For years, Medela has ruled, undisputed, over Breast Pump Land. If you have to pump in the hospital, the nurses will likely wheel in a Medela pump. When you call in your free pump from your insurer, it will probably be a Medela pump.
I know, because I’ve had two kids in three years and every single time I’ve needed a breast pump, a Medela one has appeared.
But that’s changing. In lactation rooms and in parenting newsletters, a new pump has arrived. You can see the cool blue shape peeking out of bags, tucked into cubbies, in locker rooms, on airplanes. That pump is the Spectra S1. As it turns out, there are a few really good reasons for its popularity.
Spick and Span
The main difference between the Spectra pumps and the workhorse Medela Pump in Style Advanced is that the Spectra pumps have a closed system, versus an open system. An open system doesn’t have a barrier between the pump mechanism and the milk collection system, while a closed system does.
In the S1, this barrier is a backflow protector in the pump flange. It is a small, flexible, white, rubber membrane that prevents milk from accidentally backing up in the tube. (Nota bene: I’ve pumped with a Medela pump for three years and never had milk go up in the tube. But it’s a distinct enough possibility that Medela instructs users to clean the pump face and tubing to deter milk from getting into the pump and molding.)
The backflow protector ensures that your baby’s milk will be bacteria-free. More practically speaking, it also means that you don’t have to take apart your pump to clean and sterilize the pump face and tubing. As a mom, this is an amazing way to save yourself some time and energy. I have already spent way too much of my life in my backyard whipping clear plastic tubing around my head in the style of Petey Pablo to get the last few remaining water drops out.
No pump will ever feel like a nursing baby, but the S1 comes closer than most.
Of course, this does mean that finding replacement parts is a doozy. Spectra pump parts are hard to buy anywhere besides Amazon. For a nursing mother, even two-day Prime delivery is too long to wait if you lose or break a pump part. If you take the pump on a work trip and find out that you forgot to pack the valves, you can’t run out and buy replacements. Bring a hand pump, just in case.
Also, the Spectra flanges only come in a limited array of sizes (a 24-, 28-, and 32-mm size, with an optional 3-mm insert), and the flange screws onto a weirdly wide-mouthed bottle. For example, I can screw Medela flanges onto my son’s Dr. Brown’s bottles, but not the Spectra flanges. It is a little annoying to have to jimmy solutions like buying thread changers or hacking the tubing.
Power to the People
Like the Medela Sonata, the S1 has made significant upgrades to the breast pump interface. I found the round, cool blue pump to be oddly stylish, and it comes with a handle that makes it easier to tote around. When you turn on the pump, an LED screen shows you the time you’ve been pumping, as well as cycle length and vacuum strength. The pump automatically shuts off after 30 minutes, if you’ve just gotten so absorbed in The Good Place that you’ve completely lost track of time.
You can adjust the cycle length and vacuum strength, and automatically switch between letdown and expression modes. The S1 also comes with a light in the handle, if you’re pumping in the dark and don’t want to disturb your baby.
And like the Sonata, the S1 uses a rechargeable battery. One charge on the Sonata’s charge lasted for an entire workday of three fifteen-minute pumping sessions; so far, one charge on the S1 has lasted me three days, pumping 15 minutes at a time, twice a day. Not being literally tethered to an outlet makes all the difference in terms of comfort and convenience. The S1 is also on par with the Sonata, with regard to sound: I measured it at between 50 and 55 dB.
Spectra’s motto is that their pumps “suckle,” not “suck”—meaning the pump action closely mimics how it feels to have a nursing baby. I find this motto to be very poorly worded and a little squicky, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a little bit true.
No pump will ever feel like a nursing baby, but the S1 comes closer than most. Being able to tinker with the cycle length and vacuum speed means that you can make the smallest changes for your own comfort. After experimenting with different cycle speeds for letdown and expression, I found that I was able to speed up production. I could express as much milk in four or five minutes as I could in ten minutes with a Medela pump.
That alone would make the purchase of a new pump worth it. But to top it off, at $160, it’s about half the price of the comparable Medela Sonata. If you opt for the model without the rechargeable battery, the S2 is barely over $100 (but seriously, don’t do that). Sure, the S1 doesn’t have an app or 24/7 access to a lactation consultant. But with this much milk, who needs those?
If you are just starting your journey into Breast Pump Land and you’ve somehow the Medela Galaxy, the Spectra S1 is definitely a model to start investigating. Just take all the money you save from purchasing a more affordable pump, and invest it all in multiple pieces of Spectra-compatible parts, and leave your extras lying around Breast Pump Land for the rest of us to find. Power up!