Your Pregnancy Matters

Are wearable breast pumps worth the hype?

Your Pregnancy Matters

Woman using breast pump while working at computer
Wearable breast pumps promise a seamless transition to work and mobility for many mothers, but they’re not right for everyone.

You may have seen the ads for wearable breast pumps – technology you can wear like a bra under your clothes. Companies like Willow and Elvie are boasting these devices, and the market is booming.

Experts credit the steep rise in breast pump sales in part to the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (“PUMP Act”), which was signed into law in 2022 and grants eligible employees the right to privately pump at work. That year, the wearable breast pump market was valued at $522 million and is expected to reach $1.3 billion by 2032, according to research firm Global Market Insights.

It’s clear that the demand for these products is high, and with good reason.

Rather than tethering you to an external device with cords and bulky bottles, wearable pumps store breast milk inside the device itself, giving moms the option to pump hands-free and on the go. The pumps are shaped like a half-dome and are held in place by the woman’s bra.

In theory, you could sport a wearable breast pump at work, while out with friends, or while running errands. But wearable pumps aren’t for everyone. Current styles aren’t always as leak-proof and user-friendly as they’re marketed to be, and choosing the right style comes down to personal preferences about comfort and privacy.

As a doctor and a mom, I’ve used traditional and wearable pumps, and there are benefits and drawbacks to both. Let’s discuss the ins and outs of wearable pumps so you can make the best choice for yourself and your baby.

How do wearable pumps work?

Most wearable breast pumps work similarly to traditional pumps. They contain the same basic parts:

  • Motor that drives the suction and pumping functions
  • Flanges, which are plastic or silicone shields that cover the nipple area
  • Valves that direct the flow of milk
  • Collection cups to store the milk

Unlike traditional pumps that have entirely external parts, wearables store all these elements under your clothing. Milk is stored in collection cups that fit within your bra. Most styles have a cordless, battery-powered motor that either fits inside the bra with the collection cups or clips outside the bra under your shirt.

Just like traditional pumps, wearable breast pumps mimic the sucking motion of a baby’s mouth. This often happens in two phases: shorter, more intense suction to trigger “let down” and longer, gentler suction to draw the milk out. To retrieve the milk, you’ll need to remove the pump and dismantle the device.

What to consider when choosing a breast pump

There is sometimes a mental or emotional hurdle when it comes to pumping, even with a wearable device. Some women report that they feel like a cow being milked, while others seem to be at ease right away. Pumping is personal. Choosing the right device can make a big difference in your comfort and experience.

There are several different styles of wearable breast pumps. Some collect milk in disposable bags while others contain screw-on reusable cups. While bags may be easier for cleanup, cups may be less expensive in the long run.

Here are a few more points to consider when shopping for a breast pump:

  • Wearables can be expensive, ranging from $200 to $500. They’re rarely covered by insurance. When you deliver, you will be prescribed a regular breast pump that is covered by insurance and that is yours to keep.
  • Wearables are quiet … but not silent. While these pumps are typically much quieter than traditional models, people around you will still hear whirring or buzzing from the motor. Test yours before you wear it in public to assess your comfort level.
  • Is a wearable powerful enough? For moms with an established milk supply, a wearable can be strong enough. Often moms with low milk supply or those that are still establishing their milk supply will require a stronger motor, which can be found in traditional pumps.
  • Can a wearable device hold enough milk? A wearable device is usually large enough for moms with a moderate milk supply. These devices can pump 5-7 ounces in a sitting, which is similar to a traditional pump. Moms who have a heavier milk supply or who are pumping for more than one baby may want a traditional pump to express more milk in one sitting without having to empty the collection container.
  • High-tech features offer custom control. Want a pump you can program with your smartphone? How about customizable features and savable settings? Some wearables can show you real-time data about how much you’ve pumped and track your lactation patterns to reduce leaks.

Related reading: How to handle pumping at work: 5 tips for breastfeeding moms

Tips for successful breastfeeding and pumping

Whether you’re at work or at home, follow these tips to make breastfeeding easier:

  • Work with a lactation consultant. Breastfeeding skills don’t always come naturally, and that’s OK! Before you leave the hospital, you can meet with a lactation consultant to practice feeding, try out your pump, and ask questions from an expert. Lactation consultant services are typically covered by health insurance, and we can connect you with local consultants near your home.
  • Keep a traditional pump as backup. Wearable breast pumps require a battery or charging, so they might not always be an option. Since you can get a regular breast pump through insurance at the hospital, take advantage of this perk to keep one on hand.
  • Don’t borrow a pump from a friend. Even when they’re cleaned, pumps can retain bacteria that can make your baby very sick. Get a new, sterile pump, and don’t share it with others.
  • Before delivery, plan where you’ll pump at work. Whether using a wearable or traditional pump, you are entitled to a reasonable amount of break time and a private space to pump for up to one year after childbirth. Find this spot before the baby comes so you know right where to go to pump, disassemble your device, and store your milk. Remember, breast milk can only be stored safely at room temperature for up to four hours . When using a wearable pump, be sure to remove the pump and store milk within this timeframe.
smart phone and breast pump equipment
There are a lot of factors that go into choose a breast pump that works best for you.

While you might be tempted to work through your breaks with wearable breast pumps, this should not be the expectation. Stress and multitasking can make it harder to express milk. You might find that spending your pumping breaks with a picture of your child in a quiet and calming place initiates letdown faster and easier, especially when you are new to pumping.

Wearable breast pump technology can be a gamechanger to help new moms continue breastfeeding and keep up their milk supply while balancing a busy lifestyle. For moms who are looking for pump-on-the-go options, wearable devices may be worth the hype. Future devices will undoubtedly be smaller, sleeker, and quieter – we look forward to seeing how wearables develop to give women even more control and support in breastfeeding.

To discuss your breastfeeding and pumping options with a lactation consultant, call 214-645-8300 or request an appointment online.