Finally, technology has caught up with our on-the-go lives. In the most meaningful improvement to the electric breast pump since its invention, Willow has created a wireless, wearable pump that is silent, discreet and pretty close to magic.
Too good to be true? Well, yes, and no — the Willow does exist, but the ability to pump while driving, at a coffee shop or at your office comes with a pretty hefty price tag ($499.99, to be exact). Plus it’s not without flaws. Is it worth the investment?
I’ve been using it for the past couple of months to bring you this Willow breast pump review. Here goes.
NOTE on our Willow breast pump review: As of 2020, Willow has upgraded to a newer model, the Generation 3. The pumping mechanism on the Gen 3 is designed to be more effective and comfortable in terms of the suction, and many women have found it to be so. It also syncs with an upgraded version of Willow’s app.
The Willow Breast Pump Review
If you’re a new mom who has been on the internet in the last two years, you have probably seen ads for the Willow Breast Pump. It’s a gorgeous piece of machinery: two sleek bra-cup shaped pumps designed to slide into the bra you’re already wearing so you can pump literally anywhere. No more hiding in an office bathroom or being tethered to the nearest electrical outlet.
The Willow is the third breast pump I have used, and while I didn’t find it to be the most powerful or effective at pumping milk, I did find it to be the most convenient… and, dare I say, liberating?
In short, I give this pump a solid B.
Pros: convenience, easy to use and even easier to clean up.
Cons: I looked like Dolly Parton, and the milk bags are small and expensive.
Here are the Willow breast pump review specifics, by category:
Before Setting it Up
To begin, the packaging is just as lovely as the pump itself. Opening it feels as close to Christmas morning as opening a new breast pump could.
The instructions booklet is long, but thorough. You might be tempted to start pumping the second you open the box, but make sure you read the instructions first. It’s full of detailed instructions about how to do everything from positioning to charging.
You’ll also want to download the app. That’s right — joining the smart-pump trend, the Willow Breast Pump is app-enabled and allows you to track your sessions: how long you’ve pumped, how much you’ve collected, how strong the suction was. It’s really cool to watch and also a pretty essential part of your experience with the pump. Unlike with other more traditional pumps, you can’t actually see how much milk you’re collecting while pumping, so you’ll rely on the app to keep track for you.
On your device, you can see (in real time) how much milk you’ve expressed on each side, down to a tenth of an ounce. The app also shows your total milk volume and the duration of your pumping session. It’s kind of addicting to watch the numbers go up.
The app experience was frustrating for me at first because as I tried to create an account, the verification email never came so I couldn’t move forward. I contacted customer support and was told it could take up to 24 hours to receive the verification email. Mine never came, so I tried again with an alternative email address, and the verification email arrived about four hours later. It was a minor inconvenience, as the pump still works and stores all of your information without the app, but still an annoyance.
(Note — the Gen 3 app is totally fresh^^.)
Setting up the pump is a cinch. There are just three parts: the pump, the flextube and the bag. It couldn’t be easier and the instructions are very clear.
The most difficult part is making sure your nipples line up with the pump’s flange. There is a very specific way the Willow has to rest on your breast to create a seal and extract milk. I used a mirror to make sure my nipples were positioned correctly. Contrary to the manual’s suggestion, I had more success with a traditional underwire bra than I did with a nursing bra. After nursing two babies, my boobs are a little floppier than they once were. I found a stretchy nursing bra just made everything sag too low to get a good suction, but a supportive underwire bra actually held my boobs to the pump just right.
Is it really seamless?
The best part about this pump is how discreet it actually is. Willow advertises that it is so quiet you can use it during a conference call. That is 100% true. The pump is nearly silent.
The beauty of this pump, in my opinion, though really comes with its ultra portable design. Since the cups are wireless and can be tucked away under your bra, you’re not glued to an electrical outlet, and you don’t have to hide in a designated pumping area. You might not want to wear this pump during an in-person meeting or at a business lunch, but you could totally wear it in your office or cubicle with confidence.
