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Monday
Sep132010

Hands-free pumping options for breastfeeding moms

If you are a breastfeeding mom who has to pump regularly, whether you are pumping at work, exclusively pumping (by choice or necessity), trying to increase your supply, breastfeeding multiples or donating to a human milk bank, you probably don't want to spend all of your pumping time holding the horns. There is good news: You don't have to! There are a variety of different options for using your double electric breastpump hands-free, ranging from almost free to sophisticated comfort.

Hair Elastic Technique

Certainly the cheapest, but not the sturdiest method of hands-free pumping is the hair elastic technique. All you need is four hair elastics and a nursing bra you are ready to go. There are detailed instructions for using the hair elastic hands-free pumping technique on the kellymom website.

This is the method that I used pumping with my second child. With my first baby, I don't think I would have found the hair elastic technique to be sturdy enough. Instead I used the now discontinued Medela hands-free breastpumping kit, which also used elastics, but was sturdier. However, it only worked with Medela nursing bras, which were not my favourites. Once I felt more confident and comfortable with my pump, I was able to use the hair elastic technique and found it to be both convenient and easy. I had to hold on to the flanges at the beginning of a pumping session, but once the suction kicked in, I didn't need to hold them anymore. It certainly is the cheapest method, doesn't require you to wear a specific nursing bra (pretty much any brand will do), and doesn't require a lot of set-up time.

While it is intended for use with a nursing bra that has hooks that you can hook the elastic into, I was also able to use it with some nursing bras with snaps or with a non-nursing tank top with shelf bra by looping the hair elastic around the part of the bra where the strap meets the cup.

DIY Hands-Free Pumping Bra

If you are a DIY type, you may be interested in instructions on how to turn a regular bra into a hands-free pumping bra. This approach is probably quite economical if you know what you are doing, but I don't like the idea of either having to change bras each time I want to pump or wearing two bras (the hands-free pumping one and a nursing bra).

Another really easy option, used by Marcy from Life is Good, Bonnie from Life As I Know It and Katy from Along Came a Hippo is to cut holes into an old sports bra.

La Leche League Hands Free Pumping & Nursing Softcup Bra #4105Hands-Free Pumping Bras

There are some nursing bras that are designed specifically to allow you to pump hands-free. For example, the La Leche League Hands Free Pumping Bra includes a special layer that helps hold the horns in place and allows you to use it for hands-free pumping.  The advantage of this bra is that you do not require any equipment other than your bra and the pump. No hair elastics and no changing into a different bra for pumping. Some moms, such as Kate from Big City Belly, love it and use it every day. However, some others, like Beth from Jogging Stroller Mom, point out that there are some disadvantages too: e.g. larger flanges didn't fit through correctly and  the fabric bunched and was noticeable with a solid colour shirt.

Hands-Free Pumping Bustiers

On the sophisticated end of things are the hands-free pumping bustiers. These products are intended to be worn just while you are pumping (rather than wearing them all day), but seem to provide the ultimate amount of comfort and control. For moms who do not want to worry about having the horns slip off or get knocked off if you are moving around while pumping, these products are probably the best ones for you. The bustiers typically include a small opening for the horns and a wrap around bustier that keeps the horns firmly in place. One advantage of bustiers is that you can use them regardless of what you are wearing. The disadvantage is that you do have to put it on and take it off at each pumping session (or wear it all day in addition to your other bra, which may or may not work depending on what you are wearing).

