Spectra vs. Medela: The Pros and Cons of These Popular Pumps

Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen, BSN, RN

Hey Mama! If there was ever a breast pump showdown, it’s this one. The great debate of the Spectra vs Medela. Both are kind of household names in the pumping space, and most insurance companies offer full coverage of both.

At a glance they seem pretty similar; both double electric, classic-style breast pumps. They’re both popular and highly reviewed, too.

So what’s a mama to do? I’ve set out to try out and review as many different breast pumps as possible; from Willow to Elvie, Motif and more. But today, I’m here to deliver a complete Spectra vs Medela review.

Spectra vs Medela in a nutshell? I get good output with both pumps and they’re legitimately both solid options. But if I’m choosing between the two, I’m going Spectra. It’s got some additional features that push it over the edge, and it seems to be more efficient.

But there’s a lot more to it than that! Read on for a full review including pros and cons of each pump! Then decide for yourself which is the right choice for you.

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Spectra S2 breast pump review

The Spectra S2 at a Glance

The Spectra S2 is a traditional, double electric pump with a closed tubing system. This means no milk or moisture can accumulate in the tubing. It’s a very well-known and popular pump, and for good reason! There’s really nothing bad to say about it.

I used this pump for my entire first breastfeeding journey and it got the job done well. If your insurance covers the Spectra and you don’t want to deal with reimbursement or other options, I say go for it! But let’s get into the details a bit more.

What’s included with your Spectra S2

How to use Spectra S2: My settings and such

I always think it’s helpful to hear how other people use their pumps, especially as a first-time mom. A few of you even messaged me to tell me you pumped way more than usual by following my tips! Hooray!

Okay so here’s how I use the Spectra S2 (and I’m an old pro, remember this was my only pump with my first!)

  • Turn it on and turn it down to my normal pump level, typicall a 7-8 (yours might be different!)
  • Then I switch it to fast mode, put it on the highest reps (70) and highest suction that I can handle (typically a 4 to start)
  • I leave those settings until I let down (milk starts spraying and coming out faster)
  • I let the let down go for 1-2 minutes and then I hit the bacon button! Hah, technically the massage mode. When you press this, it slows down the pump but the suction is more intense.
  • Then I keep it at the lowest reps (38) but strong suction, like a 7 or 8
  • I’ll keep those settings going until my milk slows, and then I hit that bacon button again to speed it up and try to get another let down, which leads to more milk!
  • For the rest of the pumping session, I slowly ramp up the suction. For the last few minutes I’m at the highest suction I can handle, a level 12

It took some trial and error, and tips from others but this totally works for me! @Legendairymilk put together an awesome cheat sheet with all this info. It’s shared in my pump review highlight so go check it out!

6 Pros of the Spectra S2

1. Tried and true

Old faithful! This is a great pump, it does an AMAZING job. I used a Spectra S2 for my whole breastfeeding journey with Walter, and honestly, I loved it. I thought my body responded really well to it, and I never felt full afterward. 

2. Affordable even without insurance

This pump is pretty affordable even if you don’t have insurance. The pink one is $160, and the blue is $200. The blue Spectra does have added features (including a built-in battery for wireless pumping!) so the added cost does make sense.

If you do have insurance the pink one is almost always fully covered under most insurance plans, with the blue being a small upgrade.

3. Easy to clean parts 

I like the Spectra parts a lot! I personally prefer the duckbills that the Spectra (and Motif) offer over Medela parts. I feel like the suction is great, and they are super easy to replace as needed because they all have a universal fit.

This pump also doesn’t have too many parts to clean! And who doesn’t love that? The Medela definitely has more tiny parts to clean

4. Nice additional features

Okay, these features are really what set the Spectra apart from the Medela for me. Here’s what I love about the overall design and function:

  • It has a handle! Yes, I do like that it has a handle. In fact, this is one of the only cons of the Motif (my favorite pump) in my mind. I find I really do use and love the handle on the Spectra
  • It’s quiet! Compared to other pumps, this baby makes more of a purring sound which is nice, especially for night pumping
  • Nightlight! It does have a handy lil night light for middle of the night pumps
  • It has a digital screen and just feels a little more high-tech than the Medela
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5. Massage mode

Aka the bacon button, hah! But yes, I DO like the ability to toggle back and forth as needed between stimulation mode and slower pumping.

I had never really done this before, but it’s a cool feature! It’s an easy way to try and get more milk out. 

Side note: you can also do this with Motif, but not with Willow.

6. It’s a closed system

Closed system – yup! Those backflow protectors keep it a closed system pump, so the tubing will never accumulate milk. (Motif is also closed.)

I personally do not think I would get a pump that is not closed! Once moisture or milk gets into the tubing it must be replaced. And if you don’t notice/aren’t on top of it, mold can develop which totally skeeves me out AND poses a potential health risk.

I’m kinda like, why wouldn’t you just opt for a closed system and not have to deal?

2 Potential drawbacks to this pump

1. Longer pump time than the Motif Luna

Okay, so the Spectra is faster than the Medela, but personally it does take a bit longer to pump with this pump vs the Motif that I was using.

It obviously depends on how full I am at the time, but personally it’s a bit longer for me! I AM still able to get the same amount of milk out, but just takes a lil longer.

2. You have to stay plugged in

The Spectra S2 does not come with a battery option. You have to be plugged into the wall and really this is the most significant con for me!

I should note that you can buy a battery pack to add on, or opt for the blue version which comes standard with a battery option (which is why is it’s more expensive!).

Medela Pump in Style breast pump review

Medela at a glance

Okay, so this is another classic-style double electric pump. But the Medela pump is different than other double electric breast pumps I’ve reviewed in that it’s not a closed system.

