The Willow Wearable Breast Pump: Everything You Need to Know
I was not paid or compensated in any way for my review of the Willow Wearable Breast Pump.
I participated in Beta program, which means I was one of the first to get a Willow pump and start pumping with it. It also means that Willow might have changed the design and/or other aspects of the pumping experience since I used it.
How Willow Works:
There are four pieces for each Willow pump: (1) the pump itself; (2) the flange; (3) the Flextube™; and (4) the milk bag. There’s also an app that you download on your iPhone.
The milk bag sits inside the flange, and the two are connected by the Flextube. All three are attached to the pump. Check out the photos here for photos that show this assembly. The app lets you know if there’s an issue with assembly.
You need a nursing bra that fits well, since your bra is what holds the pumps in place. It’s a good idea to hold the pump in place with your hand for a few seconds until you know you have a proper latch. After that, you are pumping hands-free!
The Willow pump goes through two phases after you’ve gotten a proper latch. First, it starts the stimulation phase. And then once milk starts flowing, the pump moves to its pumping phase, which is stronger and more rhythmic than the stimulation phase. The pump stops automatically 15 minutes after you turn it on or when the milk bag is full.
While you’re pumping, you can track your progress on your app: how long you’ve been pumping, how much milk you’ve pumped, which phase (stimulation or pump) your pump is in. The app also keeps a log of the day, time, and quantities for each pumping session.
The most obvious downside is the cost: both the initial cost of the pump and the ongoing costs of pumping. For about $480, you get two pumps, two flanges, two Flextubes, a charger for the pump, cleaning brushes, and other accessories. Milk bags are $11.99 for 24 bags, which means they are $1 per pumping session, assuming you use both pumps during each session. I used my FSA to pay for the pump, which is an option you might want to consider.
Each bag holds only 4 ounces. The app tells you when a milk bag is full, and the pump stops pumping, so you don’t need to worry about a bag overflowing. You can replace the full bag with an empty one, so your pumping session doesn’t necessarily have to end when you’ve hit the four-ounce mark. But, if you pump more than 4 ounces per side per session, you might want to keep in mind that your cost per pumping session is going to be more than the $1 I previously mentioned.
You only get one charger with your two pumps, so you can’t charge both pumps at the same time, unless you purchase a second charger. For me, one charger was plenty. I found that the pumps easily lasted at least three full (15-minute) pump sessions without needing to be charged. The battery light on the pump turns from green to yellow when the battery starts running low, then it goes from yellow to red. I was able to consistently pump a complete session with a yellow battery light, and most times, I could even pump a complete session with a red light. But, if you are pumping frequently and/or in multiple locations, you may find it convenient to have a second charger.
Not really sure this is a true “con”, but getting the pump to latch properly is tricky at first. Unlike a traditional pump, you can’t just throw the flange on and press the “on” button. You have to place the Willow flange (and pump) on correctly, or you won’t be able to get a proper latch. And without a proper latch, the pump won’t pump! Getting this down can take a bit of practice. Willow has helpful videos, as well as coaches who can help walk you through this.
“Flip to Finish” and Disassembling the Pump
Again, not really sure this is a true “con”. It’s just another way the Willow pumping process differs from traditional pumping. When you’re done pumping with Willow, you break the latch and remove the assembled pump. You’ll still have some milk in the flange, and you’ll want to get that milk in the bag. To do that, you rotate the pump clockwise, then slowly flip it toward you (“flip to finish”). This motion makes the pump take a few “gulps” (genius engineering), which gets those last few drops of milk into the bag. The Flip to Finish, disconnecting the Flextube, and removing the bag can result in a few spilled drops. The Willow folks recommend doing this over a sink the first few times you do this, which I think is a great idea. It doesn’t take more than a few tries to get the Flip to Finish down.
The Pumps Are Not Silent
Don’t get me wrong, they are significantly more quiet than a traditional pump. Quiet enough to have a conversation with my in-laws at home (with the usual home background noises), without them having any idea I was pumping. But not quiet enough for me to realize my dreams of pumping during an office meeting taking place in an otherwise silent conference room.
I truly believe that these pumps are incredible engineering feats. They can do everything a traditional pump does, without a connection to a wall outlet, yet they are tiny compared to a traditional pump. But they are obviously not invisible. Having the pumps in my bra made my boobs look kinda awkward, but nothing I couldn’t camouflage by throwing on a scarf or drapey cardigan.
These are real-life (!) people you can reach (fairly easily, in my experience) to ask any questions or get any kind of pumping support whatsoever. They are not only experts with their product, but I found them to be very knowledgeable about breastfeeding/pumping in general.
Amazing Customer Service
Seriously, amazing. Probably the best customer experience I’ve had. Willow can be reached by email or phone, and either way, they respond quickly, and in my experience, they’d respond in the evenings and weekends too. Unlike your usual customer service representatives, Willow staff are highly knowledgeable about their product and seem to be genuinely committed to helping you. They listen to you and can provide meaningful responses, instead of simply following an obvious script/flow chart like most customer service reps do. They are truly your partners in successful pumping. Also, ordering supplies was a breeze, and anytime I placed an order, I’d get it within two days. Quick response and quick delivery means made me (usually impatient) a very happy customer. This company is truly a joy to work with!
The app pairs seamlessly with your pumps. It is easy to use and very intuitive.
The bags are brilliantly designed. There is a valve in the bags to so that milk gets pumped in directly from the flange and Flextube assembly. By some kind of magic, the valve is truly a one-way valve; milk goes in from the Flextube, but it never goes out. No leaking whatsoever! The bags lay flat and are easy to stack in the refrigerator or freezer. When you’re ready to use the milk, just cut off the top of the bag and pour.
Self-Worth and Dignity
Pumping with Willow was, to me, a more dignified way to give my baby breastmilk. Breastfeeding and pumping made me feel I wasn’t my own person. I can totally understand how mothers feel honored and humbled by the breastfeeding experience. I wish I did. But I resented it and felt like my body was being used. And then felt extremely guilty about feeling that way. Pumping with Willow let me be my own person and allowed me to regain my sense of self. (And it let me avoid the emotional rollercoaster that breastfeeding was to me.) To me, this was worth infinitely more than the price of the pump and cost of the milk bags, so much more than the relatively minor “cons” I listed above. As soon as I started pumping with Willow, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me.
All the things I could do while pumping!
Willow meant I was free to do things I couldn’t do while attached to a device that was plugged into a wall. I could pump while I worked, in my own office – no more pacing up my laptop, my files, and pumping gear to hurry into the office pumping room (and hoping it was available). I could very discreetly assemble the pumps, put them in my bra, and resume whatever it was I was working on… all without even having to close my office door. At home, I could prep meals. I could do dishes. I could do laundry. I could get ready for work. I could have dinner and an actual conversation with my husband. I could play with my baby. I could change his diaper. (Holding him was a little tougher…but still manageable.) And, I could pee!!
All in all, I loved pumping with Willow. I was actually ready to quit breastfeeding, but Willow came along just in time and let me continue giving my baby breastmilk for a few more months. I am so grateful to have gotten this experience, and I’m super excited about this innovation. It gives breastfeeding women another option, and hopefully, it reduces the number of moms who, like me, have beat themselves up over the fact that they don’t enjoy breastfeeding.
I can talk about Willow forever! Do you have any questions I haven’t answered here? Post them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them!