There are a number of available brands:

  • Easy Expressions: As I mentioned earlier, Medela used to have its own proprietary hands-free system that worked with its nursing bras and pumps. It appears to have ditched that in favour of the Easy Expressions hands-free bustier. Medela purchased Easy Expressions recently and is now selling their bustier (and halter) instead of its old hands-free kits. For moms like Lyn from Medly and Heather from Rookie Moms, this was their go-to hands-free solution. Heather loved being able to pump hands-free while doing other things and appreciated that the bustier was wrap around (versus lifting over head), which made it easy to take on and off. While the product comes in several sizes, the sizes are not adjustable and some moms have found that they were between sizes and were frustrated that there was no way to adjust it.
  • PumpEasePumpEase: The PumpEase Hands-Free Pumping Support comes in a variety of fun patterns (including an organic option) and has a range of sizes fitting moms from 32AA to 48H (and is adjustable so that you can get just the right fit, even as your postpartum body changes in size) . The openings in the bustier accommodate all makes and sizes of breast pump horns and the bustier also covers you up very well. In addition to having a great product, the company also donates $2 from each purchase to the Best for Babes Foundation and also donates all factory seconds to the Special Care Nursery at Royal Columbian Hospital. Gina from The Feminist Breeder used the PumpEase for a year and loved it.  She said it was really easy to take on and off, which was very useful given the limited time she had to pump.

  • Simple Wishes: A third product in this category is the Simple Wishes bra. I don't know of anyone personally who has used this bra, but it does have numerous good reviews on Amazon. It claims to fit from 30AA to 48J, but offers only two (adjustable) sizes. While I love the idea of having an adjustable product, I wonder whether two sizes is really enough to ensure the right fit for every mom.  Unlike the other bustiers, this one has optional straps for moms who want extra support while pumping (although I've never heard of anyone needing them or missing them with the other strapless bustier products).

Other Products

There are a number of other products related to pumping hands-free that have been introduced recently. While I don't have a lot of information on how well these products work or whether they are worth the money, I thought they were interesting enough to be worth sharing.

  • FreemieFreemie: The Freemie is a pump accessory that allows you to pump hands-free while fully clothed. The Freemie milk collectors are used instead of the bottle and horn that comes with your pump and they hook up to the tubing on your pump. It works with Hygeia pumps and some Medela pumps (it doesn't work with the Medela Freestyle).  While the product sounds great, I have heard there are some issues with suction and that the tunnel is too small for some moms. With so many moms fighting to get enough milk during a workday, having good suction is very important.
  • Hands-free breast pumping strapPumpin' Pal: The Pumpin' Pal company offers a few products that you can purchase separately or as a package.  It includes flanges that you can use instead of the ones that came with your pump that are angled forward instead of sticking straight out. This means that you don't have to lean forward to ensure that the milk flows into the bottles, which helps with posture. Pumpin' Pal also has a hands-free breast pumping strap that hangs around your neck to hold the bottles up.

I don't have any direct experience with these newer products, but find it fascinating to see the newer innovations in pumps and hope that in addition to products being introduced, that work environments will continue to become more pump friendly for working moms who want to be able to provide breastmilk to their babies.

More info

If you are looking for tips on pumping at work, you can check out the Pumping FAQ on the Kellymom Forums (tons of great links) or the Pump it up tips at Rookie Moms. Also, if you do pump at work and have a decent pumping environment, please take a look at the Pumping Project by Rookie Moms, which aims to collect pictures on flickr of pumping environments in organizations that treat nursing moms well.

I hope you found this information useful. I pumped at work for a total of about 20 months between my two kids and I could not have done it without a hands-free option. If you have experience with any of these products or have other ideas for pumping hands-free, I would love your thoughts in the comments below.

Note: This post includes affiliate links to purchase some of these products on Amazon.com. If you do purchase them through the links on this page you still get Amazon's best price, but I also get a small percentage of the purchase price to help me with the costs of running this website.

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Reader Comments (33)

I just recently tested out the Simple Wishes hands free bustier and loved it. I liked the sizing because i am on the larger bust in an awkward size (34 F) so it is hard to find products that fit. I was actually in a size XS/S/M and i liked the extra straps that were optional. it helped me feel more secure. It worked great (my post: http://www.accustomedchaos.com/2010/09/review-hands-free-pumping-bra-from.html). The hands free option is not something i had used previously and it is saving from a lot of hassle having 3 young kids & only 2 hands.

great resource Annie!

