If you are a regular here you know that I have breastfed Big F and now I am breastfeeding Little S. It’s not always easy, but it’s rewarding to know I am giving my children the best start in life. When I was offered an opportunity to review Medela breast pumps I was happy, as breast pumps mean freedom to breastfeeding mums. I will also tell you how me and Little S got on with the Calma bottle, designed to help seamlessly switch between breast and bottle.
Medela Swing electric breast pump review
The main things I like about the pump is that it is easy to put together, easy to use and easy to clean. I am a mum of two kids, I like it when things are easy. I took time to read through the instructions before assembling the pump for the first time. After that the assembly took me less than a minute. Here is a short stop motion clip showing the parts and assembly.
The pump has two phases of expression, mimicking the way a baby sucks. First there is stimulation phase with short quick sucks. During this phase there is also a slight vibration during sucking, which is great to stimulate the nipple and the milk flow. The second phase is long slow sucks to extract the milk.
There are only 4 buttons on the control panel, so it is easy to learn how to use the pump. There is a button to start the 1st phase, a button to move on to the 2nd phase – once milk starts flowing – and two buttons to control the speed of suction.
To make pumping more efficient and more comfortable there are two sizes of the element which holds the breast. This is something to check before you buy the pump, to make sure you get the right size for you. The choice of size is clearly explained by online sellers.
I have found Medela Swing very comfortable to use, especially compared to the pump I have used with Big F. I also like that the pump’s elements are a gender neutral creamy yellow, rather than baby pink or blue.
Medela Swing can be powered either from mains electricity or a battery. I prefer to use the cable, as batteries, even the rechargeable ones, are not very environmentally friendly. If you do need to use the battery for some reason please read my post about finding the most eco-friendly battery. It has proven quite popular and pretty quickly started coming up on 1st page on google (whoohoo!).
Accessories and things to make life easier
If you need to do two things at the same time – as mums do – you can clip the control panel to your belt or hang it on a string on your neck. I did not use this option, as I find that I can’t move around when I am pumping. I must sit down and relax, otherwise the milk doesn’t want to flow.
The pump has only a few parts, but once you include the charger, cable and spare parts there is quite a few bits to store. The pump comes with a handy, easy to clean bag to keep things tidy. It’s also very handy for traveling or if you pump at work. The bag is a neutral grey, so won’t stand out in your desk drawer as a baby item.
I like that you can buy any of the parts separately, so if something brakes or goes missing you don’t have to replace the whole pump. It’s a very user-friendly and eco-friendly solution.
I have been sent some milk storage bags, to try out alongside the pumps. They are very cleverly designed, as they have a sticker allowing to attach the bag directly to the pump. This means you don’t have to pump milk into the bottle and then pour it into the bag for storage. Pumping directly to the bag means no wasted milk and one less thing to wash and sterilise.
That said, a more zero waste solution for storing milk is using glass jars. Glass is easy to sterilise and safe to use in the freezer. Another good option is freezing small portions in ice cube trays, which is great to control exactly how much milk you want to thaw for a feed. It’s very frustrating to pour unused breast milk down the drain…
There are a few things to remember when it comes to storing breast milk, like cooling freshly expressed milk before adding it to chilled or frozen milk. And not over filling the containers, as liquids expand when frozen. This website has useful information and practical tips on handling and storing breast milk.
I have also received some Quick Clean bags to review alongside the pump. Again, this is a clever and handy design, but not the most eco-friendly option. These bags work in the same way as a standard microwave striliser. Washed items are put into the bag, some water is added, bag is sealed and the whole thing is popped into the microwave for a short period of time. They can be used up to 20 times and at the back of the bag there is a handy list to mark off how many times the bag has been used.
The one thing these bags have an advantage over standard microwave sterilisers is their size. It is just a small bag, so it is handy for traveling. Though if you are staying somewhere with a microwave there is also likely to be a stove and a pot, so parts can be sterilised in boiling water.
Does it work?
I must start by saying that pumping is not my favourite thing to do. It takes up extra time and unless I have a very good reason – like a chance to go out – I won’t do it.
I have used Medela Swing electric breast pump a few times. First when Little S was about 6-7 weeks old. I have waited, as it is best not to introduce the bottle before too soon. It can cause nipple confusion and interfere with breastfeeding.
My milk supply was high and the pump worked amazingly well. I got nearly 4 ounces! I was very positively surprised, as with my previous pump I was getting a few drops or maximum a couple of ounces. I pumped once or twice a week. This was just to start giving Little S an occasional bottle. So when I actually needed to go out she would not refuse the bottle.
The next time I tried was a few weeks later when I actually had a very good reason to go out: I had a painful root canal job to be done and my mum-in-law kindly offered to look after Little S. By that time my milk flow has stabilised and the pumping session wasn’t as bountiful as before. It took a couple of sessions to have enough for one feed.
I haven’t used the pump much after that, as there was no respite in sight. Daddy was working overtime to get enough money for us to stay in Bali for a year (you can read more about it here). This meant I was pretty much on my own with a newborn and a toddler, and I really did not have the extra time and energy to pump, just to keep a stash in the freezer.