It has a unique tubing system, and technically moisture and milk can back up into the tubes (more on this in the con section).

Another big difference about this pump is that it doesn’t use little duckbill valves like the Spectra and Motif. It uses a unique suction system. The bummer about this is that it makes for more tiny parts to clean and keep track of.

However! I actually learned a little hack that a duckbill valve fits right on the flange! I totally do this because I don’t like using that little suction part, hah.

How I use my Medela Pump in Style

Again, I want to go over my settings because I think it can be sooo helpful to hear what others are doing. So yeah, here we go:

  • I turn it on and it goes into let down mode automatically
  • Then I turn the suction up as high as I can tolerate
  • If you just leave it as is, after two minutes it will automatically change over to slow mode (it kind of assumes you’ve had a letdown by then)
  • But if you notice your letdown starts sooner than that, you can always hit the yellow button to switch over to slow mode
  • Once I switch to slow mode, I typically back my suction up or down depending on comfort. Through my pump session I typically slowly increase my suction (just like with the Spectra), but with the dial, this feels really easy to control gradually, which I like

What’s included with your Medela Pump in Style

  • Breast pump unit
  • Battery pack that takes 8 AA batteries
  • Two different sized flanges (24 mm and 27 mm) x2
  • Breast shield connectors x2
  • Valves and membranes (these are the suction pieces that can be swapped for after market duck bills) x2
  • 5 oz breastmilk bottle with lids x2
  • Complete tubing set
  • Power adapter for wall outlet

Medela pros: 5 Things I like about this pump

1. The price

This pump is covered by MOST insurance companies FULLY, from what I can tell! It’s retail price is also cheaper than even the Spectra, so if you’re paying out of pocket this is definitely a solid budget-friendly option. You can actually snag it right on Amazon.

2. Easy to find parts

The parts are easy to replace and widely available. They even have them at Target!

3. Let down button

I do like that it has a “let down button” similar to the “bacon button” that Spectra has. I also like that it automatically switches over to “slow mode” too after 2 minutes of use, or you have the option to hit it manually yourself.

4. It works!

Output was the same for me personally! I feel like I pump just as much with this pump as I do with my Motif/Spectra.

I actually like the stimulation that this pump gives me OVER Motif/Spectra too. It’s just…different…that’s the best way I can describe it.

Motif/Spectra are more of a vibration, Medela is more of a pull. Call me crazy, but the pulling felt more similar to actual breastfeeding to me…this may not be your experience though!

5. Battery pack comes standard

Even though this pump DOES need to be plugged in to the wall, it comes with a handy dandy battery pack you can attach, so if you’d like to be mobile, you have the option to do so!

Medela cons: 6 reasons I wouldn’t get this pump

1. No timer

I have to admit this is a MAJOR downfall for this pump. I am a stickler when it comes to times. I don’t feel like I had to pump TOO much longer compared to my Motif/Spectra (I felt it was most similar to Spectra in terms of how efficient it was – Motif is still all time quickest for me)

But come on, just put a little timer on there so I don’t have to look at my phone to see how long I’ve been pumping for! This is one of those lacking little features that just kind of bugs me.

2. No light

Again, not a super huge deal. But I like that Spectra has a light for MOTN pumps. With the Medela you’ll be pumping in the dark, or needing to put on a separate nightlight.

3. Lots of parts to clean

This pump definitely has more parts to clean than a Spectra/Motif pump. I don’t like cleaning things so that is a con in my book.

4. It’s kinda loud

This pump reminds me of a squeaky bed. I much prefer that vibration sound that Motif/Spectra has. But meh, it’s not that big of a deal.

Thought I would add that though, just so you’re aware. For exclusive pumpers, this could get really annoying, especially during nighttime pumps.

5. It’s not a closed system

Lame! Yes, so unlike Motif/Spectra, this pump is not closed, as in, you can get milk to back up into your tubing. If you ever see condensation build up in your tubing, that means it’s time to replace it.

For best practice, after you get done pumping with this pump, let the pump run for a few minutes unconnected. This helps to decrease the likelihood of getting condensation build-up in there.

6. The bottles tip over sometimes

THIS MAY BE THE WORST PART OF IT ALL! I love Medela bottles…I used them with Walter, and I now use them with Ryland. But they are lightweight, and sometimes they can def tip over with the flanges attached. BEWARE!!!

Spectra vs Medela: the bottom line

I 100% recommend the Spectra over the Medela. Having used both (and a number of other pumps) if you have a choice go for the Spectra. Overall, it has better features and is more efficient.

The Medela is a good pump – it gets the job done. But it’s just not as great as some of the others in my opinion.

Remember, at the end of the day both of these pumps work! You will effectively express milk with either pump which is the number one goal.

But I know for me, the Spectra comes with less of a headache and makes the whole act of pumping a little more tolerable. I think we’re all here for that.

But if you’ve got choices, go for the Motif Luna!

BUT WAIT! Of ALL the pumps I’ve tried, the Motif Luna is hands down my favorite. With the Motif Luna, my pumping sessions are shorter and more productive than with the Spectra OR the Medela. I also love that the Motif is quiet and wireless to boot.

Go read my full review of the Motif Luna, and thank me later! If your insurance will cover it, GO FOR IT, mama.

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Happy Pumping, Mama!

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Liesel Teen, BSN-RN
Founder, Mommy Labor Nurse

Meet Liesel Teen

Hi there. I’m Liesel!

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

When you know what to expect and have the tools to navigate the experience, you’ll feel confident and in control.

I believe you deserve a better birth — no matter how you deliver.