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I Put 9 Wearable Breast Pumps to the Test

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

In the past few years, the classic horn-shaped breast pumps (the best-known of which are the Spectras, which we’ve reviewed before, and the Medela Symphony, which you often find at hospitals, though there are many others) have gotten a slew of new competitors known as wearables. These wearable breast pumps collect milk into a boob-shaped bra insert rather than a bottle, with the goal of making breast pumping more discreet (you can keep your shirt on and you don’t need a dedicated pumping bra) and more manageable (you can accomplish more on your never-ending parent to-do list if you’re not forced to be plugged into the wall, or walking around with milk bottles dangling precariously from your chest).

Wearable pumps are definitely convenient and often quieter than their traditional counterparts. That said, no pump is perfect, and they can have some downsides, too. (Worth noting: Under the Affordable Care Act, your insurance is required to cover a breast pump for you, but the wearables are rarely offered as one of the free models. You can usually get a discount on them through your insurance, and you can almost always use health-spending-account or flex-spending-account money, if you have it, on pumps, parts, and accessories.)

One caveat before we begin: As a third-time pumping parent who is exclusively pumping for my 6-month-old, I have a naturally high supply of milk and respond pretty well to any pump I try. Lots of breastfeeding people report a lower milk output and/or feeling like their breasts aren’t fully emptied when they use a wearable pump, so you might want to consider your wearable as a backup/secondary pump for when you really need the convenience, like at work, or when you need to pump while making dinner. Because it probably won’t be your only pump, owning a wearable is a bit of a luxury, but for someone like me, who is running after two other children most of the day, it’s worth it.

Pros: The best part of the Freemie Liberty is that it’s almost silent when it’s on. It’s also super-lightweight (if you’re considering the Nuk, it’s the same pump under a different name) and easy to clean, and it’s one of the least expensive. You can definitely move around while wearing it and wear any nursing bra you have (it’s handy to have a clip-down nursing bra to wear most of the wearables, but you could probably get away with a stretchy sports bra too). And this may be a small pro, but you charge it with a standard micro-USB charger, which even my sleep-deprived brain can always find. You pour directly from the pump into a bag or bottle, and I didn’t have much spillage or milk loss in the transfer.

Cons: The setup was challenging (I needed to call customer service), and the tube that fuels the pump is very long and kind of got in my way, which also means it’s not as discreet under clothing as the ones without tubing. The control panel isn’t very intuitive (for example, the 0 setting is actually the strongest suction for some reason). To walk around with the pump, you can clip it to your waistband, but if you’re wearing a dress or jumpsuit, you just have to hold it, which is not ideal. The shape is also somehow too round and too conical.

Milk capacity: Eight ounces per side, tied for the most of any of the wearables I tried.

Flange sizes: 25 and 28 mm., but silicon inserts are available for smaller sizes.

Compatible with other pumps: Yes, you can use the tubing to connect it to nearly any pump motor that uses tubes.

Pros: The Willow 3.0 is the smartest pump of all the wearables I tried — everything is stored in an app, including how much you pump in each session, so you can see your daily output totals. You can also increase or decrease the suction strength and check how long your pumping session has been on the app and on a brand-new accompanying Apple Watch app, which is really handy if you’re pumping at the kind of job where you don’t get much in the way of a pump break. The 3.0 is also the only truly spill-proof pump. I felt I could do almost anything while wearing it, including lie down, bend over to pick up my baby, or empty the dishwasher. There are two ways to pump with the 3.0: directly into Willow’s proprietary pump bags, or into their reusable milk containers. If you’re pumping into the bags, there are only two parts to clean per side, which is the fewest parts of any pump I tried. (They’re top-rack dishwasher safe, too.) While I’ll get into the downsides of the bags in a minute, the upside of the bags is if you’re pumping somewhere inconvenient, like on an airplane or at work, there’s no risky transfer to deal with — when you take off the pump, the milk is ready for storage. The reusable containers are less convenient, but it’s nice that there are options other than the bags. This pump would be my recommendation for anyone who works in health care, or as a teacher, or any other field where taking pump breaks would be difficult and conditions for washing and storing pump parts and milk are tricky.

