Wearable Pumps

May 28, 2024

Wearable pumps: Why this hands-free device is now over 30% of the breast pump business. 

Wearable pumps are an incredible gift to busy families. Whether because of returning to work, running after siblings, or just wanting a hands-free option, this technology could be the ticket to increasing breastfeeding rates in the U.S. But so many families are still misguided when it comes to how to use them and what options are best. So we chatted with Sarah O’Leary, CEO of Willow Innovations, one of the founding Femtech companies and the creator of the world’s first in-bra wearable pump, about the impact of wearables on the breastfeeding industry and, more importantly, how Willow is engaging moms differently to support their feeding journey.  

Can you talk about how breastfeeding technology has changed in the past few years? How do wearable pumps work? 

Breast pump technology had been around for decades, but the technology wasn’t built with the mom who was using it in mind. Traditional pumps extract milk from the breast - but using them required moms to take their shirts off, hook up to flanges and tubes and bottles and a bulky motor, and be stationary while plugged into a wall. And moms typically need to nurse or pump for 20-30 min. every 3 hours!

Willow set out to design a pump that put women at the center and took into consideration their real, lived experience. Our all-in-one wearable pumps are engineered with proprietary technology that effectively pumps milk with hospital-grade suction - and no cords, tubes, or bulky motors. The entire pump fits into the bra, allowing moms to move freely and pump discreetly without needing to remove their shirts or sacrifice milk output. It’s truly changed the game, giving moms the freedom to live their lives while reaching their breastfeeding goals.

According to statistics, the percentage of caregivers who breastfeed for 3 months is about 45%, the percentage that makes it through 6 months (the AP recommendation) is cut almost in half at only 25%. Why do you think rates drop so significantly as the baby gets older?

U.S. parents understand the importance of breastfeeding. More than 85% of new moms initiate breastfeeding, and we know from our State of Feeding survey that 80% of respondents want to breastfeed for at least a year. They hear and understand the recommendations on breastfeeding. But as these statistics show, less than half of moms can do so. 

The core issue is an overall lack of societal support for moms to breastfeed. We’ve made some progress on public policy, such as the PUMP Act, which requires employer support - but the U.S. is one of only six countries worldwide that has no paid leave, new moms don’t have enough access to support from IBCLCs, and so on. We don’t have a village - and it shows in the data. We’re proud that products like Willow make an impact - our moms are more likely to reach their breastfeeding goals and extend their breastfeeding journeys compared to those using traditional pumps. But overall, it’s time to create unified support for parents if we want to see a change in breastfeeding rates. 

How can wearable pumps help extend a breastfeeding journey? Why is it so important for women to have options?

First of all - breastfeeding is an around-the-clock job. So if you’re back to work - pumping is also something you do more or less constantly, every 3 hours. When wearable pumps help make pumping more convenient and achievable, moms are more successful in extending the duration of their pumping and breastfeeding journey. 

With Willow, moms also get more than a pump; they receive a support system at every step of the journey. Breastfeeding and pumping aren’t as intuitive as many assume; there’s a learning curve - and Willow is there, through our care team and our app, with content & services to step in and help moms navigate challenges.

Moms have access to a Willow Mom Coach to help with everything from setting up the pump to measuring their nipples for flanges, a SimpliFed IBCLC expertly trained on Willow pumps, and a host of other personalized services and expert-backed content through the connected Willow app. Motherhood can be lonely, and we are creating support and intervention for those hard moments, so moms don’t have to go at it alone. 

Why is it so important for lactation professionals, OBs, midwives, and pediatric providers to discuss wearable pumps and pumping with their patients?

More than 85% of moms we surveyed do pump, yet nearly 40% received no support or education on pumping. It is another gap in how moms are supported and contributes to their ability to provide breast milk. It’s truly a missed opportunity not to educate moms on all the feeding options available if the goal is to increase breastfeeding rates. 

Breast pumps, wearable or not, are medical devices. Can you talk about the importance of understanding your machine, researching what’s best for you, and how women’s health professionals can help coach their patients on what to choose? 

This is not talked about enough in our industry. Breast pumps are medical devices and must be cleared by the FDA. As an FDA-cleared medical device, we adhere to strict regulatory processes around safety testing and product performance. There is an increasing number of wearable dupes in the marketplace, which can be very dangerous and have huge consequences for moms, such as nipple damage. Overall, the industry and maternal care professionals can do a better job of informing moms to avoid non-FDA-approved pumps. 

What are some of the main false narratives about wearable pumps?

If you’re talking about Willow, a wearable pump can absolutely be your primary pump! Our Willow Go pump, for example, offers moms a tug-and-release latch with hospital-grade suction similar to a traditional pump. It is the wearable pump optimized for output without sacrificing convenience and power - and Willow is covered by insurance and is HSA/FSA eligible.  Seventy percent of Willow Go moms tell us they get as much or more milk as with their traditional pump and we’re proud that they are using our product as their primary pump - with both the milk output and the freedom that a wearable pump offers!


Bottom line: Providers owe their patients options. Most women are unaware of all the different types of pumps available to them. Nearly half of breastfeeding women stop because of things like returning to work – precious minutes away to find a secluded area or adding tethered (to a wall) time in an already jam-packed day are legitimate concerns for the modern mom. Having the option to take a zoom call, make dinner for screaming toddlers all while pumping can truthfully make the difference. 

If you'd like more information on how to discuss pumping with your patients, our providers are here to help!