Editor’s note: Why is there a breast pump review on a website called Fathercraft, you ask? Fair question. We want to create content that’s helpful to all parents. For gear like a breast pump that we can’t test personally, we get help from trusted friends of the site. This review is by friend of Fathercraft Jodie. Also, Fathercraft is reader-supported, meaning, at no cost to you, we may earn a commission if you buy after clicking an affiliate link. Learn more.
In this Willow Wearable Breast Pump review, we cover (click a link to jump to that section):
- How does the Willow Pump work?
- Considerations & benefits
- Our review: the awesome, the wish it was different, a verdict,
- A comparison of Willow Pump to other breast pumps, including the showdown on many people’s minds: Elvie vs Willow …
- Willow Pump FAQs
Read on for all of that and more!
If you are a mother who is pumping to provide for your baby, way to go! For me, pumping was never an enjoyable experience, though I appreciated very much that my body was able to provide for both of my daughters.
I pumped for a year with my first daughter using a Medela Pump, and I pumped for a little less than a year for my second daughter who started refusing bottles around 10 months old. She is now just over a year.
I brought my pump to work every day, I sat at my dining room table in the early morning and late at night, and I washed all of the parts each night. I know there are people who have pumped in some crazy places, and I was lucky in so many respects, but it was always a production.
Enter the hands-free pump.
All of a sudden, I started hearing about hands-free, cordless pumps. It appeared to me at the time that none of them were fully covered by insurance, so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking into them. My Medela Pump was covered by insurance entirely, twice!
In order to write this Willow Breast Pump review, I spoke to several moms who’d used it to understand the ins and outs of this pump. And, I learned about some other hands-free pumps like the Elvie Pump, too … more on that below.
The Willow Breast Pump is a completely hands-free, base free, cord-free breast pump that fits in your bra and goes where you go. You can put the cups in your bra, and basically do whatever you want (Willow claims 360-degree mobility when pumping into bags—there’s even a picture of a woman pumping while doing a cartwheel on their website, seriously—and 190-degree mobility when pumping into reusable containers. Our reviewer said she used it while playing with her kids, making dinner, and driving.
The Willow is advertised as the only in-bra pump that gives you the flexibility to pump directly into spill-proof storage bags, 24 of which are included with Pump Kit, or reusable containers which are sold separately.
How Does The Willow Pump Work?
- Everything works inside the pump which rests inside your bra, without the need for external tubes, cords, or dangling bottles to tie you down to a seat and maybe a table.
- Milk is immediately pumped into the spill-proof disposable collection and storage bag or reusable container inside the pump.
- Smart technology responds to your body and maintains suction enabling mobility without spilling.
Sign me up, this sounds amazing.
Things to consider:
- One of our Willow reviewers (of the Gen 2 version) commented that this pump was so uncomfortable for the first couple of months that she had to stop using it. She eventually started again, but needed a break.
- Another stated that it was challenging to simply trust the app on her phone about how much milk she was truly expressing and if she was completely finished expressing.
- While this pump is quieter than most, and doesn’t have bottles hanging off your chest, it’s not completely discreet. Our reviewer noted that while it’s more discreet than any other pump, it’s not unnoticeable.
- The Willow Pump bags and set up can be really complicated, noted another Willow reviewer.
- The Willow is not necessarily covered by insurance. This was my number one reason to not even think about purchasing The Willow Pump. My Medela worked just fine, although now it seems almost archaic comparatively, and it was 100% free – TWICE! (It was covered through my insurance completely. I also ordered replacement parts for free, twice, the second time around). It is worth noting though that Willow Pump is HSA/FSA account eligible. [NOTE: Fathercraft reader Amanda wrote to let us know she was able to get $250 of her Willow Pump Gen 3 reimbursed by her insurance company]
But here are the benefits:
- Pump anywhere without being tied down to an electrical outlet.
- The Willow Pump is spill-proof in any position.
- You don’t have to think about spilling the breastmilk after pumping. It’s all self-contained!
- The parts are dishwasher safe, so if you want to take a break from handwashing the two pieces that need washing, stick them in the dishwasher.
- There are seven levels of suction with two new lower level settings as well as a new sensitivity setting.
- The rechargeable battery lasts for five pumping sessions, so those long hours at the office or at home with other kids won’t be a problem with your pumping schedule.
- BPA free
The Willow Pump bags hold just over four ounces of milk and you can put them straight into the fridge or freezer, which is a huge benefit that you will understand once you try to pour your pumped milk from a traditional bottle into a bag and spill some. To be honest, in almost two years of pumping, I think I had a major spill once, but I cried — it was devastating.
The bags cannot be reused because there is a one-way valve that allows milk to be pumped in but not spilled out. Once you’re ready to use the milk, you must cut the top of the bag. If you want to stick it in the fridge or freezer, you simply pop it in without a fuss.