Cons: The biggest con first: The 3.0 kinda hurt. In order to be spillproof, the technology uses these little claw things to latch on to your body, and the suction can be pretty uncomfortable. There’s a definite pinching sensation. I’ve used the various Willows with all three of my kids, and your tolerance to the sensation might depend on whether you also nurse — it didn’t bother me too much with my first and second babies, but with my EP baby, I never got “broken in” by the baby’s latch and I couldn’t take it. You also can’t skip the “stimulation mode” that primes the breast for pumping; you have to wait until the pump uses its tech to determine that you are done with stimulation and ready to move on to expression. And you have to “unlatch,” as you would with a baby, when you’re done. Learning to put the pump on correctly can be a challenge (I watched the app tutorials many times), and when you finish pumping, you have to do a tricky maneuver called the “flip to finish,” which sucks all remaining milk in the bag/container. However, it usually left at least some behind. So if you’re out and about, be prepared to have to part with a couple of splashes’ worth of milk. (This can be very hard for people. It’s good to be warned.) Also, this pump is incredibly expensive.

Both kinds of milk containers have significant downsides as well. The reusable milk containers have a complicated setup with multiple “modes,” and they are very hard to clean because the container shape is not conducive to any bottle brush I’ve found. You also have to buy them separately — the bag kind is included with your purchase. The ones that use the bags are expensive and wasteful: A pack of 48 bags is $30, and you need a bag, per side, for every pump session. So not only are you spending a lot on top of the investment of the pump itself, you’re also using a lot of plastic. (Inexplicably, you can buy the bags in bulk, but you don’t save even a dime.) The bags are also glitchy: If I didn’t have the bag attached exactly right, it could inflate with air and my app would shut the pump off because it thought the bag was full of milk when it was not. (I then had to trash the empty bag.) The bags are also a challenge to store if you have a big freezer stash because of their unusual shape. The charger is unique to the 3.0, so if you’re traveling with the pump, make sure you have the charger with you because you can’t easily get another.

Milk capacity: Four ounces per side, the least of any wearable I tried. You can sort of “hack” it to hold more like five per side (here’s a tutorial) but it’s not ideal.

Flange sizes: The 24 mm. is included. You can buy 21 or 27 mm.

Compatible with other pumps: No.

Elvie Pump

Pros: The Elvie got a ton of coverage when it first launched after a model wore it on the runway during London Fashion Week, and all the articles claimed that it was totally silent. After getting my hands on a sample I can confirm that it is extremely quiet. I also appreciated that it comes with two chargers (the micro-USB kind) and extra parts for when you don’t have time to clean everything thoroughly between sessions. The shape is also the most compact and clean, and it laid the flattest against my body of the bunch. The quietness coupled with the design made it the most discreet option I tried. The suction is also gentle, so I found it to be a comfortable pump, although I consulted another tester who did not like the feeling of the suction on this one.

Cons: The suction isn’t that strong, so it wasn’t super-speedy at collecting milk. Because the motor of the pump is the top half of the design, you need to be able to peek all the way into your bra to see if the bottle is full, which isn’t that discreet. (The connected app doesn’t tell you how much volume you’ve pumped.) The container is dishwasher-safe, but it is an annoying shape to clean and some of the really tiny parts are even hard to hand wash. There are also just a lot of parts. [Editor’s note: We tested the original Elvie. An updated version has four new suction modes, which we weren’t able to try.]

Milk capacity: Five ounces per side.

Flange sizes: 24-mm. and 28-mm. sizes are included with the pump, but you can order size 21 mm. separately.

Compatible with other pumps: No.

