If you’re a breastfeeding mom or an exclusively pumping mom, chances are, you’ve probably heard of the Elvie and Willow hands free breast pumps. But if you have no idea what I’m talking about, both the Elvie and the Willow are hands free, wireless, double electric breast pumps.
Currently, the Elvie and the Willow are the only pumps of their kind on the market. Both fit directly into your bra or tank top and allow you to pump with total freedom—you don’t have to be plugged in and there are no wires connecting you to the wall or to the pump. Both the pump motor and the milk collection units are housed within the shell that fits in your bra, so pumping is completely convenient and 100% hands free.
The only problem? Choosing which pump will be right for you. Let’s take a look at the Elvie vs. the Willow and break down the differences between the two.
Choosing a Pump: My Experience
It was somewhere around 3 AM, in my second pumping session of the night, when the baby was screaming, I was stuck in the chair with a machine mechanically removing milk from my breasts, and my husband was stumbling to the kitchen to fix another bottle, when I realized something:
I couldn’t do this anymore.
After my daughter was born a bit prematurely and spent a week in the NICU, it soon became apparent that at-the-breast feeding was not going to work for us. Giving her breast milk was still important to me, so I started down the road of becoming an EP mom—without really realizing what that meant. Pumping all of my milk for my baby without giving her any formula quickly became a full-time job. And when my husband had to go back to work, and I was left alone to get my other 4 school-aged children out the door and to school every morning, and care for the baby, I soon realized I would need some help if I wanted to continue pumping.
I decided it was time to look for a hands free breast pump. That way, I could pump while caring for my baby, and getting the kids ready, or even pump on the drive to school. But when it came time to choose a pump, I was torn.
Both the Elvie and the Willow pump are the same exact price at around $500. With the investment the same, my choice came down to what I wanted out of a hands free breast pump. Both are wireless, hands free, with two main differences: the Willow claims to let you pump while laying down and uses bags or milk containers, but only holds 4 oz. of milk per side; the Elvie, on the other hand, only uses milk containers and can hold 5 oz. of milk on each side.
Because I had a large milk supply, I decided to go with the Elvie. Later on, in my pumping journey, I also had the chance to try the Willow, so I was able to test both pumps. Here’s what I have to share about each hands free breast pump to help you decide what might be right for you.
The Elvie Breast Pump
Pros & Cons
Can hold 5 ounces of milk each side
No bags to insert
Easy to use
Hands free breast pump
Lights on pump are very visible
Difficult to clean
I purchased the Elvie pump a few weeks into my pumping journey and it immediately changed my life. Pumping went from a dreaded chore that left me crazed trying to keep the baby happy on my own to something I could easily do while still holding or feeding her, or getting stuff done around the house. I was able to give my daughter breast milk for a full 10 months thanks to the Elvie, and it was so important to me.
I’m officially a hands free breast pump convert, and I tell every mom I can that if you are pumping for any regular time, a wireless pump is definitely worth the investment. Plus, many insurances will at least partially cover the cost. I was able to purchase mine full-price, then submit the receipt to my insurance company for a partial reimbursement, so it’s definitely something you should check with your own insurance company.
- Dimensions: 5 in x 4.3 in x 2.7 in
- Fits completely in your bra or nursing shirt
- Full charge in 2 hours
- Charge lasts about 2.5 hours, depending on intensity setting
- 3 breast shield sizes (24 and 28 mm are included, 21 mm can be purchased separately)
- Holds 5 oz. milk each side
- 7 suction settings
- Can be controlled via free and secure app
- Washable parts are BPA-free and dishwasher-safe
- 2-year warranty on the Hub, 90 days on washable parts
- Hands free breast pump
I found the Elvie incredibly easy to use—you attach the breast shield to the Hub (the main electric part of the pump), then snap the base milk container in. The whole pump goes in your bra and you can control the pump manually, or use the app to switch it on. The coolest feature is that it auto-detects when the milk container is full and will shut off on its own, so you can go about your business while pumping. I went directly from using my traditional pump to the Elvie and found no difference in output. In fact, for me, the Elvie was far more comfortable to use, so I actually had an increase in output because I wasn’t as tense while pumping.
The main drawback I had with the pump is that it can be a challenge to clean. Milk tends to get trapped in some of the crevices of the container, so I had to use a bottle brush and some serious maneuvering to get it really clean. I did this every week or so for a deep clean, and then all washable parts could just be thrown right in the dishwasher. Additionally, it’s important to note that there is a light on top of each pump when it’s operating, so if you want a pump that’s completely discreet, you’ll have to wear a dark or thick shirt.
If you’re wondering if you can lay down to pump with the Elvie, the answer is no. While the Willow does advertise that you can lay down to pump, personally, I always felt more comfortable remaining upright. Although I will say that while using the Elvie, I was able to do a lot of household activities, like bend over to do laundry and pick up my baby. As long as you wear a tight-fitting shirt or bra, you should be fine to move around while you use it.
Overall, however, because I primarily used the pump at home, I had no issues with the lights, and having the Elvie completely changed my life. It made breast feeding through bottle feeding possible for me, and that was super important to me as a mom, so I’m incredibly grateful I found this product. I loved the convenience, and found assembling the pump very easy—I could quite literally grab and go to pump throughout the day. Without the Elvie, I would have given up on pumping full-time far before I wanted to.
The Willow Breast Pump
Pros & Cons
Can use bags or a milk container
Can pump from any direction, including laying down
More of a learning curve to use
Parts can be hard to clean
Only holds 4 ounces of milk each side
When looking at the Willow vs Elvie, the Willow is a comparable pump in terms of function, features, and price. The main difference between the Elvie vs Willow is that the Willow offers more flexibility in the positions you can pump in—while you can move around while pumping with the Elvie (I bent over to do laundry and pick up my baby, for instance) the Willow claims that you can pump while laying down, which is a major plus.
