This breast pump is one-of-a-kind and the second product from Elvie, a pioneering women’s health-tech brand headed by Tania Boler, whose mission is to improve women’s lives through smarter technology. She began with an award-winning Kegel trainer that helps achieve a stronger pelvic floor using a combination of an internally worn device and smartphone app. The Elvie Pump employs a similarly deft combination of pleasing design and advanced technology to create what the company claim is the world’s first silent wearable breast pump that fits inside your bra.
You’d expect a pump with such lofty claims to cost a fair amount, but you’ll probably be surprised to know quite how much; we’re talking almost £250 for the single pump. That’s a tenner less than the Medela Swing Maxi double electric breast pump and around three times the price of the Yoomi 3-in-1 electric breast pump. Meanwhile, the Elvie Pump double costs an eye-watering £449, which is well over £100 more than the Medela Freestyle electric pump which features a digital display and rechargeable batteries.
I was eager to discover whether the Elvie pump was as life-changing as the rave reviews it receives on Instagram claim.
Gabrielle tried the Elvie Pump over the course of several months, in order to feed her newborn daughter who was born prematurely and needed to be fed with expressed breast milk via a nasal tube.
It’s like a work of art – sleek, ergonomic and honestly good enough to put on display – or at least not be embarrassed about leaving around, like you might be with a regular breast pump. On the smooth white hub, which houses the motor and bluetooth sensor for the app, buttons and lights have been kept to a minimum, to help make the pump unobtrusive when worn inside your bra. The clear plastic curved bottle and breast shield fit onto the hub to complete the unit, which can stand alone – another major bonus compared to many pumps which require specific plastic stands to enable the bottle to remain upright.
How does the Elvie Pump compare to other pumps?
It’s unique in design, features – and price. It costs far more than any other single breast pump on the market – my Medela Swing single pump is £144 – but it also looks a heck of a lot better than any pump I’ve ever seen or used. That’s largely because there are no trailing wires or visible working parts – everything is tucked away inside the minimalist white hub (there are no garish colours here). The pump’s USPs are that it is completely hands-free – it’s powered by an internal battery that can be charged via a USB cable so there’s no need for a power cord when it’s in use and designed to be worn inside your bra – and there are no tubes. The suction action draws milk from your breast via a breast shield directly into the bottle. So there’s no chance of milk getting sucked into the tubes, something that happens to me when I use a conventional pump with bottles and tubes at the wrong angle.
How portable is the Elvie Pump?
This pump is designed to be worn inside your nursing bra so you can, in theory, pump anywhere – travelling to work, at your desk, in the park. Once you’ve mastered the art of inserting your nipple into the correct size breast shield (there are two sizes to choose from in the box), you press the hub, breast-shield-first, against your breast then pull your bra up and over the hub to hold it firmly in place. If your bra won’t clip into place, you can use the bra extenders provided but I found the fabric of one of my smaller bras wouldn’t stretch over the hub at all, so I resorted to clipping my nursing vest top over the hub and holding it in place on this occasion, which obviously negated the hands-free element.
Worn inside a nursing bra, the lightweight pump is comfortable and relatively discreet. But unless I’m wearing a loose top or a scarf draped over my chest, I’m conscious that I look very lopsided – not only does one breast look bigger than the other, it also appears to be flashing as you can see one of the lights through my top.
The mechanism is very quiet compared to the whooshing noise of a conventional pump but it’s not what I’d call silent and the noise of the suction and the satisfying ‘drip’ of milk hitting the bottle through the valve can be heard by people close to you – so you might be self-conscious in a quiet shared space but fine in a busy office or outdoors.
Wearing the pump freed my hands so I could get on with some aspects of my day. For 4 weeks, this largely consisted of sitting by the side of my newborn daughter’s cot. Not being tethered to a hospital pump, with its power cord attached to the wall and tubes connecting motor to bottle, meant I could change my daughter’s nappy, prepare her nasal feed and sit and cuddle her while pumping – which was utterly brilliant.
But doing anything more strenuous – particularly the bending down and leaning forward involved with looking after my 2 older children – proved to be the pump’s downfall. On several occasions precious milk leaked out of the pump and soaked through my bra, top and cardigan, prompting a complete change of clothes, which was upsetting and frustrating. The breaches may have been due to a faulty part that Elvie’s customer service team were very quick to apologise for and replace, but it did make me wary of wearing the pump out and about as I didn’t want to risk getting wet – or wasting my precious breastmilk.
How effective is the Elvie Pump?
I managed to fill a 250ml bottle once, pumping from both breasts. But I didn’t get anywhere near this amount on most other occasions, even if I pumped for half an hour on each side. It’s certainly not as effective as the Medela single Swing and the Medela Swing Maxi – and it obviously can’t touch a hospital-grade pump such as the Medela Symphony or Ameda Elite. But on the upside, I found it to be more comfortable to use than the Medela Swing as the suction was nowhere near as strong. When I damaged my nipple with over-zealous pumping, the Elvie Pump was the only pump I could bear to put to my breast.
How long does the battery last?
Each full charge takes 2 hours and gives about 2 and a half hours of battery time – so potentially one and a quarter hours on each breast. However, I found that I couldn’t use it for more than about 20 to 30 minutes because the hub got very warm. I welcomed the extra heat when I was cold, but I can imagine using it in warmer climates would make you uncomfortably hot quite quickly.
Is the Elvie Pump easy to clean?
Although there are only 5 parts to set up and clean, those parts are not the easiest shape to clean or, crucially, to dry. The rubber valve is tricky to clean with anything but the smallest bottle brush, while the curved bottle has an unusual design that retains a small amount of liquid even when it’s tipped upside down. Meanwhile, the spout has parts that stick out from both sides so must be dried on its side to prevent water from pooling. I spent a fair amount of time ‘flicking’ water from the parts after I’d washed them and again once I’d sterilised them to dry them completely. That said, washable parts can be washed on the top shelf of a dishwasher.
What’s in the box?
It came well-packaged in a glossy box with everything I needed to get started. The hub, 2 bottles, 24mm breast shield, 28mm breast shield, 2 seals, 2 spouts, 2 valves, 2 bra adjusters, 2 bottle lids, USB charging cable and carry bag.
Is the Elvie Pump easy to put together?
Very – once you’ve got the hang of it. I found the clear and concise videos on the brand’s homepage helped hugely. Having followed the instructions just once, I was able to assemble it within moments as there are only 5 parts.
Is it easy to use?
It takes time and practice to work out the best size breast shield to use, align your nipple correctly with the lines on the flange and figure out the right position and compression of the pump in your bra. It took me numerous attempts, which I found frustrating, not least because I was desperate to express milk before going to sleep after long days at the hospital.
What’s the Elvie Pump app like?
It’s essential to getting the best out of the pump as it allows you to control the pump remotely, monitor milk volume and track your pumping history for each breast. It’s easy to install and navigate, even for the least techno-savvy person or sleep-deprived mum. The app allows you to check approximately how much milk you’ve expressed without having to undo your bra or interrupt pumping to remove the hub from your bra. I say approximately because milk volume is measured according to an algorithm rather than actual volume so it’s not completely accurate.
By tapping the screen on your phone, you can adjust the intensity settings (there are 7 in both stimulation and expression modes) and switch between modes. This is useful because the pump automatically switches to expression mode when it detects milk in the bottle or after about two minutes. If you switch sides without emptying the bottle, it’s not clear how the pump will detect let down so may stay in stimulation mode for longer than you need. This way, you can switch over at the touch of an online button.
But there are glitches: it sometimes lost bluetooth connection to the pump so ceased monitoring my output and, on one occasion when the battery ran out, the app disconnected and no information about my session was recorded.
Who would it be useful for?
Any mum with an established milk supply who needs, or prefers to, pump hands-free so she can get on with tasks she can perform sitting or standing upright – be that at home, at work, or out and about. It’s particularly good for mums whose babies feed from only one side per feed, as you can easily pump while holding your baby.
What would you have wanted to know before buying the Elvie Pump?
You can’t use the pump while the battery is charging, and the maximum battery life is about 2 and a half hours. So, if you need to pump for long periods of time or pump frequently, you’ll need to charge the pump throughout the day – either from your computer or using your phone charger.
The Elvie Pump is brilliant in theory but in practice there are design flaws – I found that it’s prone to leaking, perhaps because the plastic valve that connects the bottle to the hub is prone to breaking, and at one point the hub stopped charging. You really need a back-up pump, fortunately, I had a few trusty Medela workhorse pumps to turn to. What they lack in style they make up for in substance.
For those reasons and because it takes time to work out the best position of your nipple in the breast shield and the best way of wearing the hub in your bra to maximise your milk output, it’s not the best pump for establishing your milk supply if, like me, you can’t breastfeed your baby completely or at all. Stick to hospital-grade breast pumps to maximise your supply.
Which features did you like best about the Elvie Pump?
The lack of tubes or wires is fantastic – there is nothing to trip over and fewer parts to lose and keep clean.
The lack of significant noise is a game-changer; although the pump isn’t completely silent, it’s probably as close to it as possible and isn’t discernible in a noisy office or playground.
Any optional extras?
Yes, extra bottles, lids, flanges, bra adjusters and seals and valves are available.
Is the Elvie Pump good value for money?
At £249 I’m not convinced. The hub comes with a 2-year warranty while the parts (including bottles, breast shields, spouts and valves) come with a 90-day warranty. In the 3 months I had it, I had to call customer service twice – once for a new plastic seal that connects the bottle to the hub, and once to report the hub had completely stopped charging. Both times the service was exemplary and replacement parts were sent out immediately, but it still meant the pump was out of action for several days at a time. If it was the only pump I had, I’d have been in trouble as I needed to pump at home overnight to keep my supply up while my baby stayed in hospital. Given this, plus my experiences with the pump leaking milk over my top, which may have been connected to the bottle connector snapping, I don’t believe it is good value. That said, the company reassured me that they are in the process of replacing the current part that connects bottle to hub with a more robust design, which could fix 2 significant flaws, rendering the pump more hardwearing.
An innovative and beautiful-to-behold breast pump that’s wearable, smart and almost silent – but also has considerable flaws. Once these significant snags are ironed-out, the many features and benefits of the pump will help considerably to justify its stonking price tag.