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.
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.
- PumpEase: 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).
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.
- Freemie: 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.
- Pumpin' 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.
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.