The Breast of It:
- 3 breast shield sizes (24 and 28 mm are included, 21 mm can be purchased separately)
- Holds 4 oz. milk each side
- Can be used with reusable milk containers or insertable milk bags
- 7 suction levels
- Can be operated manually or through free app
- BPA-free, dishwasher-safe wearable parts
- Battery lasts up to 5 pumping sessions, and takes 2 hours to fully charge
- 1-year warranty
- Hands free breast pump
The Science Behind Pumping
As a first-time exclusive pumping mom, I definitely had concerns if I would produce the amount of milk that my baby needed without her actually nursing at the breast. How much you will be able to produce as a pumping mom will vary–according to a 2015 study that looked at pumping moms vs. nursing-at-the-breast parents, the same amount of milk was produced. That study determined how much milk you make really comes down to genetics instead of pumping vs. nursing at the breast, which can be good news for some people.
For me personally, I found that initially, I produced too much for my baby–pumping around the clock to establish a supply meant that my body didn’t ever adjust to what my baby needed naturally, so I did have to do some trial and error with my pumping schedule. And because I used a traditional breast pump in the beginning, I was also worried how the suction on the Elvie would compare. The first time I put the Elvie pump on, I was amazed because I could barely feel it. Compared to the discomfort of pumping every 2 hours with a traditional pump, the Elvie felt downright luxurious. To my surprise, despite how much more comfortable it was, I didn’t experience any decrease in my milk supply. In fact, I found I was able to get more out of each pumping session, which I attributed to the fact that because I wasn’t in as much pain and dreading the experience, I was able to relax more and have more my milk let down.
Stress has been found to play a role in inhibiting breastfeeding, so nursing parents are often told to try to relax when feeding their babies or pumping. But when you’re a full-time pumping mom, that’s definitely easier said than done. Most of my pumping sessions before the Elvie hands free breast pump came along were incredibly stressful moments of trying to keep the baby happy, trying to hold her while pumping, and willing my milk to go faster so I could change her diaper. The Elvie took a huge amount of stress off of me during pumping sessions, so I definitely saw that reflected in how my milk letdown and milk supply fared.
Elvie vs. Willow: Details that Matter to Moms
Right off the bat, I chose the Elvie vs. the Willow because the Elvie will hold a total of 10 ounces of milk at a time, while the Willow will only hold 8 ounces. My other hesitation with the Willow vs the Elvie was that the Willow has specific milk bags that you have to buy, so you can’t use any “normal” type of milk bags in it. However, the Willow introduced their reusable milk containers that fit directly into the pump as a solution, making it comparable to the Elvie and giving pumping parents the option of using a bag or container.
Like the Elvie, the Willow parts are dishwasher-safe, but the tubing didn’t get completely clean for me in the dishwasher, just because it’s a unique design, so you’d want to double-check if you plan to use the dishwasher for cleaning. And while I love the flexibility and option to use either, I personally found the milk containers more difficult to use than the Elvie. The milk containers are sold separately, and cost an additional $50, and require additional steps to secure into the pump. Granted, by the time I tried the Willow, I was fully accustomed to my Elvie, so that could definitely be a factor, but for me, the learning curve was steep to get the Willow hands free breast pump set up and working correctly.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the “flip to finish” function of the Willow—because the Willow pumps milk around the breast (which gives the parent the ability to move around), it’s not contained at the bottom of the pump like the Elvie. So, you have to be sure you flip the pump and let it all drain out fully. And every time I attempted this, I inevitably spilled some milk, or lost some precious teaspoons when it got inevitably trapped in the tubing. For me, losing my liquid gold was a deal-breaker. However, both pumps come included with plenty of customer support, including FAQ guides and text and phone help if you run into a problem.
The most important question of all: Will insurance cover the Willow pump?
It depends on your insurance plan. Some insurance plans will cover the cost of a breast pump, while others will outline which type you have to buy. Others may allow you to choose your own pump, then get reimbursed. And still others may let you use HSA funds to purchase it. My own personal insurance let me purchase the pump, then submit paperwork to get reimbursed for their breast pump allotment, which came out to be about half of the cost of the pump. Check with your own insurance plan before buying the Elvie or Willow.
Crowning The Best Hands Free Breast Pump Winner
In the end, the Elvie was a clear winner for me, and I was so happy with my experience using it. Because of the Elvie, I was able to exclusively pump for 6 months, then continue pumping with supplementing formula for my baby for almost an entire year. I feel like it gave me both my sanity back and my wish to provide my daughter with breast milk. A win-win!!
Is the Elvie Pump Worth It?
Cost was a major concern for me in purchasing the Elvie and even though I was able to get some of my purchase reimbursed through insurance, let’s be real: it’s still an expensive pump. For me, I reasoned that it was still far less than purchasing formula and because giving my baby my breast milk was incredibly important to me as a mom, I felt that it was well worth the money.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, the Elvie or Willow?
Ah, there’s the rub. While I found the Elvie pump better for my personal needs, there is no right or wrong with this question. Some pumping parents might prefer the Willow, with its mobility options and bags. It all comes down to the features that work best for you.
Can I return the Elvie or the Willow if I don't like it?
Unfortunately, you cannot return either pump once they’ve been opened.
Is the Elvie pump worth it?
In my case, it was absolutely worth it to invest in a hands free breast pump. Giving my baby breast milk was a priority to me and because I was able to get my pump partially covered by insurance, it was much more affordable than buying formula would have been. But if you don’t need freedom to move around, there are many other types of breast pumps on the market to explore as well.