So how much will The Willow Pump cost me?
The Willow Pump Generation 3 will cost you $499.99. This includes:
- 2 Willow Pumps
- 2 Flanges
- 2 ‘Flextubes’
- 1 Charger
- 1 Pack of 24 4 oz Milk Bags
- 2 Cleaning Brushes
If/when you need to restock:
- 2-pack of reusable containers $49.99 (replace every 3 months)
- 48 Milk Bags $23.99
- 2-pack of Milk Container Inserts $19.99 (replace every 3 months)
- 2-pack of Flanges $29.99 (replace every 3 months)
- 2-pack Flextubes $29.99 (replace every 3 months)
- Additional charger $29.99
Our user did not replace parts as often as the manufacturer recommended. I know that when I was pumping with my first daughter, I also did not replace parts. With my second daughter, I kept getting emails to replace my parts for free, so I replaced my plastic parts 2 or 3 times during the course of less than a year.
The Willow Pump comes with milk bags which make storage really simple and space saving. Our reviewer used these storage bags, but said she would prefer to use the containers so that she wouldn’t be wasting so much plastic (with Willow, you can choose between storage bags or reusable containers—obviously there are pros and cons to both. The bags are hygienic due to the one-way valve, self sealing, and result in less time spent cleaning. The reusable containers are, well, reusable. But hey, you’ll have plenty to worry about as a new mom, no one is judging you on this, so it’s a personal choice.
Our reviewer noted that the bags fit nicely in her freezer, and if she had to store the milk in jars or containers, she would have run out of room.
The Willow Pump has a new Generation 3 Version with some exciting updates.
This New Generation 3 Willow Pump is designed to give the user greater control, more comfort, and help her get more milk! This pump uses a softer, slower pumping rhythm to give the user more comfort. The Smart Suction technology adjusts to the user’s preferences in order to increase output automatically. There is also a new app for Generation 3 with step-by-step onboarding and personalized pumping tips. A new app for Android came out in March 2020.
Is The Willow Pump Worth the Cost?
Our reviewer really likes her Second Generation Willow Pump. She said she has heard people say they don’t get as much milk from the suction, but notes it is important to have a tight shirt or bra to hold the cups against your chest. Using a nursing bra or nursing tank worked well for her while pumping.
She has recommended The Willow Pump to friends and thinks it’s worth the cost if it would suit you and make your life a little easier. She also bought hers at a discounted rate on Black Friday (Willow Pump does go on sale from time to time, so it’s worth checking. She also was able to use her Health Savings Account to pay for the Willow Pump. It’s also worth noting that Willow Pump offers $50 off for teachers, first responders, healthcare providers, and military.
Another Willow reviewer said she wouldn’t recommend this pump until someone has tried it out first. She recommends the Freemie (Amazon) or Spectra Travel over The Willow, primarily for pricing reasons. There are definitely other hands-free pumps on the market that are worth considering.
I have heard really great things about the Freemie system from friends. The Freemie Liberty System (Amazon) is another hands-free pump. The cups replace the bottles and flanges on a more traditional style pump so that you can pump more discreetly – similar to The Willow. It’s reusable and lightweight.
The Freemie cups are compatible with several pumps. You plug the cups into the mobile pump, and you’re ready to pump on the go. The Freemie Liberty System costs $300, but there is currently a sale for $190. You don’t need a lot of extra parts or bags from this company. You pour the milk from the cups into your own containers or bags.
The Spectra 9Plus is another portable pump available. This pump weighs only ½ lb. and has an LED screen. It comes with a 2 year warranty and has single or double pump capabilities. The Spectra has an ultra-quiet motor as well as adjustable suction levels. This pump will only cost $180.
The Elvie (Amazon) is another hands-free system. There are only five parts to clean and it takes seconds to assemble. It’s advertised as completely silent. The Elvie is the same price as Willow Pump at $499, also has single and double pumping capabilities without cords. Similar to Willow Pump, it has settings of various intensity and uses in-app tracking to monitor milk production, track pumping history, and control the pump.
The Elvie vs. The Willow
The Willow Pump vs the Elvie Pump is the big showdown in the handsfree breast pump market. And, it’s no surprise—both of these pumps are well-reviewed, priced exactly the same, and have a lot of similar features. So, what’s the difference between the two?
A friend of mine used the Elvie Silent Wearable Breast Pump (Amazon link) this year with her newborn. He is now about 2 months old. When he was 3 weeks old he was diagnosed with RSV which made her switch from exclusive breastfeeding to exclusive pumping, she started using The Elvie Pump and it changed everything for the better.
“The Elvie has made the transition from exclusive breast feeding to exclusive pumping relatively seamless! I love not being strapped to a wall while I pump but instead, I can do chores, walk around and even drive while pumping. It makes it super convenient!” she said.
