by Ashton Fortin Higgins, PhD, MEd, CLC, ACS
I love this question!
In many exclusive pumping groups, you might see the question, which hands-free pump do you recommend? This is a two-fold underlying question. While both give the option to be totally hands-free, only discreet breast pumps allow you total freedom and disguise the act of pumping milk.
I never know what the original poster is looking for, do they just not want to be plugged into a wall? Do they want to do groceries? What is it that they are looking for in a pump?
Let's talk hands-free pumps.
Pumps that are hands-free let you be mobile, no need to hold your pump. You can either attach it, or use a lanyard. Where ever you wanna go, you CAN go. You want to chill with baby in a certain room, go for it. You want to pump anywhere and anytime, go for it.
The catch is, unless you are wearing a cover of sorts, it's not easy to disguise. I've pumped with the original Medela Freestyle and I covered up in the park, wedding, train station, Marineland, Volcano Bay...you name it. But everyone knew I was pumping. That was okay for me, because my motto has always been if you could nurse here, you can pump here too.
Hands-free still lets you have some freedom, and that's great. You don't need to stop the pump and check this or that. The pump just comes with! The pumps I most often hear exclusive pumpers use that are hands free are the following (in no particular order):
Medela Freestyle Flex
Pumpables Genie Advanced
Bella Baby Pocket
Ameda Mya or MyaJoy
Bella Baby Pump* (You still need to hold this pump but it can easily be placed in a fanny pack).
What's not hands-free?
Being plugged into the wall and/or having to hold your pump. For example both Spectra S1 and S2 are not hands-free. There is a need to walk with the S1 (unplugged) and need to stay put with the S2 (plugged in, unless you bought the battery pack). I did make my S1 hands-free by placing it in a backpack, but that's not its intent, just my need to have my hands free! The Spectra S9 is intended to be their hands-free pump.
Let's talk discreet pumps.
These are the complete deal. Place in bra, sometimes with tubes, that can be hidden underneath clothing. You do not miss a beat with these pumps. There's no need to miss out on anything life has to offer since no one will even know you are pumping.
I'm talking grocery shopping, going to the park, going to concerts, pumping at work during a meeting, the possibilities are endless. I went to a bachelorette party and had to pump. I placed my freemies in my bra back at the car, went back in, and 40 minutes later my friend asked if I still needed to pump. She was amazed to know I was done, just waiting to pull them out and collect my milk. In 2018, my options were limited to freemie liberty and willow 1st generation. As a Canadian, neither of these pumps were available here, only the freemie open cups. Going over to the US to import this pump saved my pumping journey, as I needed to pump 10x per day.
Since 2018, more discreet pumps have hit the market. They are (in no particular order):
Willow, 1st, 2nd & 3rd generations
There are also less known brands that can be found on Amazon as well, which can also serve your discreet pumping needs.
Let's talk collection cups.
Collection cups will allow you the ability to pump somewhat discreetly depending on the breast pump you currently have. If your pump is small and portable, like one of the hands-free pumps described above then yes, you may remain discreet with your pump attached with tubes under your shirt. However, it's important to remember that hacking pumps can alter suction and can also void your pump's warranty.
The advantage of the collection cup is that it gets you the option of a discreet look for less money than a whole new pumping system. You can also buy one instead of two, if you are nursing from one side.
Collection cup options (in no particular order):
Freemie Closed Cups
Freemie Open Cups
Cara / Spectra Cups
Legendairy Milk Cups
Again, there are also less known brands that can be found on Amazon as well, which can also serve your pumping needs.
Are hands-free and discreet pumps issue free?
The disadvantage of many discreet or hand-free pumps is that you may still be limited in the way you can move. You will for the most part not be able to lay down or bend too far over, as milk will either pool or will pour out of an opening. It's still important to ensure you are following the protocol of avoid spilled milk to ensure you don't have any milk go to waste. I know you work hard at providing your little one with milk.
All of these options are great, and allow you a bit more freedom than being attached to the wall as an exclusive pumper, or even for individuals who pump occasionally. If you were nursing your baby, you would most likely go on living your life in that moment, and the same should be when it comes to pumping human milk. We are all just doing our best to provide our little ones with as much milk as we can.
Disclaimer: This article is informational and educational based. Discussing pump differences is not yet evidence based.