A woman testing the smart breast pump
Medela USA

Test-Driving The "Smart" Breast Pump

Like many new parents, I have a strained relationship with breast pumping. I do appreciate that breast pumps have helped me maintain breastfeeding for the past eight months, but some breast pumps I’ve tried have left me feeling frustrated and ready to rip my hair out. After pledging allegiance to my beloved Spectra S2, I agreed to try the Medela Sonata ™ Smart Breast Pump, a new battery-powered, hospital-grade, smart breast pump, and I actually kind of like it.

As you probably know, our bodies don’t just automatically produce a set quantity of breast milk – the amount produced depends on how much milk the baby is eating. Generally, when the baby removes milk, our bodies make more. If the baby isn’t removing all our available milk, our bodies take that as a sign that the baby needs less milk, so production slows. Our bodies respond this way to breast pumps too. If a pump is effectively removing milk, our bodies will continue to produce it. If a pump isn’t effective though, we might see a drastic reduction in our milk supply. It can be hard for some new parents to find a pump that works well for them, and not all pumps are created equal.

When Medela’s popular Pump In Style Advanced pump didn’t work for me, I switched to a Spectra S2, a hospital-grade pump, and I saw a difference right away. The Sonata is a hospital-grade pump too, and packed with great features, like two unique expression modes, an internal battery, and the ability to connect to smartphones. My Sonata came with a cute carrying bag, a Medela breastmilk cooler, four storage bottles, and instructions to sync the pump with your phone.

What I Love About The Sonata

The display. As soon as I took the pump out of the box, I was impressed by it’s design. Medela did a great job making the Sonata both functional and aesthetically pleasing by featuring a modern touch display on the top of the sleek, round pump. I was thrilled to see a timer in the middle of the display – something I depended on with my Spectra and missed dearly on the occasions when I used my Pump In Style Advanced. Honestly – how do people pump without a built-in timer? In addition to the timer, the display tells you which speed/vacuum level and rhythm setting you’re using, the battery status, whether you’re connected to Bluetooth, and if there’s an air leak somewhere.

Ease of use. The Sonata comes with a lot of parts but don’t be intimidated – it’s really easy to assemble and set up! After the initial cleaning, it took me less than a minute to assemble the pump kits and get strapped in for my first pumping session. I found the display really easy to understand and had no problem getting started.

New tubing. Anyone who has used a traditional breast pump knows how frustrating it can be to try to function with two tubes sticking out of your chest several times a day. For those of us who need to eat, type, or hold a baby while we’re pumping, getting tangled and having to pause mid-session is a common occurrence. Sonata pumps use one single tube with a Y connector at the end. That’s right – only one tube! It’s thicker and feels more secure than other Medela tubing, too.

Bluetooth connectivity. My phone runs my life and I’m OK with that. For those of us who need a little help remembering when we pumped last, how much we pumped, and how often we’re changing diapers, the MyMedela App works perfectly. The Sonata makes keeping track of our pumping progress seamless by communicating directly with the app so you know exactly when and how long you pumped, and how much you pumped.

Portability. I once pumped sitting on the floor in a crowded hallway at a conference because there weren’t outlets in the restrooms. I work as a consultant and have several different clients, so I often pump in the car or empty meeting rooms wherever I happen to be. Using the Sonata felt incredibly freeing because it worked wherever I did. No more cords, no more searching for outlets — all I needed to do was hit start. I recharged the battery every night and didn’t have any trouble getting a full day’s use out of it.

Expression modes. All of these cool features are pointless if the breast pump itself isn’t effective. With the Sonata, Medela worked to create a pump that adapts to our individual bodies — and they succeeded. With two different rhythm settings, an expression phase and a stimulation phase, as well as adjustable vacuum levels, there’s a good chance that this pump will work for you.

What I Think The Sonata Can Do Better

Pumping speed adjustment. The Sonata only has one speed (two, if you count the stimulation phase). My baby is a power eater, so my body expects really rapid sucking. I found myself using the stimulation phase throughout my pumping session, even after let down.

Stronger vacuum levels. Again, because my baby eats like the Hulk, my body has learned to expect intense, rapid sucking movements to express milk. I found the Sonata’s vacuum levels significantly stronger than my Pump in Style Advanced, but still not quite strong enough for me.

Data storage. I loved the ability to sync my phone and my pump, but if my phone was dead or too far away when I pumped, I found that information from that pumping session was lost unless I entered it manually. For busy moms on the go, storing data from 4-5 pumping sessions to sync at the end of the day might be helpful

Price. I was impressed with the Sonata and it will probably be my go-to pump from the beginning the next time around. It’s easy to use, easy to clean, and easy to travel with. Unfortunately, it might not be easy to buy. The steep $399 price tag puts it out of reach for most consumers unless their insurance plans foot the bill.