Since the advent of the, women haven't enjoyed much choice. You could bet you'd be strapping on air horn-shaped flanges and dangling bottles from 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.
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. It joins a lineup of new breast pumps that aim to make 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, while the World Health Organization recommends 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 families and working mothers' careers alike. 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. Boler said her team, which includes engineers from vacuum maker Dyson and a co-founder from fitness tracker Jawbone, "started with a blank piece of paper."
The 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 you can pump while doing whatever else you're 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 lasts 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 output. 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 between the two is that you can buy a single unit of Elvie's pump. That means you can pump only one side at a time, but it also means you can see if it works for you for about half the cost. You'll 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.
There are other differences, too. A big one for cost-conscious moms (i.e. all moms) is the price of 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 sets 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. (Elvie has five parts that need to be cleaned, and all are machine washable.)
Other differences include:
- 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 says it's 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 about 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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