Can you use a hands-free breast pump like Willow or Elvie as your primary pump? The answer depends on how well you respond to your wireless pump and how you’re planning on using it. Here’s what to consider when deciding on a wearable vs traditional breast pump.
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What is the difference between a wearable breast pump and a traditional breast pump?
If you’ve never used a breast pump before, you might be wondering what the difference is between these two types of pumps.
Wearable breast pumps
Wearable (also called wireless or hands-free) breast pumps go into your bra without connecting to any pump parts or a pump motor outside your bra.
Popular wireless pumps include the Willow, Elvie, Momcozy.
Traditional breast pumps
On the other hand, traditional breast pumps have a set of pump parts including a breast shield, valve, and a bottle to pump into.
These pump parts are attached to a motor via tubing, which provides the suction.
What is the concern with using a wearable vs a traditional breast pump?
The main potential issue is establishing and maintaining your milk supply.
Some people pump less milk with wearable breast pumps
Some people find that their wireless breast pump isn’t as effective as their traditional pump, so they get less milk when they use it.
I did an unscientific poll on Instagram to see how many people have less output from a wireless pump versus a traditional pump.
Excluding the “Show me the results” response (which I include so people don’t click on a choice to see how others responded, throwing off the poll), 61% of the 872 respondents got less milk when using their hands-free pump as opposed to their traditional pump.
I then asked those who said that that they pumped less with a wireless pump how much less their output was.
Most people saw a difference of greater than an ounce per pumping session.
How does this affect your milk supply?
When your pump isn’t as effective as it could be, this removal of less milk causes two issues.
The obvious first one is that you have less milk to feed your baby from that pumping session.
The second issue, though, is that over time when you remove less milk, your milk supply may go down.
You might have heard that breast milk production is a system of supply and demand. When your pump isn’t removing as much milk, your body recognizes that the demand for your breast milk has gone down. It likely will then adjust your supply down accordingly.
So what’s a safe way (for your milk supply) to approach using a wireless breast pump?
Hands-free breast pumps do have tremendous advantages. They allow you to move around and do other things while you pump, and they are more discreet.
There are a lot of benefits to using wearable pumps – but how can you use one without affecting your milk supply?
Evaluating how you respond to your wearable pump
The most important thing to consider is how well you respond to your hands-free pump – as you saw in the polls above, some people get about the same amount of milk as they do with their traditional pump, while others get much less.
There’s no real way to predict which group you’ll fall into, so you have to test it out.
To do this, I’d recommend picking a certain time of day to do your test – any time is fine, but since breast milk output generally varies based on time of day, you want to measure your output at one consistent time so that you can compare apples to apples.
So say you pick 8pm as your test time. Use the wireless pump at 8pm one night, the traditional at 8pm the next day, and then repeat once:
- Day One: Pump with wearable pump at 8pm
- Day Two: Pump with traditional pump at 8pm
- Day One: Pump with wearable pump at 8pm
- Day Four: Pump with traditional pump at 8pm
Then compare your average output from days one and three with your average output from days two and four.
If you get the same output with both pumps, you can probably use them interchangeably without any issues.
But if you get less from the wireless pump, you might want to limit your use of it to times when you really need to be mobile and/or discreet rather than using it all the time.
Can you ever have a wearable breast pump as your only pump?
Some people – those who do respond well to their wearable pump – are able to use it as their primary pump.
If you haven’t had your baby yet and want to know if you can use a wearable pump as your only pump, I’d consider why you’ll be pumping and how often you plan to pump.
If you’re just going to be pumping for an occasional date night, it’s fine to only use a wearable.
Even if you don’t respond well to the pump, removing a little less milk when you pump every now and then shouldn’t impact your supply.
If you’re planning on exclusively pumping, I would recommend having a traditional pump on hand.
In addition to the concerns about supply, many wireless pumps have an expected “lifespan” of three 15 minute sessions a day for a year. Unless you don’t plan to exclusively pump for more than a few months, you’ll likely need to pump more than that.
Pumping at work
Finally, if you’re pumping for work, I’d get a traditional pump (potentially in addition to a wearable) in case you don’t respond well.
Removing milk consistently at work will be important both for supply and for feeding your baby.
What has your experience been with your milk supply and using a wearable vs traditional breast pump? Share in the comments!