Tech Guide

Willow is the first breast pump that doesn't make me feel like a cow

The breast pump got a high-tech upgrade and it's a game changer
The breast pump got a high-tech upgrade and it's a game changer

We're at the end of World Breastfeeding Week, an event created to increase awareness about the importance of breastfeeding to a baby's health.

But for working moms, it's not so simple.

For the past five months, I've been pumping at the office to make sure my baby daughter has enough milk while I'm at work all day. Breastfeeding has made me feel slightly less guilty for maintaining my full-time work schedule, and I've been determined to keep it up, even though it's my least favorite part of the day.

There are dozens of pumps to choose from in a market that's expected to reach $1.74 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research. I started out using the Spectra S2 because it was covered by insurance and recommended by my lactation consultant. It's a great, easy-to-use pump and the cleanup is simple. But the device has to be plugged in and requires that I undress and put on a pumping bra.

I wanted a high-tech upgrade, so I tried the Medela Sonata, which runs on a battery. It pumps great, is super quiet and can be connected to an app to track your sessions. But it's bulky, has tubes coming out of it and includes a bunch of parts that require daily cleaning.

Finally, I opted for a pump called Willow, which everyone was talking about at CES in 2017. The company launched this year and I've been testing it for a few months.

The Willow Pump

Willow CEO Naomi Kelman said the company surveyed hundreds of moms about what annoyed them most about pumping and then created a device that fixes those problems.

She got it right. Here's how it works:

You put a milk bag into the flange and connect it to the pump. The pumps then insert into your bra, and you hit start. It pumps milk directly into the bags, and you can track how much milk you are pumping in an app.

The Good

It works really well at pumping milk. You can increase the suction as needed, and it hasn't caused me any pain. I seem to get the same amount of milk with the WIllow as I did with the other pumps.

The wearable, hands-free design is amazing and it's great not being tethered to anything. I can play with my daughter, do the dishes, walk around or drive.

Pumping and driving is no problem with the Willow.

It's also very quiet. I typically take a phone meeting while pumping at work.

Another nice feature is that there are only two parts to wash and sanitize.

While pumping, the milk goes directly into self-sealing bags. When you're done, you can just put the bags directly into the fridge or freezer. And when you're ready to use the milk, you cut the top off the bag and easily pour into a bottle.

The Bad

Though the bags are convenient and easy, they can only be used once. Even though they're recyclable, I still feel guilty about how many bags I go through each week. Plus, they are expensive. If you pump a couple times a day, seven days a week like I do, it could cost you up to $60 a month just for the bags. I would definitely prefer to pump into a reusable container.

The pump, the flange and a milk bag.

Also, the bags only hold 4 ounces each. For me, this hasn't been much of a problem, but for some moms who produce a lot more milk, changing bags midsession may get a bit tedious.

At $480, it's expensive and a majority of insurance companies will not cover the Willow yet, though the company is working to fix that.

Also, there's a fairly steep learning curve. You can't actually see the flange on your nipple, so it sometimes take a few tries and readjustments to get it right. Luckily, the company offers a free consultation with a lactation expert and a ton of instructional videos to get you started. You will likely need to watch each video to get it right.

Should you buy it?

If you are planning on breastfeeding for a long time, it's definitely worth the investment. The fact that it just fits inside your bra without any tubing or tethering is liberating and convenient. It's the first pump I tried that doesn't make me feel like a cow.

Though the company is founded by two men, you can tell they actually listened to moms and created a device that makes pumping easier and even a little enjoyable.