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDevan@ Accustomed Choas

This is great info. I'm happy to find it, because I've been considering looking for some hands-free options. My baby is now pretty mobile, and a free hand is pretty important sometimes.

I only wish I had an option at work...the lactation room in my office is always occupied (a good thing) so I often have to pump in the infirmary (a bad thing) and there is no real lock on the door. I guess in that case a hand held option is good so I can hide quickly if necessary.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwendy @ ABCs and Garden Peas

wendy:

Some of the hands-free options allow you to cover up pretty well. So if you just want to ensure you are covered (vs. trying to hide the fact that you are pumping), then I think you could work something out. Let me know if you want to brainstorm ideas.

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

What about the Medela Freestyle?

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Heather:

Yes, that is true. The Medela Freestyle is hands-free. I was thinking more of options for moms who have a (different) pump already or who don't want a Medela and want to be able to use their pump hands-free.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I pumped for a year at work after Cale was born and I used the easy expressions hands free bustier. I wore a nursing bra underneath so all I had to do was unhook the bra, put the bustier on, and I was ready to go. I LOVED it - worth every penny!! It always kept the horns in place snug and secure. A few times I forgot the bustier at home and had to use rubber bands/hair bands. They worked, but it was not as snug as I liked (but it certainly was nice that I had an easy alternative...) I usually had my office to myself, but if my office-mate (who was totally comfy with me pumping next to her) was there, I would just drape a baby blanket over the pumps and tuck it into my bra straps to keep me covered.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlix

No, I'm quite vocal about it so I don't need to hide the fact that I'm pumping, I just want to make sure I have a little privacy while doing it. I have one bra that is a nursing/sports bra type with a flap that kind of holds the horns in place, but who wants to have sports bra boobs for 2 years? I'm a little tired of the misshapen uniboob. Of all the options you are familiar with, which do you think is the quickest and easiest to set up and take off?

I guess I'm showing my inexperience, but I had no idea about the hair bands...I'm intrigued...

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwendy @ ABCs and Garden Peas

I was never really able to figure out a good hands free pumping solution when I pumped at work for my son, so I learned to do lots of things 1-handed. Thanks for putting together a great resource! If/when I have have another successful pregnancy I'm sure I'll be back at this post.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShana

I used the Pumpin' Pal and a loose button up shirt to cover up. I was meh on the strap for the Pumpin' pal - it worked and was easy to put on/store but always felt a bit flimsy. What I truly loved was their angled horns they were so much more comfortable. I set aside some technical reading and was able to catch up on that as I pumped.

My sister-in-law described my pump as "pimped out." A Medela pump, the Pumpin' Pal horns, Advent bottles for collection, a burp cloth for keeping clean, & steamer bags for cleaning up. My advice was to consider the element that was giving you the most trouble and fix that, not to expect the perfect solution since different things work for different people.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMHBurts

I used the Easy Expressions with Claudia. I actually had two of them, so that if I got milk on one and had to wash it I had another one available. It was awesome for pumping while driving, kept everything in place (yes, the set up was done before the driving started). I chose the specific one because it was the one that my diaper service sold on their website, which meant quick and free delivery.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Great post. I used the hair elastic technique while pumping for a year for #1 and it worked, not great but it worked. I am currently pumping for #2 and I am in love with the PumpEase. It's expensive, but considering that I will use it 500+ times over the course of a year . . . it its totally worth it. The best thing is that it makes pumping while sitting at the computer super easy and I don't have any to hear my boss complain about my pump breaks.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate Hodges

Another Pump Ease fan here! Made a world of difference for me pumping at home and work. I also loved that it took up very little room in my pump bag.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNanette

Great resources. I am currently pumping once a day for my 17 month old. I just adjust my office chair so that the bottles sit on the desk and turn the suction all the way up (which I need anyway). However, I do have smaller breasts and can see how this technique would be difficult for someone who was a D+ cup.
Love to all you pumping mamas!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCamie

I'd second this. I'm at ~ 15mos pumping now.

