As you may already know, our beautiful baby girl was born on a December day in 2019. At the time of writing this article, she has just turned 10 months old.
So I feel I have had plenty enough experience with my Medela Swing breast pump over the months to give a thorough and honest review.
Why did I choose the Medela breast pump?
I have known about the Medela range, amongst other brands of feeding equipment for some years.
I used to work at ToysRus as a BabiesRus advisor and as a result became familiar with their products, through training, talking with customers, feedback and experience.
Medela are a long standing, reputable brand with over 50 years of supporting breastfeeding with their products and pride themselves in being a leading brand in better technology and development of breastfeeding equipment.
Medela are also the brand used by hospitals and midwives when supporting nursing mums in hospital where the mum is able to use their ‘hospital grade’ equipment – whilst breastfeeding in hospital.
(The Medela equipment used by hospitals is simply more heavy duty, designed to be used over many years, compared to home breast pumps which are used over the course of one or just a few babies feeding journeys.)
My breast feeding experience.
Here is a quick summary of my breast feeding experience (struggle!) to give you an insight, before I talk about any products that I used.
Breastfeeding really didn’t come naturally or easily to me.
I had planned to solely breastfeed, but ended up doing a combination of breastfeeding, both at the breast and through expressed milk by using the Medela pump and topping up with bottle feeding formula.
Initially, and for the first couple of months, I found breastfeeding to be a massive struggle, to the point of repeatedly almost giving up altogether with it and feeding solely on formula milk.
Being a first time mum, and knowing no one who was currently breast feeding was quite difficult.
Yes, I had knowledge gained from being trained on feeding products and babies.
And of course, the knowledge I had picked up from endlessly watching Youtube videos and reading internet articles when I was pregnant. – But I had no real hands on, real life physical experience.
The midwives and health visitor were all incredibly supportive and really pushed to try to continue with the breastfeeding which helped.
I battled with extremely sore nipples, for a quite a long time. Along with painful swollen breasts, so painful that I cried on many occasions, and needed a lot of breast pads!
I also never managed to lose the use of nipple shields, throughout the months of breastfeeding. – I managed skin to skin with no shield for short periods of a few minutes..
.. But I think from having the sore cracked nipples in the first weeks and having to use nipple shields every time, I think Cece got dependant on the feel of the nipple shield to be able to feed. She would repeatedly let go if I tried feeding without a shield.
That’s a quick summary, I will write more about my breast feeding journey in a more in depth, dedicated article.
If you would like to hear more about it, leave a comment at the bottom. It would be great to hear from you!
So, as you now know, my breastfeeding experience wasn’t exactly easy, ‘by the book’ or what I had expected at all.
However, I stubbornly stuck at it and I am very pleased that I did.
Now – you have a bit of context for me to honestly review the Medela Swing breast pump. I can tell you how it helped, hindered, supported and helped with my breastfeeding journey.
Of course no two breastfeeding experiences are the same but here is my honest experience of using it.
I used the pump to aid in breastfeeding – in the early days, I found the breast pump to be easier and less painful than the actual breastfeeding – as I was able to control the power of the suction.
(Cece feeding at the breast was like 100% suction power from the get go with no easing in!)
I have no idea how much milk baby was getting when feeding directly at the breast. – She was never ‘done’ let’s put it that way, and ALWAYS wanted to feed more, upwards of 40 minutes at a time.
When using the breast pump, there didn’t usually seem to be much milk in the bottle collected when pumping.
(I was reassured by the midwives and health visitor though that baby will always get more milk, more effectively and efficiently than a pump. So don’t worry if it doesn’t look like a lot in the bottle.)
I used the Medela breast pump over the course of a 9 months – here is what I thought, how it helped, if it was worth having and more, in an honest review. Hopefully it will help you in your decisions and breastfeeding journey.
Which breast pump did I buy and why?
The Medela Swing Flex Electric Breast Pump.
I looked a huge range of breast pumps and was very daunted by the range available.
By different brands too, not just Medela.
There are three main reasons why I chose Medela:
- I felt drawn towards Medela as it is one of the longest running brands which I felt had the most sophisticated products (from my days back in baby retail.)
- Medela breast pumps have the ‘two phase expression’, which mimics the natural nursing rhythm of baby – fast pumping for a couple of minutes, followed by deeper stronger sucks to help express the most milk possible.
- I really wanted to use the Medela ‘Calma’ bottle range, which I feel are the best bottles available to buy. (More on that in another article – too much to discuss!) So I felt happier sticking with one brand when it came to the breast pump.
I almost bought the Medela electric double breast pump set which we saw on one of our last trips to Mothercare – it was a very good price but decided not to as at that point we hadn’t thoroughly researched it enough to make a decision.
Not knowing how successful I would be at breast feeding, I decided on the single electric breast pump which I bought on Amazon for just under £100.
The key thing and most important thing to talk about is the functionality of the breast pump, so we will start there.
- The Swing Flex pump has the two phase pumping – so the breast pump mimics the natural pattern of how your baby would naturally feed. A period of rapid sucks to start the milk flow, followed by longer slower ones to draw out as much milk as possible.
- It is very simple to use with only 4 buttons – on/off, increase suction and reduce suction and a button to switch between the two phases of fast/ slow.
Simple controls are especially good when you’re in a sleep deprived state, the last thing you want is complicated controls!
I did wonder why there wasn’t any more functionality or buttons, but to be honest, I think that the above reason is exactly why. Medela have kept the pump as simple and easy to use as possible.
Easy to put together
- It is simple to put together, you have the round control unit, a long rubber tube which creates the suction, the plastic part which screws onto your bottle and the ‘funnel’ shape part which sits over your breast.
The parts are very easy to assemble, and disassemble for sterilising.
- There are two ‘funnel’ parts one is 21mm diameter and one is 24mm diameter to cater to different sized nipples and breasts.
- There is also a little stand which the bottle can sit in – I didn’t actually use this.
(Which was probably why I had a couple of very annoying accidents of knocking over the bottle of pumped breast milk, seconds after finishing pumping it!
Sterilising is done after washing the parts individually. You must first either hand wash all of the parts in a bowl of soapy water and rinse them well, or by putting them in the dishwasher.
After washing and rinsing the bottles and teat parts you have to sterilise them in one of four ways,
- By using a microwave steam sterilising bag – A very quick and preferred way for me! I was initially dubious as the sterilising bag can only be used 20 times, and I thought it was quite wasteful. However, when you compare the about of power and water used in the other methods, it doesn’t seem too bad.
- Or by boiling the parts for 5 minutes in a pan of water. (Some people online say 10 minutes but Medela themselves state 5 minutes in the instructions. We did this option the most – you don’t need any special equipment and can do all of the bottles and parts in one go, if you have a large pan.
- You can also use a Milton sterilising solution or similar alternative. I liked the Milton tablets, however they did leave the parts with a mild chemical smell.
- The fourth option is using a steam steriliser – I was confused about this option as Medela do not list it as an option for sterilising in the instruction leaflets. However it is possible to use a steriliser, the only thing is that it can cause premature deterioration of the bottles and components.
Of course, the unit with the buttons can not be sterilised and its important to remember not to sterilise the rubber tube – it will melt!!
The tubing has to be rinsed and hung to dry for the water to drip out. The fridge door handle works well as a hook.
Pump / vacuum power
I think the range of vacuum power is sufficient. There are about 10 levels ranging from barely any suction to very strong suction.
When I first started out using the Medela Flex pump, I could only use it on the first two levels of vacuum power, even at the minimal levels, it was sufficient and too painful to go any higher / stronger.
After a month or so I was using it at the medium levels of vacuum – this was enough for me – and was sufficient to draw the nipple out all the way to the tip of the shield for expressing.
Towards the end of my breastfeeding journey, I was able to use the higher levels of pumping – I wanted to try to express more milk and more quickly. I didn’t ever manage the highest level though, it was too uncomfortable.
Increasing the vacuum power worked somewhat, for me, in increasing milk volume expressed and making it quicker to collect.
However, I didn’t ever achieve the quantity of breast milk I wanted to – but I don’t think that this was the fault of the breast pump at all.
I think the low levels of milk were because I didn’t breastfeed enough in the early days and because I relied on the nipple shields and top up formula feeding too much.
But that’s another story..
It is worth noting that when I work as an advisor for BabiesRus, we frequently had customers wanting to return their Medela breast pumps saying that they didn’t work, or that the suction wasn’t good enough and that no milk would come out for them..
Knowing what I know now after using one myself, I think it was down to the user of the breast pump – I think you just have to be a bit patient with it, also you need to be relaxed and not tense up if you don’t see much milk coming out!
It does take a bit of practice and you really have to try to relax, to mimic natural breastfeeding, which is quite hard to do when you’re holding a pumping device I know!
With the Medela breast pump I had, it didn’t ever falter, it consistently produced the same suction.
Positives about the breast pump
- Easy to use – simple controls and minimal components.
- Fairly compact – if you need to travel with it.
- Can be used with mains power (power adaptor included) or with batteries for use on the go.
- Two phase pumping – fast and slow to mimic babies natural rhythm.
- The ‘funnels’ the (breast shields) have a 105° opening angle, which reduces the pressure on the milk channels and helps you to get more milk. According to Medela, achieving 11% more milk than when pumping using a conventional breast shield with a 90° opening angle.
- The breast shields can be rotated 360 °, which enables you to use the breast pump in most positions, including sitting, standing and lying down.
- Lots of official Medela information and support videos and content online to help you if you have any problems.
- Easy to put together and clean.
- Good range of suction power levels, allowing you to select the right one for you.
- You can easily buy replacement parts so if you buy a second hand breast pump you can replace certain parts, or if you accidentally melt the rubber tube by trying to sterilise it you can get a new one very quickly.
