With so many models on the market, your first step in shopping for a breast pump is to figure out what kind of model you'll need. First, consider your lifestyle -- do you plan to stay home a lot after the baby is born, or do you plan to travel and go out a lot? Will you be returning to the workplace while you're still pumping? Second, if your insurance doesn't cover a breast pump, you'll want to figure out your budget.
Cheaper models will do the job, but are more likely to have louder motors and require you to be plugged into a wall while you pump. If you spend around $150 or more, you can find a model that's quieter and uses a rechargeable battery so you can move around during a pumping session. Finally, high-end models, like the Willow and Elvie, have the quietest motors and are designed to be as discreet as possible so you can pump while you work or hang out with friends and family.
Manual or electric
Breast pumps fall into two categories: manual and electric. Manual pumps are handy for traveling or to use in a pinch when you're away from home, but you're not going to want to use one as your primary pump. It's just going to require too much work each time when you're already juggling taking care of a baby.
Electric pumps are available as either plug-in or rechargeable units, using a vacuum to mimic a baby's suckling to collect breast milk. Plug-in options are generally cheaper, but require you to be tethered to an outlet while you pump. Rechargeable units grant you much more freedom, so if cost isn't a factor, you're better off with this kind of breast pump.
Tubes or no tubes?
Rechargeable breast pumps are available in roughly two different designs -- with or without tubes. Traditional machines have tubes that plug into the machine to create suction to express breast milk. Milk flows into bottles that are connected to flanges that fit over the breast to create a seal for the suction. You can purchase a special pumping bra to hold the bottles with flanges in place to free up your hands.
This style has been used for decades, but it requires you to remove your top and bra to pump. Newer in-bra pumps, such as the Willow and Elvie, don't use tubes at all -- instead the milk flows directly into a bag or bottle in the unit. That allows them to fit inside your bra and pump without others knowing. However, these models are costlier than a traditional electric breast pump.