That said, I do look like Dolly Parton when I use the Willow Breast Pump. At 5’2’’ and 115 pounds, I have a pretty small frame, and wearing it transformed me into some kind of Austin Powers breast pump femmebot. I would not suggest wearing the Willow Breast Pump to a meeting with your boss, but for casual office use or on an airplane, a baggy cardigan or sweater hides it just fine (and larger framed women might have less of a problem with this).
The suction felt strong, though not painful like some other pumps I have used. Even still, I wasn’t able to pump as much milk as I expected. My daughter is 8-months-old and weighs 24 pounds, so I know she’s well fed, but I only produced between 1-4 ounces during my 25-minute sessions with the Willow, while with my Spectra, I am able to get 4 ounces on each side. I’m not sure if this is a problem on my end, or if the suction needed more umph. [See also: Our review of the Spectra]
Which takes me to my next point…
The Collecting Bags
Since the pump is small and discreet, the bags that collect the milk are too. Bags for Willow Breast Pump 2.0 hold a little more than 5 ounces each, for a total of about 10 ounces of milk (both sides). It’s an improvement from the first model that only held 4 ounces, but for some women, the small bags present a large problem. (*Gen 3 collection bags are also only 4 oz. bags — whhhyy?)
One mama who shared her experience on Babycenter was unhappy about the small amount of milk each pump bag (of the old version, but you get the gist) could hold, writing: “The bags only fit 4 oz, but this is best case scenario. I have never been able to get to 4 oz, because the air in the bag counts toward space available. I typically get to 3 oz, then have to stop and replace a new bag in order to continue. My left breast always pumps way more then my right. A typical session is 5 oz left, and 2 oz right. So my one pumping session ends up with 3 bulky bags (7 oz total).”
The bags are expensive too. The pump itself is $499, and the bags are $23.99 for 48. Since you have two boobs and will use two bags at a time, that’s only enough for 24 pumping sessions, which means you’re paying $1 per pump session. The cost adds up.
The good news is, the leak proof bag really is leak proof. I even tried shaking and pressing on the bag and the milk stayed in place. Some milk does leak out of the flextube when disassembling, though. Willow says just a few drops, it seemed like about ½ teaspoon or more to me.
**You could also opt to purchase the reusable milk collection containers (above), though they are also pricey (at $49 for a pair). Unfortunately, many women complain that these are glitchy and hella-annoying to clean. But it’s an option.
The Willow is super easy to clean. Once you pull the bag out and store it in the freezer or refrigerator, you’re just left with the flextube and the flange. The pump comes with a brush for cleaning inside of both — and all the pieces have a storage bag for tossing in your purse.
Because there are no cords on the pump, you do have to remember to charge it. One full charge lasts 2+ pumping sessions. But (and it’s a big but)… you only get one charger for two pumps, so your charging time is automatically doubled.
At $499, the price point for the Willow is quite high. It’s more than double the Spectra S2 ($199), more than the Medela Pump in Style ($169), annnnd more than Medela’s smart pump, the Sonata (~$359).
And, of note, Willow is now approved for full or partial coverage by many health insurance companies. You can also pay for the Willow Breast Pump with an FSA or HSA account. And if none of those are an option for you but you still really want to give the Willow a try, it is now available on payment plan by Affirm.
Willow Breast Pump Review — Bottom Line
The Willow gets the job done, but the convenience comes at a steep price. If pumping discretion is of the utmost importance to you – especially if you are a working mom – the price might be well worth it.
I have a friend who is a destination wedding photographer. When she’s on the job, she can’t spend 30 or 40 minutes in the bathroom while a wedding is happening, so she wears the Willow Pump while shooting and then hands it off to an assistant to put in the fridge.
If you’re wondering if it works better than a traditional pump, my answer would be no. But can you use a traditional pump while shooting a wedding ceremony? Ehhhhh – no.
Ultimately, whether or not the Willow is worth it depends on your needs. If you only pump occasionally from your home, then this may not be for you. But if, like my friend, are always on the go and are struggling to find a place to pump discreetly and peacefully, then the Willow is a wonderful option.