Willow changed the way mothers feed their babies with the first all-in-one, hide-it-inside-your-bra, wearable breast pump. But the freedom and convenience doesn't come cheap, costing $500 for the revolutionary technology. And until now, it also required moms to keep buying the company's special milk-collection bags for every pump session, costing 50 cents per bag.
A new accessory should simplify things a bit. Willow is now selling a reusable milk container system for moms who'd rather skip the special collection bags -- or at least have a backup option when the bags run out. A pair of containers for the left and right breasts costs $50, available at willowpump.com.
Even at that price, moms may still be pumped about the new option. Willow's special milk bags have been the only way to use the machine since it-- and those bags cost $24 for about a week's supply, if you pump roughly three times a day. (And if you forget to order more until the last minute, overnight shipping from Willow's online store is another $30.)
Even though the bags were the only way to use the Willow, the simplicity of that system is still part of the appeal. Pump, pop out the milk bag, drop it in a cooler and be on your way. A new user will likely want to switch between using the bags and a container for different occasions -- and Willow is offering the container accessory free with new purchases for a limited time.
Pump, pour, repeat
The container system is compatible with the Willow 2.0, which came out in January. Moms can put the container directly in the fridge, or pour the milk into a baby's bottle, or pour it into another generic milk storage bag (which you can easily find cheap at any drugstore).
Costs aside, the all-in-one design of Willow is what makes it a game-changer. There's a pump that sits on top of each breast, held in place by a nursing bra. During the pumping, milk flows into the spill-proof bag -- or the new container -- both shaped like a ring that connects to the pump. The compact and quiet design allows moms to lie down and bend over without worries of spilling -- or take a work conference call without having others hear the whirring of the pump in the background.
It's even possible to pump while commuting on a train or while traveling on vacation without scrambling to find privacy and a power outlet.
Willow says more than 45,000 women have used its machine, and adding a reusable container has been its most requested feature.
The only true competitor to Willow on the market now is, a similar wearable, wireless pump that stores milk in a reusable container, located at the base of the pump. Elvie costs the same as the Willow, $500 for a pair of pumps, but offers the option to buy a pump for just one breast for half the cost.
Pumping ain't always pretty
The world of breast pumping isn't a glamorous one for the busy, working mom. And I should know -- I'm mom to a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old infant, so pumping is once again part of my daily life. A standard breast pump machine (which is covered by insurance) can be loud and leave mothers tethered to power outlets as tubes and bottles dangle from their chest to collect milk.
It's stressful, but we moms try to make it work to give our babies the nutrition they need -- and maintain our body's milk supply when we can't be around to breastfeed in person. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants are fed breastmilk for the first year of life.
When going back to work, it's not easy to keep providing for baby. A pumping session can take about 30 minutes, and you may need to do it every two or three hours to bring home enough milk. Miss a few pumping sessions here and there, and your supply can diminish quickly. According to the CDC, 60% of mothers don't breastfeed for as long as they intend to. And stress about pumping at work is the second biggest reason women don't return to their job after maternity leave, according to Ovia Health.
But Willow has brought some dignity to a process that often can be stressful. I've been testing the Willow for a few weeks and it has been a tremendous help at home. I can pump while playing with my kids, getting ready for work, cooking dinner or other tasks -- it takes away the fear of not being able to provide for my baby when time is in such short supply.
The downside is that the Willow isn't covered by insurance, unlike standard pumps that cost a fraction of the price.
I'll be going more in-depth with my experience testing Willow in a future piece for CNET. But in the meantime, I'm looking forward to trying the bottle insert to save money on Willow's bags and saving the environment from more plastic trash.
Willow already saved my sanity a few times. I'd just like to see more ways it can save moms money.