The Elvie and The Willow both provide pumping mothers with the cordless, hands-free ability to pump anywhere while doing almost anything. Willow vs. Elvie 1-1.
Willow Pump v Elvie Pump — Charging
While she loves The Elvie Pump, she said it does not hold a charge for very long. She wasn’t used to having to charge her pump, so it took a while to get used to. She now charges the pumps after every pumping session to ensure they are fully charged. After losing a charge part way through multiple pumping sessions, she learned this was the best option. The Willow Pump’s battery is designed lasts for 5 sessions. Win for The Willow. Willow 2 – Elvie 1.
Price, HSA/FSA, & Insurance Coverage
Neither The Elvie nor the Willow Pump is cheap — they both retail for $499.
Both the Willow Pump and The Elvie are HSA/FSA eligible, meaning if you have one of these accounts, you can use funds from it to purchase your pump. This is key, as you’re using tax-free dollars to make the purchase, meaning (depending on your tax situation), your pump may effectively be about 1/3 less than retail price.
And insurance coverage? Maybe to both. My friend was able to have some of her Elive Pump covered through insurance, about $100, but she still paid close to $400 for her Elvie. The She said for her, the cost was well worth it. So, this one is a tie. [NOTE: Fathercraft reader Amanda wrote to let us know she was able to get $250 of her Willow Pump Gen 3 reimbursed by her insurance company]
Willow Pump provides some helpful info on HSA & insurance eligibility and how-to here.
Setup & features
The set up of The Elvie was really simple for her. She said it was “super easy” because of the step-by-step guide. Similar to The Willow, the Elvie connects to an app.
And, while some of my friends said Willow v2 pumps were more complex to set up, it’s worth noting that Generation 3 Willow Pumps come with a redesigned app & setup experience, and even personalized tips for use.
Some other feature differences: Elvie features ‘silent pumping technology’, Willow describes itself as ‘quiet’. With Elvie, your only option is to pump into the Elvie’s reusable containers, with Willow Pump you can choose between reusable milk containers or the Willow’s hygienic, self-sealing storage bags.
One thing that’s clear: both of these pumps are a big upgrade over the old-school plug-in variety: my friend who tested the Elvie has tried numerous pumps over the years (Medela and Spectra) and while she is a big Spectra fan, she said she will always recommend the Elvie!
In a nutshell—the Elvie vs. the Willow:
So, which one wins? Well, the answer is that between these two, there’s no one-size-fits-all perfect answer.
From our reviewers, no one was quite as impressed by The Willow as they were The Elvie. But, the Willow’s Gen 3 version makes dramatic leaps forward in ease of setup, and comfort — the third generation (vs the older second generation) maintains a constant latch, and mimics a babies nursing rhythm. And, moms have more control over suction levels.
While the Willow allows for a great deal of freedom while pumping, The Elvie (Amazon link) might be more user friendly.
Again, The Willow and The Elvie both have a lot of similar features that make pumping much less stressful and are both similar costs. Depending on your insurance plan, some of your pump might be covered. My friend’s Elvie was partially covered, and Fathercraft readers have told us they’ve gotten up to $250 of their Willow Pump The set up for The Elvie wasn’t a problem at all for my friend, while I heard that The Willow can be complicated. The Elvie is silent and I heard no reports of painful pumping like I did for The Willow.
The Willow Wrap Up
Portable – You are not attached to an outlet when you’re pumping! What a concept. When you have to pump, either at work or home, it’s really nice to not have to sit in a closed space next to an outlet. I found myself in a closet, pumping at school to get privacy and have an accessible outlet.
Discreet – When you pump with a traditional pump, you have bottles literally hanging from your chest. The benefit of that is seeing how much milk you are producing, and if you are still producing, but it’s not terribly comfortable and it’s not discreet by any means. Even sitting next to my husband while pumping seemed odd to me. The Willow cups fit entirely inside your regular clothes!
Can be Used Doing Anything! – Our reviewer used The Willow while driving, playing with her baby, and making dinner. She said it can be used doing almost anything without spilling or coming off. A traditional pump only works if it’s in an upright position and I can’t imagine it would work well if you’re moving, although I never tried because I was plugged into an outlet.
Quiet – I am sure everyone in my office heard my breast pump making squeaking, suction noises. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was not unnoticeable. The WIllow Pump allows you to pump quietly while doing practically anything! While it makes the user look quite busty, a stranger wouldn’t know that the pump was being used.
No Spills – A traditional pump requires you to unscrew the bottles and then pour the milk from the bottle into a bag, or simply leave it in the bottle for use in the next few days. The Willow Pump pumps milk directly into a bag with a valve, so you don’t have to do anything! You simply put the bag in the refrigerator or freezer for storage.
