I’ve now bought and used the two leading wearable breast pumps on the market, the Willow and the Elvie, each for a full 6 weeks, and I’m ready to share my notes! My review is very honest. These are not inexpensive gadgets and I hope this helps you confidently navigate your choices!
Table of Contents
- My experience with pumping/breastfeeding!
- Pros and cons of a wearable pump (in general)
- Pros of a wearable breast pump:
- Cons of a wearable breast pump:
- General tips when using a wearable pump:
- Willow Wearable Breast Pump Review
- Pros of the Willow Wearable Breast Pump:
- Cons of the Willow Wearable Breast Pump:
- Tips for the Willow Wearable Breast Pump:
- Elvie Wearable Breast Pump Review
- In closing…
First, a couple of important disclaimers.
- I’m not a lactation consultant, though I have met with several of them to assist in my own breastfeeding journey (now for two babies). If you’re experiencing any particular issue as it relates to breastfeeding, reach out to your health care professional (of which, I am not).
- The point of this article is NOT to subtly or overtly shame or glorify people who breastfeed or those who don’t. This is just an account of my experience.
My experience with pumping/breastfeeding!
I’ve had a relatively easy time breastfeeding our two girls (at least, after I got through those first two weeks of cracked/bleeding you-know-whats). Once we found our groove, I really started to enjoy that time together. I breastfed Graysen, our first, for 14 months and over that time, built up a supply of around 150 ounces of stored frozen milk. I built my supply by pumping, usually first thing in the morning, with my stationary Spectra S2 Plus Electric Pump. I love this pump and have no complaints. It worked really well for me. Because my office was in my house, I usually just nursed Graysen during the day and then walked back to my kitchen/kitchen table to get back to work (while our childcare played with her in the next room). We worked our way through the frozen milk supply while I was away for work travel (bringing home less than she drank) and the like.
When Bishop was born, I started using the same stationary pump, the Spectra S2 Plus Electric Pump, and it still performed well. I started pumping after about 4 weeks postpartum to start working on my frozen supply. Though I was home for 3 full months through our COVID quarantine + my expected maternity leave, I knew that I’d eventually want to get back into my office for dedicated work hours during the day. It’s because of that time, the time I was away from baby Bishop, that I started to explore my pump options.
The project that really put me back in the office (and away from baby) for extended periods of time was my 3rd book. Recipe testing, writing, and then photographing the dishes for this book was quite an undertaking. By this point, my sister-in-law had gifted me her Spectra S1 Plus Portable Breast Pump (which I started to use at home), so I brought my original Spectra S2 Plus Electric Pump with me to the office. I set it up in our supply closet/nursing mothers’ corner and scheduled alarms on my phone to tell me when it was time to go pump. I would pump while at the office, our childcare would feed Bishop milk from my frozen stash via bottle, and then we’d resume nursing when I was back at home.
Here’s what happened …I would get so lost in my work, eager to make those 5-6 hours away from baby as productive as possible, that I’d sometimes skip a pumping session (or two). Leaving my desk to go pump, though it only took 15 minutes in total, felt like it threw a huge wrench in my productivity. My supply started to drop a bit during the day as my pumping frequency decreased, and we started to dip into my frozen supply sooner than I’d expected.
I wanted another option. I wanted to find a way that I could both work AND pump at the same time. SO, I turned to Google. After what felt like endless Googling on the subject of wearable breast pumps and reading countless reviews, I narrowed my choices down to the Willow and the Elvie.
I wound up buying the Willow (first) because, honestly, it was the first one I’d heard about. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the difference between the two, so I just went with the one I’d known about the longest. I took my time deciding if I *really* needed it (both the Willow and the Elvie retail for $500), but eventually decided that the benefit of a wearable breast pump outweighed the cost.