I have used both the Pumpin Pal hands-free strap and the angled flanges/horns. I think there is a 2nd Gen hands-free strap now compared to what I used; I got mine as hand-me down from friend. It took some getting used to, but it definitely works. The angled horns are great!

I use a Medela Freestyle and it's great. Any of these other options would be just as viable though, and the hands-free part is a total must for any long term pumping mom. I'm also using adapters so I can pump directly into Avent bottles. There is an adapter for pretty much every brand--you just have to search a bit. The adapters save time and milk since I'm not pouring/mixing from collection bags or containers into her bottles (now cups).

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersproutsmama

I use the simple wishes handsfree and at first I was leary about getting the sm/med size because my nursing bra is a 38 G. But, it really does adjust to fit a very large range of sizes. and has an extra optional 2 inch panel that you can use in the front for us very well endowed ladies since the nipples seem to get farther apart the bigger the boobs are.
I have a hard time getting time in my day at work to pump, so when I do I still need to eat my meal and do some computer work (i'm a nurse on a busy surgical floor). This simple wishes handsfree was a godsend.
Thanks
RShevzov

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRosalyn Shevzov

I have the Pumpease, and I use it with the freestyle. I did not like the freestyle's hands free option, and the Pumpease is just a lot easier to deal with. I am a nurse in the OR, and do not get a lot of time to pump. I have found that when you do not have a lot of time, a bustier is a godsend! Love being able to pump hands free!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVA Blondie

I love my Pumpin Pals horns! The angle really seems like a side effect of their real benefit: they don't pull your nipple through a relatively sharp "ring" during pumping. Pumping is so much more comfortable than it used to be. They're more vortex-shaped than funnel-shaped.

I have the newer version of the strap, too. It's worthless for pumping one side. It's still awfully flimsy for pumping both sides. Rubber bands work better, IMHO.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Great post! I really need to invest in one of these as I pump Every Hour(!) at work to get enough to tide my (now reversed-cycled) kid through the day. Seems I have a little let-down issue. Sigh. We do what we have to, right? It'd be great to have something more comfortable and secure!

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercd

We're very grateful that Pumpease is a long-standing corporate sponsor of Best for Babes, and that Simple Wishes and Pumpin' Pals are new supporters! All three of these companies not only make great products for breastfeeding moms, but are also investing in beating the "booby traps" so that more moms can achieve their personal breastfeeding goals. So many moms don't even make it to the regular pumping stage because they are being undermined while pregnant, or in the first few days and weeks postpartum. Thanks for highlighting including and highlighting great companies that give back!

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBettina at Best for Babes

Great info, thanks!

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelly

Be aware that if you have big breasts? None of these options will work for you as the cup sizes are redonkulous. For that matter, none of the regular nursing bras fit, either.

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOrodemniades

Orodemniades:

What do you define as big breasts? Some of the products I listed go up to a J cup. Are you saying that they won't fit despite the products saying that they do? Or are you talking about breasts larger than a J?

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

LOVED, LOVED, LOVED my Easy Expressions bustier (but digging the polka dots on that PumpEase... :-) I would sometimes pump through two let-downs as I worked on the computer, and a couple of times even overflowed the bottles. Used it for over a year, and I'm getting ready to haul it back out for numbers 2&3. FYI, as time went on, and the bustier seemed a bit large, I used a binder clip to tighten -- worked like a charm.

September 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

Not the original responder, but I think my size would be 32 K in US/Canadian sizes (have to mail order most bras from Britain, so have to convert the size). And that's without being pregnant yet. So there is a small market segment that the bustiers don't cover. They look like they would be easy to make though, I would just need to add more of an angle so that they stay snuggly on without crushing my breasts flat.

Thanks for posting this info - the pumpin pal flanges look a lot more comfortable than the normal ones.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia

Another option that I have tried as an lesser pumper (once a day for donation only) is to use the top of an old pair of control top pantyhose cut to be like a bandeau bra with two small slits placed appropriately. I bet you could do the same with an old bandeau bra.