The ‘Wish it Were Different’
The Cost – The Willow Pump is very expensive compared to other pumps on the market. And, the full cost of some pumps will likely be covered by your insurance company, making them essentially free. But, with Willow Pump’s HSA/FSA eligibility and some insurance companies now covering half the cost, Willow is starting to feel much more affordable than the sticker price. Willow now has a handy page on their website showing you how to get your Willow Pump covers.
Could it be Even More Discreet – Our reviewer noted that she looked “quite busty” with the cups in. Even in the pictures on the web site, users cups can be seen at the neckline of their shirts.
The Trust in the App – You have to trust that if your phone says you’re no longer expressing milk, you’re truly no longer expressing milk. With traditional pumps, you can see the milk going into the bottles while you’re pumping. With the Willow Pump, you can’t see the milk coming out. You don’t know if it’s working or how much you have until you take them off, a changes vs “old school” pumps where you’re pumping directly into exposed, translucent milk containers. With Willow, you need to trust the app is accurate! [NOTE: Fathercraft reader Amanda wrote in to say “The app is wonderful and I find it fairly accurate.”]
The Pain – One of our reviewers noted that this pump was so painful for the first 2-3 months that she stopped using it. I am hopeful that the new settings on the Generation 3 pump prevent painful pumping — it’s been updated to maintain a constant latch that more accurately mimics a baby’s rhythm, and gives moms more control over suction levels.
If you can afford this pump, it can make a huge difference during your time pumping. The Willow allows you to do almost anything while providing milk for your child for a later date. That being said, The Willow is one choice among many. There are other cordless, hands-free options on the market, some that are not as pricey ,and some that are similar in cost. Look for sales and inquire about whether or not you can use insurance and/or your HSA/FSA to make your hands-free pumping dreams come true. Check out The Elvie, Freemie, and Spectra pumps for some alternative hands-free pumping options.
A cordless, hands-free pump is the best of the best when it comes to pumping if you can afford to not use a free pump through insurance. I made it for almost 2 years using a traditional pump, and while ease of use wasn’t at the top of my “done” list when it came to pumping, it worked for me.
Also, if you’re still on the fence about Willow Pump, the company does have a nice collection of testimonials here.
Where to buy
Willow Pump is available from the company’s website, where you can learn more about the pump and HSA/FSA account use. You can also learn about insurance coverage for Willow Pump here.
Willow Pump FAQ
How much does The Willow Pump Cost?
How long does the Willow Pump battery last?
The rechargeable battery lasts for five pumping sessions
What’s new with the Generation 3 Willow?
The New Generation 3 Willow Pump is designed to give the user greater control, more comfort, and help her get more milk! This pump uses a softer, slower pumping rhythm to give the user more comfort. The Smart Suction technology adjusts to the user’s preferences in order to increase output automatically. There is also a new app for Generation 3 with step-by-step onboarding and personalized pumping tips. There is also an Android app that came out in March 2020.
Does insurance cover The Willow Pump?
Often partially. Fathercraft readers have gotten their insurance companies to cover half the cost of a Willow Pump, and were able to use HSA or FSA accounts for the rest of the expense. You can read more about insurance company coverage for Willow here.
Can you reuse The Willow bags?
The bags cannot be reused, because there is a one-way valve that allows milk to be pumped in but not spilled out. Once you’re ready to use the milk, you must cut the top of the bag. But if you want to stick it in the fridge or freezer, you simply pop it in without a fuss. However, f you want a reusable option, Willow offers reusable containers in addition to bags, meaning you’ll have a choice in what you use, vs other pumps like The Elvie that only offer reusable options.
Is The Willow Pump quiet?
Our reviewer noted that the Willow is very quiet but not silent.
If I need to replace parts, do I pay for them?
Yes, additional parts are available for purchase. As advertised, you should replace your parts every 3 months. Our reviewer did not do that. You will definitely need additional bags. Additional supply costs:
2-pack of reusable containers $49.99 (replace every 3 months)
48 Milk Bags $23.99
2-pack of Milk Container Inserts $19.99 (replace every 3 months)
2-pack of Flanges $29.99 (replace every 3 months)
2-pack Flextubes $29.99 (replace every 3 months)
How many ounces of milk does The Willow pump hold?
Each bag holds just over 4 ounces. You use one bag for each breast.
Well, you made it to the end, congrats! Hopefully that was helpful. Here’s what we’d suggest next:
Check out our extensive baby gear buying guide right over here.
Or, check out our free resources for new and expecting parents right here.
Editor’s note: this review was originally published in March 2020, but was updated in July 2020 to include more information about Willow Pump’s 3rd generation offering, and in July 2021 with further updates on Willow Pump, particularly around improvements in getting insurance to pay for a portion of Willow Pump. Also, please note Fathercraft is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.