Pros: Medela is one of the titans of the breast-pump world, and this is their first wearable. The design of the cups doesn’t disappoint: they cleverly combined the backflow protector and the duckbill into a single silicon piece, so these cups only have three very easy to clean parts per side. They’re also probably the lightest of any I tried. The version I tried doesn’t have this feature yet, but allegedly this summer the cups will detach from their built-in tubing, and you’ll be able to hook them up to another pump, which is also nice. The battery life is about 2 hours of pumping time, which gets most people through a full 24 hours of pumping without charging. Set-up is super-simple and intuitive. It comes with a USB-C charger, which you probably have a bunch of. It’s easy to pour the milk out and transfer to your storage of choice. Shape-wise, it was one of the more natural looking options I tested.

Cons: Unfortunately, I didn’t love the motor on the FreeStyle. There’s a lot of vibration, which works well for some people but wasn’t my favorite sensation. I felt a weird buzz in my nipples that would actually continue after the pump session was over. I also found it loud and awkward to carry — it has a wrist strap, so you have to wear it like a bracelet if you want to move around. The tubing is also pretty short compared to some other models, which can restrict movement. But these critiques are mainly about the motor, the cups themselves are very good and I’d love to try them again when I can hook them up to a different pump.

Milk Capacity: Five ounces per side.

Flange sizes: 21-mm. and 24-mm. sizes are included with the pump.

Compatible with other pumps: Not yet, look out for that soon.

Pros: Spectra’s wearable entry is a bit of a hack-your-own situation: The 9 Plus motor is a portable motor, and the Cara cups hook up to any Spectra pumps, so combine them and you get a wearable. The suction from the 9 Plus is strong for such a tiny motor, so I found my output to be very similar to my Spectra S2, which is my main pump. As an over supplier, I appreciated the high capacity of the Cara cups. The battery life on the pump is also very good.

Cons: I had similar complaints about the motor on the 9 Plus as the FreeStyle — lots of vibration which I just don’t love, and I also thought it was loud. When I tried the Cara cups with my S2 I liked them a lot better, but they are finicky to set up: everything has to be in the exact right place or the suction doesn’t activate, and it’s easy for something to not be locked all the way in. It uses a proprietary charger, so you have to always know where that is.

Milk capacity: Eight ounces per side, tied for highest capacity with the Freemie.

Flange sizes: 24 mm.

Compatible with other pumps: I used the cups with my Spectra but I imagine you could use them with any traditional pump. And same goes for the 9 Plus, you can use it as a mobile pump with traditional flanges, too.

Elvie Stride

Pros: Elvie launched a second pump in 2021, which uses cups that connect to a motor via tubing rather than the truly wireless original version. I found the suction on the Stride much more comfortable than either the similarly-designed Medela or Spectra hands-free entries (no vibration) and I thought it was much quieter, too. It’s also stronger than the original Elvie — it is “hospital-grade,” while the other is not. It uses a USB-C charger, which, again, you probably have many of.

Cons: The design of these cups is somewhat complicated. Each cup has six parts, including a ring seal that separates from the outer part of the cup for some reason, and duckbill valves that are so small you almost can’t fit a straw cleaner inside them. The tubing hooks into the cups via a wheel you screw into the front of the cup, and the wheel has four oval-shaped indents. The parts and their weird shapes are hard to clean. I found my output slightly lower than normal with this pump, and the unusual shape makes it really hard to eyeball how much is in there.

Milk capacity: Five ounces per side

Flange sizes: 24-mm. flanges are included, but 21 and 28 mm. are available separately.

Compatible with other pumps: Yes. I tried the Elvie cups with my Spectra S2 and was happier with the output, if still annoyed that I had to wash all the kooky parts.