After sharing that I’d bought the Willow on Instagram, I was flooded with questions from readers asking how I liked it and how it compared to the Elvie. I realized that MANY of you, too, were caught in the middle – trying to decide between the two. That was when I decided that I’d take it on as a mini-experiment in the name of serving you best. I wore the Willow for a full 6 weeks (long enough to get past the honeymoon phase) and then I bought the Elvie and gave it a full 6 weeks, too. Below you’ll find my notes on the pros and cons of both the Willow and the Elvie, in addition to my thoughts on the pros/cons of a wearable breast pump (in general), and a small collection of my best tips if you choose to go down this wearable pump path.
I hope you find this review helpful and informative!
Pros and cons of a wearable pump (in general)
Now that I’ve used two of the leading wearable breast pumps on the market, both for extended periods of time, I feel equipped to offer a high-level assessment!
Pros of a wearable breast pump:
- You’re both hands-free AND tether-free! This means that you can walk around your house, shuffle around your office, cook, sit in a meeting, sit on an airplane, see patients, perform surgery (like one reader who wrote to me), grocery shop, drive, and YOU NAME IT while also pumping. It’s honestly amazing. The first few times I wore my pump, I just wanted to run up to everyone I saw and say, “can you believe I’m pumping right now?!?!”
- The fact that you are completely untethered may also mean that you will be more likely to pump more frequently.
- Untethered and hands-free can mean that you feel like you’re getting those minutes (maybe hours) back in your day to spend as you wish.
- They’re more portable than their tethered pump counterparts. I could easily fit both the Willow and the Elvie (with all of their parts + chargers) in a large purse or backpack – making them ideal for quick trips or my carry-on bag for a flight.
- They hold a charge relatively well, so you won’t need to find an outlet at every use.
Cons of a wearable breast pump:
- Wearable breast pumps are expensive (both the Willow and the Elvie are $500) when compared to their tethered pump counterparts.
- Though the Elvie is considerably smaller than the Willow, they’re both not *that* subtle when you’re wearing them, especially if you’re relatively small-chested (like me). While I didn’t care how it looked, I want you to know that they may not be easy to conceal.
- Though I haven’t experienced this personally, I’ve read that a number of women experienced clogged ducts after exclusively pumping for an extended period of time with a wearable breast pump. My theory is that this may happen in absence of using a stronger (think: hospital grade) pump at least once a day (if you’re pumping exclusively) or a nursing baby (who naturally massages while they eat). Because I still nursed baby Bishop while using the wearable breast pumps, I knew that she fully emptied both breasts several times a day.
- Neither the Willow nor the Elvie *fully* emptied my breasts, even at full suction and even while wearing for the maximum time (around 25 minutes).
- You do have to charge them. If they’re not charged (surprised me a couple of times), you’ll have to wait to pump until they have enough charge to use. This can be a painful wait depending on how urgently you need to pump.
General tips when using a wearable pump:
- When they’re not in use, keep them on the charger. While I could get multiple uses out of a charge for both the Willow and the Elvie, I cut it too close a few times and had to wait to pump until the charge built back up.
- Always keep a tethered or hand pump nearby. In the off chance that your wearable pump fails on you (stops working, parts need to be cleaned, isn’t charged, etc.), I recommend having a backup at your most frequented spots (think: office, home, car, or a family member’s house).
- As far as accessories go, I recommend buying an extra charger cord so that you can charge both pumps at the same time while they’re not in use.
- While you will wash your pump parts after each use, I recommend sterilizing the parts once a week (this was key in getting my Willow to start working again).
- If you’re pumping exclusively, my advice (and remember, I’m not a lactation consultant, but offering my best ideas as an amateur) is to use a strong (hospital grade) pump at least twice a day to ensure you’re fully emptying both breasts.
- Both the Willow and the Elvie offer flanges (the part that sits around your nipple) in 3 different sizes. I recommend measuring carefully to ensure that you’re getting the right size flange for your body.
Willow Wearable Breast Pump Review
I bought and used the Willow Wearable Breast Pump Generation 3! I used it for 6 consecutive weeks for an average of 6-hour workdays, 5 days a week. I directly nursed my daughter otherwise. During those 6-hour workdays, I pumped an average of 2 to 3 times a day.
