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spectra pump and bottles with milk

Spectra Vs Medela: S1, S2, S9, Pump In Style Advanced Breast Pumps

Breast pumps work by drawing the nipples into the flanges and stimulating the letdown.  I spent 9 months exclusive pumping (6-8x a day for the first few months) and kept pumping after that.  Having a great pump was key, so I spent alot of time testing pumps .

Choosing a great pump largely comes down to finding the battle between Spectra vs Medela breast pumps.

Medela is a Swiss medical device company established in 1961 with two main divisions, human milk and medical vacuum technology.  The human milk division supports moms and breastfeeding, primarily through products and education.

Spectra pumps are manufactured by Uzin Medicare in Korea,  which has been developing breast pumps, baby bottles, and related breastfeeding items for the past 20 years.

spectra pump

What Are The Differences In Spectra vs Medela Breastpumps?

Spectra S1 and S2 pumps offer the same core functionality, however the Spectra S1 has a built in rechargeable battery, while the S2 needs to be plugged in.

I mix these up constantly because, shouldn't the one with the rechargeable battery be version 2, since you can get more use out of it?  Or is it called S1 because it's #1?

The S1 portable one is blue, and the S2 plug in option is pink.  Guess which one's more expensive? (The S1)

The Spectra S9 is a tiny travel version that fits even in a handbag.  It's similar in price to the S1 and honestly I wouldn't even bother with it, unless you are a massive party-goer and need a handbag sized electric pump.

Medela Symphony is the hospital grade

Let Down And Expression Modes

  • Switch between Spectra modes any time you want vs Medela must let 2 minute let down mode finish
  • Cycle and level numbers seem intimidating to master at first

medela symphony

The Medela pump intensity has 2 modes, a let down and then expression mode.  The let down mode mimics the initial suckling a baby does to stimulate the let down, that tingling feeling mom gets before milk begins to flow continuously.   Let down mode occurs for about 2 minutes before transitioning to the expression mode automatically.

If you need to return to the let down mode, you can press the let down button, but there is no way to return to the expression mode automatically.  If you turn the pump off in the middle of a session, it can only start in the let down mode.

It's possible to experience several let downs in a session, so it's not altogether a bad thing to try another let down session in the middle of a pump session, but you do not have control over the length and timing.  You may have to pause a pump session unexpectedly and then be forced to start in the let down mode.  You can increase the intensity of the let down mode to compensate.

The let down mode is lighter suction and faster, while the the suction on expression mode is meant to be slower and with greater suction.

The Spectra pump also has 2 modes, a massage mode that can go up to 70 cycles a minute.  The vacuum/suction level goes up to 5.  In expression mode the cycles go up to a maximum of 54 a minute, while the suction level can go up to a 12.

At first glance it seems like with 4 possible numbers to adjust, the Spectra seems a bit for complicated.  What it does do is allow for more adjustment.  I actually found that for me, the massage mode seemed to mimic the Medela expression mode better, because the Medela expression mode seemed faster than the Spectra.

In contrast to the Medela, you can switch between massage and expression mode on the Spectra at any time.

bottles with milk

Comfort

  • Moms often find the Spectra pumping motion more comfortable and adjustable

When I got an S9, the label on the Spectra said “The Spectra doesn't suck, it suckles.”

I was using the Medela Symphony, a hospital grade rental, at the same time as the Spectra and my personal feel was that the expression mode was much slower than the Medela.

Many moms anecdotally report the Spectra as being more comfortable, which is probably due to the “suckling” action vs the “sucking” action the Medela pump does.

Portability

  • The S1 is particularly lightweight and portable
medela pump backpack bag
Medela Pump In Style Advanced Pump In Backpack

The Medela PISA comes with a battery pack and can be portable if placed in a bag.  There's a version that comes already in a backpack tote, and because there's empty space in the bag, it does seem bigger to carry around.

The major difference between the S1 and S2 is portability.  The S2 is not portable out of the box and does not come with a rechargeable battery.

However this hack from Pumping Mamas allows you to make the S2 portable.  You just need to make sure everything is 12 volt compatible.

The external battery pack and velcro cost more than the difference between the S1 and S2, but if you need a 12V external battery pack any way that is as strong as this one, you can use this DIY hack.

I opted just to go for the S1 with the rechargeable battery.

medela Symphony pump

Switching from Medela to Spectra

With my first baby I used the Medela Symphony at the hospital and Medela PISA at home.  With the second I wanted to switch to the Spectra, but started out at the hospital with the Medela Symphony while my baby was in the NICU.

medela pump parts
Medela Pump Parts

 

When I tried to switch to the Spectra I found that my output was lower and I panicked, worried that the Spectra was somehow not strong enough.  (Every mom is different so my experience does not mean yours will be the same)  It's possible my body wasn't used to the suckle and not responding as well.

I ended up renting the Medela Symphony anyways.  I was gearing up for my baby's heart surgery and couldn't afford to lose supply.

At month 5 or 6 I finally tried the Spectra again and seemed to get similar output.  Only then did I give up the Medela Symphony.  It's possible that it was just a stronger pump in the first place, so it's impossible to say whether I should have gone with the Medela PISA instead of the Symphony, if that were my other option.

Conclusion

To be safe, I would still start out with a Medela Symphony to ensure supply.  Once supply is established, the Spectra S1 is a good pump to use at home.

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