September 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

I guess I'm lucky to be small breasted. I was barely a B cup before pregnancy, and now while nursing I'm a small C. As long as I smear a good dollop of lansinoh on my nipples before putting the horns on, the sticky lanolin keeps the horns in place, and the bottles rest on my lap. No need for any elastics or gizmos to keep everything in place. I've been pumping this way 3X a day at work for the last 6.5 months (babe is 11 mo now) and also before that when I was working hard to build a small going-back-to-work stash.

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

I've been fortunate enough to try four different hands-free pumping solutions. I have a small-medium frame but large breasts (36F-G) so I've found that what works for most women doesn't work for me.

The Medela Freestyle pump comes with straps to hook it onto your nursing bra to be hands-free but I was never able to get it to fit snugly or comfortable.

The Pumpease Organic Pumping Buster very easy to put on but if I was much smaller or bigger cup or torso size, I'm not sure if I would have been able to fasten it even with three separate bra-hook type settings. I was a little concerned my nipples wouldn't line up with the openings but I was able to insert the flanges and move them around a little.

According to Simple Wishes size chart, I needed a smaller size even with my large cup size but I just couldn't get it to fit properly so I ended up getting a larger size and then adjusting down by removing the extra zipper panel in the middle and velcroing the back in its smallest setting. Once I got the fit right, using the bra was really easy. I inserted the flanges from the inside and then connected the pump. I did use the Simple Wishes straps, less for support than for ease of getting the bustier on. The zipper starts at the top which I found a little difficult to use. I like how the Simple Wishes bustier has both vertical and horizontal openings at the nipples to secure the pump flange.

Unlike the Simple Wishes and Pumpease products, I did not enjoy using the Pumpin' Pal Hands-Free Breast Pumping Strap. It reminded me a little of a harmonica strap because it was so flimsy. It's made of a neckstrap, cord that goes around the flanges and a wire that supports the flange/bottle apparatus. The instructions say "you may feel that the bottles are loose and not going to hold... this is normal. The bottles will not fall and bottles will not spill." I was afraid to move even a little because it felt like the bottles were balanced so precariously. This may be a better hands-free solution for someone with smaller breasts than me. I DO like their angled flanges so am using them instead of the ones that came with my Medela.

Using the Medela Freestyle clipped to the belt provided with the pump with the pumping bustiers , I was able to walk around AND be hands-free.

Using these hands-free options let me pump while I work and distract me from seeing how much is in the bottle!

September 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle Friedland, CLC

Thanks for all the details! It would be so nice if there were a "consumer reports" for this stuff (and breast pumps), with systematic tests by women of various shapes and sizes.

October 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia

I love the Simple Wishes so much I have two of them! I have the S/M and M/L and both fit fine. I do like using the shoulder straps, but they are inconvienent if I opted to just put it on over my clothing.
I also have the Pumping Pal set up, but it is not very good for the active mom pumping while doing another task or holding a baby. I certainly don't like it for pumping in the car.
I bought a bra made for pumping called the Hands Free Pump Bra, and I felt ripped off when it came. It is a Hanes sports bra that someone cut a hole in and sewed a bit of fleece in!
I'm considering, at this point, designing a supportive and effective pumping bra that can be worn all day long. I'm EPing for a cleft lip/palate baby, and there really should be better options for the FT pumping mom.

March 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

[...] one that is certified as multi-user so you can re-sell or recycle.  Feel good about investing in quality gear, like a hands-free pumping bustier: it will be returned several-fold in saved doctors visits, fewer missed days of work and [...]

I loved using my Pumpease bra, but still didn't feel any more productive being hands-free. I could hold a book, magazine or the phone more comfortably, but given my large bust, the horns were still in the way for most of the tasks I wanted to do. I mainly wanted to hold my baby while pumping so she could be soothed while I pumped (she couldn't latch), but that didn't work very well.

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I also meant to say, thanks for all the great ideas, Annie!

September 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

[...] Hands-Free Pumping options for breastfeeding moms [...]

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