Pros of the Willow Wearable Breast Pump:
- App – App is really slick and very reliable. I found the app reading to be very, very close to actual milk in the bag. I never had a hard time getting the Bluetooth connection between the pump and the app to work properly.
- Washing – The Willow had fewer parts to wash than the Elvie. With only two parts to wash after each pump, it made keeping them all together easier.
- Bag – The Willow allows you to pump directly into a bag. This is a major win because you don’t have an added step of transfer after (if you’re pumping for storage).
- Reusable Bag – The Willow makes/sells an optional reusable bag (vs. just disposable plastic).
- Battery – The Willow has a lasting battery (longer, in my experience, than the Elvie). I could get 6-8 pumps (each) on one charge.
- Auto Shutoff – The Willow has a reliable auto-shutoff at a certain time and fill. (Elvie has this, too, but I’ve found it to be a bit more finicky).
Cons of the Willow Wearable Breast Pump:
- Getting the Willon to latch – After the honeymoon phase passed (about 4 weeks), I had a near-impossible time getting the Willow to latch. I would re-position my body and re-pack the pump parts over and OVER again, sometimes attempting to get it to latch for 15+ minutes, only to give up completely frustrated. Worth noting: I did employ as many tricks as I could find to get the pump to latch; these included: re-sterilizing the parts, ensuring the bag was seated completely in the compartment, re-washing, re-drying, restarting, charging, and pre-expressing some milk (just in case I was too full for a latch). This was the most frustrating experience. I joked that, towards the end of my 6 weeks of use, they would only latch if the sun, the moon, and the stars were in some kind of special alignment. This issue is the primary reason the Elvie is my pick over the Willow. It *is* possible that I had a faulty pair of pumps, but because both the right and the left pumps gave me the same issues, I’m inclined to believe it’s a ubiquitous design problem.
- Flip to Finish – The “flip to finish” on the Willow can be a bit tricky, but once you have it down, isn’t too difficult. I just poured out a bit of milk in my learning process.
- Flextube – Note that even after you master the “flip to finish,” sometimes, there can still be milk in the flextube leftover.
- Noise – The Willow makes about as much noise as a stationary pump. As in, you can hear it, but it’s not an enormous distraction.
- Size – The Willow is larger, maybe 1.5x as large in both weight and bulk, than the Elvie. If your bra isn’t full-coverage and offering plenty of support, you may have a hard time holding them in place.
- Subtle – Because of their relative bulk and noise, they’re far less subtle than the Elvie (passersby will probably know you have some kind of machine in your bosom).
Tips for the Willow Wearable Breast Pump:
- If you’re having trouble getting your Willow pump to attach, try pulling the milk back out entirely and then re-setting it back in. Make sure the bag is fully inserted under all the plastic tabs (esp. the magnetic ones at the top) before you apply it to your breast.
- After “flip to finish,” you may also consider inserting a small towel into the flange opening to help absorb any excess milk that may drip out.
- Freeze the bags flat and then store upright stacked together. This will help conserve freezer space and help for a faster, more even thaw.
- In a handful of instances, I had to use my stationary pump because I couldn’t get the Willow to attach at all. So, I recommend always having a stationary or a hand pump around as a just-in-case.
- Make sure you’re using a well-supported, full-coverage nursing bra. I personally have 4 of the same bras from Soma Intimates that I collected almost 3 years ago when my first was born. They’re not cute, but they work for me.
- The Willow (set) only comes with one charging cord, I recommend buying an extra charger so that you can charge both pumps at the same time.
Elvie Wearable Breast Pump Review
I bought and used the Elvie Pump! I used it for 6 consecutive weeks for an average of 6-hour workdays, 5 days a week. I directly nursed my daughter otherwise. During those 6-hour workdays, I pumped an average of 2 to 3 times a day.