Once we came to Bali and found a pembantu (house help/nanny) there was hope we could go out. While Little S was slowly getting used to our lovely help I have started pumping. The sessions were less fruitful, usually an ounce or two, but still better than the few drops I was getting with my old pump. I guess it takes regular pumping to create the extra milk supply.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to go out, as by the time Little S got used to the pembantu, we had to hire someone else. Our circumstances have changes and she was not able to come at the hours we needed her. So we had to start the whole process again, looking for a new person and Little S settling in again.
By the time Little S got settled with the new pembantu she was a year old and eating solids. There was no real need to pump, as she had no problems waiting 3-4 hours between milk feeds, especially with a long nap included.
So the moral of this lengthy story is: this is a very good pump, but only buy it if you really need it.
Medela Harmony maual breast pump review
Once again I must say how easy I’ve found to assemble and clean this pump. Using it is a little trickier compared to the electric pump, as I had to find the right rhythm and keep it up, but it’s a question of practice.
Here is a little stop motion animation showing the parts and how to put them together.
This pump takes more time, energy and attention compared to the electric Medela Swing breast pump. It is however much cheaper compared to the electric pump (you can compare current prices here). If you need to pump only occasionally this is probably the better choice.
It is also the more eco-friendly choice, as you are using your own muscle power, rather than electricity or batteries. And because there are no electric parts, no sparce semi precious metals have been used to make this pump.
Calma bottle review
When it comes to wanting a break from breastfeeding, a good pump is only part of the solution. The second thing is to be able to feed the baby expressed breast milk. To help with that Medela designed Calma bottle and more importantly a teat. It does look very different to the standard bottle teat. So, does it work?
Once again I have made a stop motion animation to show you how to put Calma together. I just got a new camera and I could not help myself with playing around… I hope you find these useful!
Calma looks so different to any other baby bottle that I had to read instructions to see how to use it. Unlike the standard baby bottles, which release milk without much action from the baby, Calma only releases milk if baby creates a vacuum, like with breastfeeding. It’s not enough to wiggle the bottle around in baby’s mouth to get the milk flowing and convince her to drink it…
I have tried using Calma with Little S at different points in time – as I have explained in more detail when reviewing Medela Swing breast pump. I know it is best to get someone else to try to give a bottle to the baby, as she is used to me giving her the breast. Unfortunately I did not have that option.
I have started giving Little S a bottle once or twice a week at 6-7 weeks. She was not very happy to start with. I had to play around with position and dip the teat in breastmilk. It took some crying (her) and persistance (me) before she realised I am actually trying to feed her. She eventually found a way to drink, but it took about 10 minutes for her to drink an ounce. I could not make these feeding sessions much longer, as Big F was getting impatient for my attention. At least the leftover breast milk did not go to waste, as he was happy to drink it!
When I had to go to have my root canal sorted out I was confident that my mum-in-law will have no problems feeding Little S. She had the extra time it took for bottle feeding. Little S was about 12 weeks.
Apparently the feed did not go all that smoothly. Luckily my sister-in-law saved the day. She came to visit and took over the bottle and Little S did have some milk, which staved off her hunger. She did want to feed as soon as I came home – I was only gone for a couple of hours.
I have tried the bottle a few times after that with similar results. Some fussing to start with, but eventually Little S would take it. It did take longer to feed her with the bottle compared to the breast.
I have never tried Calma at night. I was getting so little sleep as it was that I did not want to risk an extra long feeding session. Or worse still, Little S fully waking up without the comfort of the breast. She is so used to being soothed by my breast that I am not sure a bottle would send her off to sleep.
Now that Little S is one year old I do sometimes use Calma to give her water at night. Some nights she is having trouble getting back to sleep after a feed and I have realised that she is actually thirsty. I found it strange that she is thirsty just after a feed, but maybe the breast milk is too rich?
Does it work?
Using Calma was not as smooth as I had hoped. It would take some more practice for Little S to comfortably use it, and for me to consider using it at night.
Nevertheless she was happy enough to take this teat. I had a bigger problem with Big F, as I had to try three different teats before he would take a bottle. So I guess, ‘yes’ Calam does work. The time and persistence it takes to learn how to use it depends on the baby. They may be small, but they are not silly. They know what they want and once they had breast it is hard to convince them to have something else.
I am sure that if I had to get back to work Calam would have been a good solution. I would’ve had a good incentive to try the bottle more often and Little S would have more opportunities to try.
The bottle is BPA free. Of course that’s still plastic, but breastfeeding produces far less packaging compared to formula feeding.
These are well made products, so they can be passed on or sold as second-hand. Manufacturers always say not to, as these are personal use products, but I don’t see why not. Hospitals use the same pumps for many mums.
Made in USA, which should ensure better working conditions, compared to for example China.
What pumps have you tried? Have you got any tips on making the pumping more effective? And getting the baby to drink the expressed milk from the bottle? I would love to hear from you, so do leave me a comment or get in touch on Twitter.
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PS. I have been sent Medela pumps and Calma bottle for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own and honest. This post contains affiliate links. If you click and buy I will receive a small commission, but you won’t pay anything extra. This helps me to continue writing about all things green.