- The pump suction level starts on the lowest level each time, to enable you to control the increase in power.
Negatives about the breast pump
- More expensive than many other pumps, for example; Tommee Tippee. But the quality is higher with the Medela one.
- Whilst it is portable, it is not as portable as say, for example the Evie breast pump which can be worn discreetly in your bra and operates silently.
- Noise – the pumping mechanism is quiet but not quiet enough, at times it was annoying, especially when pumping for long periods. It also woke up baby a few times. – Meaning I often had to use it in a different room when she was sleeping.
- A few times I accidentally knocked over the bottle of expressed milk. (In trying to juggle the control unit, the rubber tube, the bottle, support cushions, a drink and quite often the actual baby! This was incredibly frustrating and upsetting each time as all that hard work pumping, was wasted by spilling it everywhere!
- It is annoying, listening to the whirring vacuum of the motor. But unfortunately this can’t be avoided unless you use a manual hand pump.
- On the Swing Flex, there is no visual way of seeing what level of suction you are using, like you can on the Freestyle Flex Double Pump – whilst this isn’t the end of the world, it would be quite a nice feature to be able to see what setting you are using on the control unit.
- To enable the milk to flow easily into the bottle, you have to have the bottle at a certain angle (imagine using it but leaning forward ever so slightly), otherwise the milk can get trapped in the suction part and leak out instead of flowing into the bottle.
Would I recommend the Medela Swing Flex?
I absolutely would recommend this product to a new or second time mum and beyond.
It seems like a large cost initially but it will last for jour entire breastfeeding journey and for more than one child.
I have now packaged mine back up in its original box – this was surprisingly easy! And I will be keeping it incase it needs to be used again one day.
You can actually sell your used Medela breast pump on ebay too once you have finished with it. They sell regularly and tend to fetch a good price – especially if you keep the packaging and put it all back in the box.
This helps you to regain some of the money back from the initial outlay too. Whereas if you bought a cheaper, say £30 breast pump, it wouldn’t hold onto any value and would be worth much to sell pre-owned.
I found the instructions, the Medala support blog and articles online and videos very helpful in learning how to use the machine.
Unfortunately, I didn’t ever manage to produce and express enough milk to warrant using the breastmilk storage bags.
Which I had hoped and planned to do.
I pumped straight into the medela bottle each time which I stored in the fridge and used later on that day or the following day.
How did using the Medela pump help with my breastfeeding journey?
I didn’t rely heavily on using the breast pump to express milk for future use. But I did use it regularly to try to help increase milk flow.
I would pump for anything up to 30 minutes and only ever seem to express about 4 -5 ounces max. Often it was just 3 ounces.
The main reason for using was when baby was being fussy or didn’t want to breastfeed for some reason. (I think she was just greedy and wanted the bottle as the milk flow was faster!)
I used the breast-pump to relieve pressure if I felt the need to feed but she was asleep.
Also, the breast pump was great to use to try to increase milk production, Cece would feed continuously for around 40 minutes and then still be hungry (she would have top up formula after).
By pump expressing in between of feeds, you can increase your milk production as your body sees the demand for more milk and sets about producing it.
I also used the pump last minute if we were going out somewhere.
Not wanting to start a proper feed with baby, I would use the breast pump for 10 minutes or so before we left to produce some easily accessible milk in a bottle.
Final Thoughts on the Swing Flex Medela Pump
I think the Medela Flex pump was a great thing to own and use throughout my breastfeeding journey.
I am glad I didn’t get the double breast pump, I think that would have been wasted for the amount I used it and I would have felt overwhelmed trying to juggle both parts at once.
Whilst I was happy with it in almost every way, the two downfalls were the noise level, the motor pump could be quite noisy and annoying, especially on the higher settings.
The other downfall was the way you have to lean forward slightly to enable the milk to flow easily into the bottle, if you have the nipple cone at the wrong angle, (not pointing downwards enough) the milk gathers in the cone/pumping part, and can drip and leak out – not into the bottle.
Whilst these two points were a bit annoying, I can’t help but think that it would be the exact same case with any breast pump. No matter what brand or price.
A motor will always make a noise if generating suction. And gravity will always mean you have to sit or lie in a position that allows the milk to drip or flow downwards.
If you are going to invest in a Medela breast pump, it would be a good idea to consider one of the Medela bras that hold the pump and bottle in place whilst you pump.
I remember always being so frustrated at having the hold the pump to my breast at all times, if you relax your hand too much you can lose the suction and latch. I know it might sound silly, but you are really unable to move or do anything whilst pumping as you have to hold it in the right place – I didn’t buy a pumping bra, I thought it was too much money to spend with the risk of not using it.
However, if I was to breastfeed another baby, I would definitely buy a pumping bra, to gain some much needed ‘hands free’ time whilst pumping!
I would recommend a Swing Flex pump to anyone and think they are definitely worth the money, and they hold future value too as an added bonus.