After a quick poll on my Instagram stories a few weeks ago and the interest it generated, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of the Spectra and Elvie pumps. First, let me share that I am exclusively pumping right now, so I am pumping 5-7 times per day currently, and use my pumps often. I exclusively pumped with my first son from months 2-6 and have been exclusively pumping with my second child for the past month (he is two months old). I’ll be sharing a little bit about my journey with pumping and breastfeeding, and then get into a comparison of these two pumps.
Why I Became an Exclusive Pumper
Before I had kids, I thought breastfeeding would come easily to me just because I wanted to do it, and in my mind I was going to make it work no matter what. I have heard stories of other women switching to formula, or saying about breastfeeding that they “just can’t do it anymore,” and I thought to myself that I am going to be different, because simply put, I really want to breastfeed (cringe-worthy I know)! Oh, how naive I was, not realizing how difficult it could be to breastfeed! I was in for the biggest surprise when it didn’t come easily to me. In fact, it hurt terribly! I saw multiple lactation consultants, got my son’s lip and tongue-tie fixed (that eventually grew back), tried every different position, cried so many tears, and still breastfeeding was hard and painful. I also learned that Raynaud’s Syndrome – a blood circulation condition I have – can make it even more painful. Two months into trying to breastfeed my first baby, I learned about exclusive pumping and I actually had hope that this form of breastfeeding would work out. I didn’t know much about it, but I joined a group on facebook dedicated to exclusive pumping, and I got started with it. A couple of months later, postpartum depression and anxiety hit me hard, and my supply tanked. I continued to pump until my son was 6 months old, but I wasn’t making enough breast milk. I also started to loathe the amount of time I spent pumping. At that time, my first son was fed both formula as well as breast milk donated by other Moms (I am incredibly thankful that there are mother willing to do this!). I truly do believe that “fed is best.” With my second baby, I was going to try breastfeeding, but was comfortable in the knowledge that I could switch to exclusive pumping if I needed to. Breastfeeding was easier the second time around, albeit still painful sometimes. After a month of exclusive breastfeeding, I started to feel the slight familiar pangs of postpartum depression creeping up, and I decided to try switching to exclusive pumping to see if it would help how I felt. It helped me immensely, and Leo (my second) is thriving! Right now I have a goal of pumping until 6 months and I will re-evaluate at that time whether or not want to keep going.
When I had my first son almost four years ago, there were no wireless pumps and the Spectra was a new pump on the market. It had good reviews, so I went with the Spectra S2, the non-wireless version. The Spectra is user-friendly and not difficult to use. I used it with my first for 6 months and then put it into storage. I tolerated it with my first, but I didn’t love that I couldn’t hold my son while I pumped and how tethered I felt to my pump, since you always had to be near an outlet. When my second was born, I dusted it off and got some new parts (duckbills and tubing, about $20) and it was good to go.
Pros: Quiet, very gentle. Rarely breaks down. Usually covered by insurance and if not, not terribly expensive (currently retails at $160).
Cons: Flanges and bottles stick out. The S2 is not portable without a purchase of an additional battery pack; even with portable battery pack, you have to remain mostly stationary. No ability to pause pump–it’s either on or off. Have to track milk recording manually.
Hacks: Get a portable battery pack or car adapter to use Spectra on the go. There are also a number of different bottles that now have adapters to twist on the Spectra. There are probably a lot more hacks, but honestly, I haven’t needed them.
Bottom line: the Spectra S2 is a reliable workhorse. Gentle on your nipples, has a lot of adjustments available on the suction; it will get your milk out efficiently. Replace duck bills every 2-3 months of exclusively pumping, 4-6 months if pumping once or less per day. Replace tubing if it feels like it is losing suction.
When I first heard about wireless pumps being on the market, I was ecstatic! A pump where I wouldn’t be tethered to one spot?! Sign me up! In the years in between my first and second babies, I watched the two new wireless pumps come on the market (the other wireless pump is the Willow), and I followed the reviews of both pumps. I heard lots of positive reviews about both of them and had a hard time deciding which one to go with. When I was pregnant with my second, the lactation consultant I spoke with from NEB Medical Supply advised me against getting the wireless pump. I explained that I am likely going to be an exclusive pumper and that I need a wireless pump for my mental health. She agreed that it is definitely beneficial for my mental health, but also told me it was good that I had a Spectra pump as a back up.
From the start, I loved the Elvie. I thought it was easy to set-up and sync with my phone. I started pumping once per day when Leo was about two weeks old, in order to start growing a supply in the freezer. I loved the freedom I had with Elvie, that I could move around with it and just wear it in my bra. Elvie syncs with an app that you download for free and it gives you an option to control the pump completely from your smartphone, plus it saves data from every pump (including time pumped, ounces produced, and a running total). The suction was actually more intense than my Spectra, but for the first month of pumping the Elvie was able to help me produce a lot of milk. I was able to feed my baby and start growing a good freezer supply. I froze 100 oz from that first month. I didn’t like that the sensors aren’t always accurate; sometimes they tell me the pump is full when it isn’t, and sometimes they do not alert me to fullness and the pump would overflow. The battery lasts for three pumps, which I think is pretty good for a completely wireless pump. During the second month of pumping, my supply started to go down. I also started working out again, so I wasn’t sure if that affected my supply. I increased the number of calories I was eating, increased my protein intake even more (it was already pretty good), took some Legendairy Milk supplements, and made sure I was thinking enough water, but it still didn’t seem to be enough. Just to make sure it wasn’t my pump, i used my Spectra and I was able to pump SO much more milk! Soon after my Elvie wasn’t getting as much milk out, one of my pumps started to get stuck on suction and would painfully pull my nipple in and not let go. I called Elvie customer service and they offered to send me a new hub, which arrived in two days. While I waited for the new Elvie to arrive, I solely used Spectra and got to really compare the two pumps. Since getting one new Elvie hub, I have been able to increase my milk output again by alternating between Spectra and Elvie, using silicone inserts to make the Elvie more efficient, and increasing my number of pumps.