Pros of the Elvie Pump:
- Using the Elvie Pump is an absolute BREEZE. Most importantly (for me), it latches on the first try. No more standing in the bathroom, topless, for 15+ minutes, sweating as I fussed with fussy pump parts. I just make sure my body is properly aligned with the flange, press the pump against my breast, and press the “go” button. Instant latch, instant pumping, and I can go on with my day.
- It’s incredibly quiet, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s completely “silent.” The Elvie is significantly quieter than the Willow, but you can still slightly hear the air pressure release as it pumps (NBD in my book). I’ve actually recorded a handful of podcasts while wearing mine, audio editor none-the-wiser.
- The Elvie is much smaller than the Willow, in both bulk and weight. I find that it fits more easily in my nursing bra (I wear the Soma Nursing Bra) and is more discrete in the volume it adds to my figure.
- The parts of the Elvie are easy to clean. While there are *more* pieces than the Willow (5 of them for each side, not counting the pump itself), they’re easy to clean. I can get a confident squeaky clean easily (vs. the flex tube on the Willow – I’d wash it with a soft bottle brush to make sure it was really clean).
- Elvie actually allows you to buy a single pump (an option next to a set or “double”) which is fantastic if that meets your needs. I think that if you’re going to both nurse/pump at the same time, a single pump would be an ideal way to meet that need.
Cons of the Elvie Pump:
- The Elvie app isn’t nearly as user-friendly or reliable as the Willow app, in my experience. The “real-time” volume reading is often off by several ounces, if it connects to read at all.
- The Elvie charge doesn’t hold as long as the Willow charge. At most, I’d get about 3 pumps in before the battery would give out.
- Because you pump into a container (vs. pumping directly into a bag), you’ll have to pour the milk into a bag or bottle after use. This is an added step.
- Also, because you have to transfer the milk after use, I always found that there was *some* milk left behind, no matter how hard I tried to get every drop out. (I consider this a wash between the two, as both had lost milk for one reason or another.)
Tips for the Elvie Pump:
- If you’re using the Elvie, having trouble getting the volume reading on the app to reflect actual yield in real-time, AND you think you’ll produce more than 4 ounces on a single breast while pumping, I’d set an external timer to go off when you think you may reach 4 ounces. This way, you can stay ahead of pausing, storing the milk, and continuing to pump and empty the breast.
- Keep your Elvie pumps plugged in and charging between uses so you’re not holding a dead/dying pump when you really need them.
- Note that the set (or “double”) Elvie Pump does come with two charging USB cables. If you don’t have a great place to plug in your USB charging cords, you’ll need to secure some.
Was it worth the $500?
Even though my supply dipped a bit and even though I ran into all the issues mentioned above, I still have to say yes, the benefit of BOTH the Willow and the Elvie were worth (to me) the cost. I’ll still use a wearable pump on especially slammed days (like those long, busy days of cooking/photographing for the book) and I’ll still keep one on hand for car rides, airplane rides, etc.
Which one is my favorite?
The Elvie Pump was my favorite, mostly because of its ability to latch immediately 100% of the time.
Now that I’m done reviewing the pumps, will I reach for the Elvie or the Willow?
The Elvie, hands-down. It’s so much smaller than the Willow and, though it leaves a little to be desired as far as app slickness and battery power, I really appreciate how it will immediately latch, no matter what.
What’s my pumping plan now?
Since concluding my review period with the Willow and the Elvie, I’m now pumping at the office twice a day using my stationary Spectra S2 Plus Electric Pump. This being a stronger pump, it’s fully emptying my breasts and my supply (both what my body produces and my frozen stash) is increasing. Now that we’re getting into a healthier flow of work at FedandFit.com, I actually enjoy stepping away from my desk a couple of times a day to go pump. It’s a time I can sit, think, catch up on Voxer, or even listen to some of a podcast or audiobook.
I will keep my Elvie pump on hand for any travel/especially hectic workdays, keep a hand pump in my car (you just never know), and will keep using my Spectra pumps as my main pumps.