Pros: The Willow Go is, hands down, my favorite wearable of the ones I tried. In my opinion it’s a big improvement on the 3.0 — the suction is much more comfortable, and my output was very consistent with my output on my S2. (And actually, unlike the S2, it doesn’t have any vibration, which I prefer.) The motor isn’t as silent as the Elvie or the Freemie, but it’s quiet enough that I can do most activities without getting distracted by the sound of the pump. It’s truly wireless, like the original Elvie and Willow 3.0, so I felt very comfortable moving around and washing bottles, brushing my teeth, or making dinner with it on (though it’s not spillproof like the 3.0, so you really cannot bend over). The connected app just got an upgrade that lets you adjust the suction and see your total pumping time as well as battery status. It uses the micro-USB charger. The Go comes with a default capacity of 5 ounces, but high-supply people can order 7-ounce containers. It’s also much cheaper than the 3.0. I believe that if you want a wireless, hands-free wearable, this should be the go-to Willow, and the 3.0 should really only be for people who work in situations where they can’t take a true pump break.

Cons: I want to reiterate that this was my favorite of the pumps, and there are still some pretty major cons — wearables are just not perfect. The Go has six parts per side, and cleaning them took a long time. They’re not as tricky to clean as the Elvie Stride parts — they’re better shaped and sized — but it took about double the time it takes me to wash my S2 parts. There’s no seal on the spout to pour the milk out, and because of my high supply, I sometimes filled the containers to the max. When that happened, the milk just … erupted onto my shirt/bra. The setup was not the easiest — again, I watched a lot of in-app videos — and the setup was also prone to errors. If the diaphragm was even a little out of place, the milk could leak out of the bottom or onto the diaphragm itself, and I didn’t know if my session was screwed up until I took off the pump. Sometimes it even vomited a little milk back out when I set it on the counter. The app is the only way to see how long you’ve been pumping, so you need your phone nearby always. The charge also sometimes didn’t last a whole day. Even with these betrayals, it was still my favorite.

Milk capacity: Each pump comes with five-ounce containers, but seven-ounce ones are available

Flange sizes: 24 mm. and 21 mm. flanges are included, but 27 mm. flanges are available separately, as well as silicon sizing inserts for 19-mm. sizes.

Compatible with other pumps: No.

Pros: I’m grouping these together because they’re extremely similar in design: a cup with a small, square-ish motor attached to the top of it. These pumps were my runner-up choice, with the Momcozy S12 Pro getting a slight edge over the Imani i2 for slightly more comfortable suction and displaying your pumping time on the motor. Both pumps were pretty comfortable as far as wearables go (no vibration). The i2 has a few more modes and suction levels, so you can customize it a bit more, but ultimately they felt pretty similar. They set up the exact same way, with a silicon flange that inserts into a cap with a duckbill valve, backflow protector and cup front (the i2’s holds 2 more ounces than the S12 Pro), then the motor sits on top. I felt very secure moving around and cooking, washing bottles and prepping my older kids’ lunches in both models. They both use standard USB-C chargers to charge, and they are both $140, which is a very reasonable price for a wearable, especially one(s) I liked this much.

Cons: Transferring milk from the pump to the bottle felt a little precarious, since you have to pop the motor off first and then pray the flange doesn’t separate from the cup when you do. Also if you can’t pour your milk right away, leaving the pump flat on the front with the motor right there just looks dangerous, even though it’s not. I found them middle-of-the-pack in terms of cleaning difficulty, but my husband reported that he preferred cleaning the i2 because the red silicon parts were easier to find when using the washbasin method that the CDC recommends. The design is clever, but they are not subtle. I think pretty much all the wearables make it clear you’ve got something going on under even a gigantic sweatshirt, but these are some of the more obvious ones. Still, if you’re going to get a wearable as a “sometimes” pump and you’re on a budget, one of these would be my choice.

Milk capacity: The Imani i2 holds seven ounces per side, the Momcozy S12 Pro five per side.

Flange sizes: The i2 comes with 28 mm. flanges and 25-mm. inserts, but sells inserts for 17-, 19-, and 21-mm. sizes, as well as 3-mm. flanges, giving it the edge for most sizing options. The S12 Pro comes with 24mm flanges and has inserts for 17, 19, and 21 mm. and 27 mm. flanges available separately.

Compatible with other pumps: Neither are.

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I Put 9 Wearable Breast Pumps to the Test