working mom. While on maternity leave, baby might have been nursing and mom was doing light pumping. Now mom will be pumping more and may notice breasts are more tender at the end of the day. With a wall pump, you can see if the flange isn’t sitting properly on the breast. With a wearable, you can’t really see so you might end up pumping longer with a bad fit.

What are the advantages of wearable breast pumps for new moms?

For new mothers, wearable pumps can be an advantage when they start to juggle their new roles and responsibilities. Wearable pumps will make it easier for them to attend to their newborns and engage in other activities at the same time. Taking on the role of mother for the first time may be stressful, but the wearable pump may help mothers ease into this transition more smoothly.

What are the disadvantages of wearable breast pumps for new moms?

One of the main concerns I get from mothers using wearable breast pumps is sustainability of milk supply and comfort. For first time moms, this can be especially difficult. New moms may not know how to fix the issues that come their way and may not know what pumping should feel like. Second-time moms also have an advantage because they may still have a wall pump that can serve as a backup if problems arise with a wearable.

What breast pump is best for you?

After running through the pros and cons, consider:

  • What are your feeding goals?
  • What is your feeding plan?
  • Do you plan to do very minimal, light pumping?
  • Do you plan to do exclusive or full-time pumping?
  • How much time do you want to spend pumping?

Then think about what’s most important to you. For example, if milk supply is your No. 1 concern and “the driver of your bus,” then a wall pump might be a better option.

It would be wonderful if a person could afford both a wall and wearable so that they could get the best of both worlds but unfortunately that’s not reality. Thankfully pump manufacturers are taking feedback from customers and are continuously getting better at flange options for better milk removal and comfort. In the meantime, a pros and cons list can help you take everything into consideration and make a wise decision. And, remember, if you get stuck in the process, lactation consultants are here to help!

Make an appointment with a CentraCare lactation consultant.