Pros: Wear in your bra, and extremely quiet. Holds a good charge. App in your phone is easy to use. Phenomenal customer service, and a great warranty that covers almost any defect
Cons: Sensors tend to be inaccurate. I learned more from the facebook group than from Elvie instruction manual
Hacks: There. Are. So. Many! I joined an Elvie support group on Facebook and was overwhelmed by how many hacks there are to make the Elvie more efficient (things like wearing a black shirt to help the sensors, or putting a piece of paper towel in a certain place to help leaks)! The most practical hack that I found was to buy the silicone pump cushions to help increase milk output. I ordered these (from Legendairy Milk) and am thankful for this hack, but ultimately, there shouldn’t have to be this many hacks/additional purchases for a pump that retails for $500.
Bottom Line: It should not be your primary or only pump, but is excellent as a secondary pump, especially if you want to pump-on-the-go. Make sure you keep your receipt or proof of purchase–the warranty is good for two years!
Spectra Vs. Elvie
Spectra is reliable and efficient, but at the same time bulky and stationary. I definitely felt that my movement was restricted when exclusively using the Spectra. With my Elvie, I was able to go on walks, wash dishes, chase my toddler, you name it! That being said, you do still have to be careful when bending over. Milk does spill easily from the Elvie cups, and the sensors will go off as well, which causes the pump to turn off if the milk is swishing around and the sensors read the cups as being “full.” However, overall you can do a lot more while pumping with the Elvie than you can with the Spectra. On a couple of occasions, I have worn the Elvie to the store, to the playground, at work, to a hair salon, and even in a restaurant. No one ever noticed, and one time I was with my husband, who obviously knows I am pumping and even he didn’t notice when I was wearing the pumps. This is a game changer!
Spectra is definitely much more gentle on the nipples. The Elvie suction is adjustable, but it is just not as gentle as the Spectra. From my facebook group, I’ve learned that a lot of women use cushions to make the Elvie more gentle and tolerable on their nipples. Personally, I’ve never had any pain from the Elvie, and I bought the silicone inserts to increase milk supply, not to make the pump more comfortable. To me it just tickles a little more than the Spectra.
Milk production-wise, the two pumps are the same at the beginning, but after a month of exclusively pumping, Spectra gets more milk for me than Elvie. Elvie still sometimes gets a decent amount of milk, but it’s really unpredictable. Here are two pumps at the same time of day, same food/water intake, no exercise both days, but one is with Elvie (about 2 oz) and one is with Spectra (a full 8 oz). I don’t know if this is just how it goes for me, or if this is consistent across the board for most women.
Parts-wise they are about equal. Both have a lot of parts that require a lot of cleaning. I will say the spectra bottles are easier to clean than the Elvie containers, but the reason for that is that they fit in your bra. And on that note, I wanted to add that the Elvie fits most bras, even non-pumping bras. I particularly like wearing it in my sports bras because I’ve found that this holds the pumps in place the best.
Technology-wise the Elvie wins. Spectra has just the basics. On/off, different setting for stimulating let-downs vs. pumps, and a light. I don’t like that it automatically shuts off after 30 minutes, because sometimes pumps need to last longer. I don’t like that it doesn’t have a pause button. Elvie has on/off, different suction for stimulating let-downs vs. pumps – both on the pump itself and in the app that syncs with your pumps on your smart phone. Best of all, it has a pause button. Also, if your bottle is full the pump will automatically stop to prevent your bottle from overflowing. The milk sensors aren’t the best and I would not rely on the milk readings the pump gives you, but I hope this technology will improve over time.
Price-wise the Elvie costs about $300 more than the Spectra. If you can get it covered by insurance, do it! Personally, my insurance company covered half of the Elvie cost and 100% of the Spectra cost. You can get a new pump every 18 months for each child that you have.
Winner: Spectra wins as the best stand-alone pump if I had to choose one; it was a tough choice, but milk production is the most important factor for me. Spectra is definitely cheaper but more reliable, while Elvie is more convenient and has better technology. I love having both and being able to go between the two. My advice would be start with the Spectra, and then add the Elvie with a later child, or if you can afford to buy it without insurance. Also, I do not recommend having the Elvie as your only pump in case it does break down, or if your milk production goes down the same way mine did.
My Pumping essentials
A couple of items that I have loved while exclusively pumping, plus the pump parts I have ordered as replacements:
1. Breast pump cooler, cute lunch bag that stores milk in the bottom and the pump in the top
2. Spectra storage bottles, these attach directly to the Spectra pump and work well for the storage
3. My favorite Legendairy milk supplement–I take these anytime I am struggling with supply
4. Spectra duckbills (You will need to replace these often)
5. Spectra tubing (only replace if it breaks down)
7. Spectra external battery, this makes the Spectra wireless!
8. These are hands down the best lactation supplements, if you are unsure which one to buy, try this sampler pack
10. Boobie Body protein powder is safe for breastfeeding, plus it actually tastes good!