Twelve years ago, Medela contributed to the breast pump revolution with the original Freestyle: the very first rechargeable, hands-free breast pump on the market. In recent years, many competitors have emerged with innovative, smart breast pumps that provide lactating moms with a more convenient, accessible, and — dare we say — comfortable pumping experience. In response, Medela released an upgraded version, the Freestyle Flex. I put it to the test to see how it compares with some of its competitors. (Note that our Medela Freestyle Flex review is totally unsponsored. Cheers!)
Cost Considerations and Insurance Coverage
To put it in perspective, Medela’s Cadillac pump (The Sonata) retails for $399; and their bread and butter, the Pump In Style Advanced (PISA), retails for $299. The PISA is free through many insurance plans, while the Sonata… not so much. These are both larger units that are not considered “portable.”
Note: Breast pumps have 2 sets of “wires”: a power cord that goes from the unit to the wall, and the tubing that connects the unit to your breasts.
The Freestyle Flex is portable, in that it has a rechargeable battery — but it is not wireless (meaning, it still has tubing which connects the unit to the breasts). Wireless pumps, like the Willow or Elvie, attach directly onto the breast. They are the most discreet type of pump on the market… and also the most expensive ($500).
Other portable pumps (tubing: yes, power cord: no) are as follows:
The Medela Freestyle Flex is very easy to set and comparable to other traditional pumps. When I’m ready to pump, I attach the shields and tubing to the connectors – and away I go! Of course, just like anything, there’s a learning curve, but it takes all of 30 seconds to get everything out of my pumping bag and put it all together.
In your bundle, you get the following Freestyle Flex breast pump parts:
- The breast pump motor unit
- Power adapter with USB charging cable
- 2x 21mm and 2x 24mm PersonalFit Flex Breast Shields (dishwasher safe)
- 2x connectors with membranes (dishwasher safe)
- 4x 5oz bottles w/ lids and 2x bottle stands (dishwasher safe)
- Bottle cooler and ice pack
- Carry bag
Sadly, the tubing and connectors are not compatible with other Medela breast pumps, but you can use the Flex shields with all Medela pumps. This is great news if you’re seeking a more comfortable pumping experience with another more powerful Medela device.
Which takes me to…
I’ve breastfed and pumped for all three of my children and have used many pumps, including every double electric breast pump Medela has to offer. Sadly, I wasn’t wowed by the Freestyle Flex’s performance. Mainly, the suction power was subpar (more on that below), and it was louder than I wanted it to be.
Right off the bat, you should know that compact size, portable pumps are not known for their powerful suction. In fact, many people recommend that exclusive pumpers and moms who are hoping to boost their breast milk supply think of “portable pumps” as secondary devices; and despite boasting nine vacuum levels, the Freestyle Flex is no exception.
The suction is gentle, but is ultimately less efficient at extracting breast milk than that of other pumps like the Spectra S1 or Sonata. Ultimately, I got as much total milk with the Flex as I did with the PISA, but because the suction is so gentle, it took me longer.
If portability is what you’re after, by all means, the Freestyle Flex is a great contender. But if you need a strong pump to stock up on that liquid gold of yours, consider getting a stronger primary pump such as the Spectra. If you want the best of both worlds — portability and powerful suction — we recommend the Baby Buddha, which owes its own cult following to its impressive combo.
Like with other electric Medela pumps, the Freestyle Flex has a 2-phase expression (stimulation and expression)/letdown button that allows you to customize your comfort. (Note that the Spectra also has that same function.)
Many other reviewers agree that The Flex is loud and vibrates a lot during use. So, if you plan on pumping at night, in the office, or on Zoom meetings, beware — it won’t be a discreet feat with the Medela Flex. If discretion is of utmost importance (pumping at work and whatnot), check out the Willow or the Elvie.
Mobility: Compact, Wireless and Portable
Slightly bigger than the Baby Buddha (which we compared to an old-school Nokia phone), the Freestyle Flex only weighs 1 lb and is undeniably compact and portable. Many moms who’ve reviewed the pump said it is easy to tuck into a purse or diaper bag. Though I’m not convinced the pump is small enough to fit into jeans pockets (I would test it out for you, but this mama doesn’t wear jeans *wink), you could easily throw it in a fanny pack (like this one) instead, for a true hands-free, mobile experience around the house.
The Freestlye Flex comes with a short lanyard that’s only long enough to loop around your wrist — not sure how that makes for a “hands-free” pumping experience…
Just like the Sonata, the Freestyle Flex unit is backlit with a touch screen, which I think is a nice touch, especially if you are pumping in the middle of the night.
The Freestyle Flex has a 2-hour battery life. This is a nice feature to have when plugging into an outlet is not possible (out and about, traveling, in the car, or just at home while you’re roaming around the house doing All The Things).
I was most excited to try Medela’s new PersonalFit Flex Breast Shields, which the brand claims removes 11.8% more milk per minute compared to regular shields. My output was personally lower than with other pumps, but I can’t tell if it was because of the soft shields or the weaker suction. That said, I would choose the PersonalFit Flex shields over my old ones any day. They’re softer to the touch, thus comfortable, and sit nicely on the breast. Love!
Some reviewers noted that the shield’s tunnel length is shorter than that of the original shields, so if you have larger nipples you may not fit properly and your nipple could touch the connector, which I suspect would make for an uncomfortable experience (not to mention, it may affect your milk output).
If, like me, you can never remember when you last pumped, this is good news. The app is basically your very own pumping assistant. It will help you track everything from how much milk you pumped, to how long it took and what boob you “used” last
You can also record other relevant information, like baby’s feeding and sleep schedule, and his growth. Finally, Medela offers access to lactation consultants through their 24/7 LC app (with a monthly subscription), which is a thoughtful addition to Medela’s arsenal, considering that many nursing and pumping moms need help, especially in the beginning.
Cleaning the Freestyle Flex parts is super simple. There are just three parts to separate (other than the bottle and lids): the shield, the membrane and the connector. They come apart easily, and putting them back together is a no-brainer. You can wash these parts by hand or in the dishwasher! The tubing, however, needs to be washed by hand. I’ve had no problems with warping or breaking.
If you have an active lifestyle (HAH) and portability is what you’re after, give the Freestyle Flex a look, especially if its one being offered by your insurance. Just remember that while it does have a compact design, it’s louder than we’d like and it isn’t particularly powerful.
This pump is good for part-time pumpers who value comfort and the flexibility to move around the house without being tethered to a wall outlet — and those for whom efficiency (total pumping time) is less important than portability.