Since the advent of the, women haven’t enjoyed much choice. You could bet you’d be strapping airhorn-shaped flanges and dangling bottles to your chest, as tubes leashed you to a noisy, crunching motor plugged into a wall. Your range of choices, for years, were limited to how loud or powerful the machine would be. But after decades of status quo, this year has brought the introduction of not just one reinvented breast pump but — now –two.
The latest is Elvie Pump, a wearable, all-in-one device joining of a lineup of new breast pumps hoping to reconceptualize pumping, making it easier for women to pump as they go about their day.
“When it comes to breast pumps, the future is wearable,” said Tania Boler, CEO and founder of Elvie. “In two years time, most of the shelves with breast pumps will look completely different.”
That level of innovation could be an asset to working mothers. US pediatricians recommend babies be fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months (and the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding babies for two years), but more than half of new moms are back on the job within four months. For many, that means pumping multiple times a day. Breast pumps that improve mobility and flexibility could help working mothers’ careers and families both. About 70 percent of mothers work, and 40 percent are primary family breadwinners, according to the US Labor Department.
After Elvie’s first product came out three years ago — its Trainer device helps women exercise and strengthen their pelvic floor — it turned its attention to the breast pump next. Boler said her team, which includes engineers from vacuum maker Dyson and a cofounder from fitness tracker Jawbone, “started the blank piece of paper.”
Their result is a cupped gadget that contains all the pumping technology, including a near-silent motor, in one unit. You wear the pumps independently under your clothes without any tubes or power cords, so women can pump in the midst of doing whatever their doing, without most people even noticing. The pumps charge in two hours with a USB plug and have two and half hours of battery life. (For most women, a single session of pumping last about 10 to 30 minutes.)
If that sounds familiar, it’s because a similar pump — Willow — launched in May. Both Elvie and Willow are wearable, quiet, all-in-one pumps you slip into your bra to pump as you go about your day. They both automatically adjust to your body’s flow of milk, and they both have a wirelessly connected app to monitor your app. They’re both eligible to be paid for with pre-tax dollars in the US but neither is directly subsidized by any health insurers (yet).
And they both cost the same. In the US, Elvie Pump will cost $479, just like Willow. In the UK, Elvie costs £429.
One difference from Willow is that you can buy a single unit of Elvie’s pump on its own. That means you can pump only one side at a time, but gives you a way to try to pump to see if it works for you for about half the cost. You will be able to buy a single unit for £229 in the UK and $249 in the US.
The device will be available in the UK in October, and Elvie hopes to be shipping to US customers by the holidays. While the company awaits approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, it’s offering a reserve list for US customers at Elvie.com.
Elvie and Willow have other differences, too. A big one for cost-conscious moms (i.e. all moms) is Elvie eliminates the recurring costs of Willow’s storage bags. Willow stores expressed milk in a specialized, doughnut-shaped bag. After a starter pack of 24, each bag costs 50 cents — so every time you pump, that session set you back a dollar. And the bags store 4 ounces, so at the height of your milk production you may need to use more than two in a sitting.
Instead of bags, Elvie Pump collects expressed breastmilk in a 5-ounce reusable container that you can decant into whatever storage unit you prefer. The container is made of BPA-free plastic and is machine washable. (Both Elvie Pump and Willow require some washing.)
Among other differences:
- Elvie has three sizes of breast shield (21 millimeter, 24 millimeter and 28 millimeter), versus Willow’s two sizes (24 millimeter and 27 millimeter), so Elvie theoretically accommodates more breast sizes. Willow has more sizes in the works but they aren’t available now.
- The Elvie breast shield is transparent, which may make it easier to place on your breast correctly. The placement of your breast inside a pump’s shield, or its flange, can be crucial to preventing tissue damage and pain. Willow’s flange is opaque.
- Elvie claims to be smaller, lighter and quieter. The two Elvie Pumps combined weigh 14.8 ounces. When I eyeballed the Elvie pump last month, it appeared smaller and slimmer than Willow, but I didn’t have the opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison. Willow didn’t respond to a message seeking weight and other measurements.
- Elvie has a toggle on each pump, so you can manually designate which one is on your left and right breasts to keep your output-tracking consistent. Willow has dedicated pumps for left and right.
Neither Elvie nor Willow has provided pumps for CNET to review, so we can’t compare whether these differences are meaningful or how one stacks up against the other.
But the introduction of Elvie Pump gives new moms something they haven’t seen in a long time — choice.
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