Willow Gen 3 Review
Pros: Portable, relatively quiet, wearable, useful app, stops when full
Cons: Super spendy, bulky, complicated, limited volume
Our Analysis and Test Results
Willow set out to create a new way for moms to pump because they knew there had to be a better way. They created the first wearable and quiet all-in-one breast pump that fits inside your bra. They are headquartered in Silicone Valley and continue to work hard with new technologies and generations of the Willow to improve the pumping experience.
The Willow Generation 3 opens a new world of freedom for nursing mothers, particularly healthcare workers, and those where structured break times are challenging. The Willow includes two wearable, wireless, tubeless, battery-operated pumps containing collection receptacles (either a 4 oz. disposable bag or 4 oz. reusable container). The entire pumping and collection apparatus are worn beneath your shirt inside your bra. This pump is smart and will even stop on its own once the containers are full, so there is no fear of leaking or overfilling. This pump and container system is so good that you can bend over and even lay down without spilling or losing any precious milk you've already expressed.
This pump has a fairly gentle suction for the amount of milk expressed/expression during each session. Testers report a similar overall milk output to traditional electric pumps. Our tester pumped about 3.5 ounces of milk every 11 minutes on average, comparable to the traditional electric pumps known for efficient pumping capabilities.
The flanges on the containers are comfortable while pumping, and the suction is manageable. While it could take some time to get used to the Willow bulk in your bra, users report it is fairly comfortable overall. Even moms with larger breasts (DDD-H) can use the Willow without issues.
This is one of the most portable pumps in the review as the pumps, and the containers are held inside your bra. There are no tubes or wires to contend with. It is fairly lightweight and discreet, though somewhat large.
This is a closed system, so there is no backup or milk in the pump or condensation of any kind. The pump only has 4 parts to clean, and there is less milk handling than some of the other pumps as it can pump milk directly into storage bags.
This pump is one of the quietest in the review with an electric motor. While you can hear it, it is relatively discreet and does not relay over the phone or across the room like other wearable pumps we tested.
The Willow is sort of bulky, and it can look like you've gone up a cup size or two when you are wearing it. However, a well-placed scarf or shawl can help disguise the unit when pumping. Even when the Willow is off, it still keeps a continuous suction, which can grow uncomfortable the longer you leave it on, so swift removal is suggested. Some testers also feel that the suction is strong during the entire process, which could be painful or annoying to some moms.
Ease of Use
This unit is one of the most complicated options in the review, with a steep learning curve that some testers grew frustrated by as they lost milk in the learning process. Preventing accidental air from entering the collection bag is also a problem as it can't be removed once it is in there, and the flange will detach, causing the pump to stop and milk to leak. The setup could be more than a new sleep-deprived mom wants to hassle with to express milk. On the upside, Willow's customer care team is easy to contact and knowledgeable, so you can be up and pumping with a little help. It is critical to place the unit properly over your nipple for top performance and comfort, and the website provides useful information to get you on your way.
Moms with lower milk supply might struggle to use the Willow as it requires about 1/2 an ounce to be expressed before you can move freely about. If you can't or don't generate more than this, it can negate the whole reason for using this complicated system, to begin with. The stimulation phase requires the user to lean back and lasts about 2 minutes. This might not be enough time for some to produce the 1/2 an ounce necessary to switch modes.
The directions tell moms to flip the entire unit over to get the last drops of milk out of the container after pumping. When our tester attempted a milk transfer, she felt the silicone cap on the container wasn't fitted well, and it leaked. Each time she made this effort, there was less milk loss, but there was always some leakage and loss level.
One of the most significant problems with the Willow is cost. This unit's lifetime cost is more than just the initial payment as it requires other purchases down the road from a second charger (each pump requires charging and it only ones with one, to the disposable collection bags and replacement accessory parts every 3 months of use. Quick math shows that if you use their disposable bags and pump 4 times a day, it will cost you around $60 a month. If you use reusable containers, they cost $50 for two, but Willow recommends replacing them every 3 months. Also, the motor on the pumps has a shelf life of about 273 hours. If you charge 3 times a day, this adds up to 819 20 minutes sessions or around 273 workdays. To sum up, if you pump 3 times a day with 2 chargers for 3 months, it will cost $1079 using disposable bags and $630 with the reusable containers, and you'll only have 90 days left to pump before the motor reaches its shelf life.
This pump isn't for everyone, and many mothers will find it is bulky, expensive, and far too complicated to bother with, and we hear you. However, for some busy mothers on the go, particularly in the healthcare industry, it may be just what is required to successfully remain working while continuing to breastfeed and pump regularly. This pump is lightweight, portable, and can pump while you work with relative secrecy. It comes with a useful app and is easy to clean, making it a good choice for mothers who don't have the time or place to sit and pump. Overall, if your budget allows and you need the freedom, the Willow might be just the ticket for you.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD