Presented at CES 2017, the Willow™ breast pump has the very desirable advantage of being “wearable” and consequently “hands-free”. The devices (one for each breast) just slip into a bra, so that nursing mothers can use them at any time during the day. Indeed, this wearable device appears as a far better option for nursing mothers than being tethered to an outlet a bit like a rechargeable appliance. And certainly, the Willow™ breast pump has come a long way since US11135, an 1854 patented breast-pump actuated with a bellow pump!
Indeed, perhaps that this is in fact the long-awaited product that nursing mothers, lactation consultants, midwives, public health researchers, designers and engineers have collectively envisioned, and facilitated, via their participation in the “Make the breast pump not suck hackathon”, organized at the MIT Media Lab in 2014, within the context of research carried out on post-partum technologies (D’Ignazio, 2014).
Considering an article published by D’Ignazio, et al. (2016), reporting on 1136 mother-submitted ideas for improving breast pumps, crowdsourced in a participatory, human-centered and feminist Human Computer Interaction (HCI) approach to design, it certainly looks as though many of the design features incorporated into the Willow™ pump, fit the bill of the “breast pump that doesn’t suck”!
Take mobility, for example. According to D’Ignazio et. al (2016), the issue of mobility is high on the list of Mothers’ wishes, not only for the obvious reported reasons of being able to multitask (e.g.; to get up and get a glass of water when pumping, or to mind multiple children while still being able to collect milk), or even to go back to work without being plugged in a bathroom or a car outlet, but also for less obvious reasons. Less obvious reasons such as mothers being able to bypass the stress of being tethered and the associated feelings of humiliation, the belittling perception of sharing a milking experience with other non-human mammals, or of being isolated because of the social stigma associated with pumping milk in public. D’Ignazio et. al. (2016) also report on mothers’ stories about having to dodge colleagues and co-workers to prevent them from feeling embarrassed, not only with pumping, but with just the sight of the pumping apparatus and the bottles or bags of extracted milk.
So, indeed, a wearable breast pump, capable of restoring the freedom and taken for granted gifts of mobility are the winning features of this invention.
Mobility, however, is not the only desirable feature of a breast pump according to the Feminist HCI study. And the Willow™ breast pump seems to incorporate quite a few more of the nursing mothers’ wishes.
The Willow™ breast pump further includes a quiet mode of operation enabling nursing mothers to engage in conversations while pumping, or to talk on the phone. The Willow™ pump includes a Bluetooth™ connection to a phone app enabling mothers to monitor the amount of milk collected in real-time, and to track previous pumping sessions. The milk is also collected directly in an internal bag which dispenses with the use of bottles, and all that might be perceived as “unsightly”.
The Willow™ wearable breast pumps also insert into the mother’s own bra which prevents, according to the studied reports, the sizeable extra costs of a bra accessory that can convert a non-wearable breast pump into a wearable one. Best of all perhaps, beyond mobility, is the fact that the Willow™ pump is machine washable, which guarantees that the pump will be sanitized clean, saves time, and ditches all the feelings of discomfort associated with having to wash a breast pump in a bathroom at work, instead of the kitchen – even when a kitchen is available.
Thus, the Willow™ wearable breast pump perhaps finally appears as the quintessential “breast pump that doesn’t suck”!
Only now, it has to start shipping!
US11135 – Breast-pump – Granted to Orwell Needham, 1854
D’Ignazio, C. (2014) MIT Media Lab – The make the breast pump not suck hackathon, May 29, 2014.
D’Ignazio, C. (2015) Does the breast pump still suck? Eight awesome outcomes of the MIT Media Lab Hackathon, February 19, 2015.
D’Ignazio, C. et. al. (2016) A feminist HCI approach to designing postpartum technologies: “When I first saw a breast pump I was wondering if it was a joke”. Proceedings CHI 2016, May 7-12, 2016, San Jose, CA. http://breastpump.media.mit.edu/BreastpumpPaper_CHI_pn2106.pdf
Nijhuis, M. (2014) Hacking the breast pump. The New Yorker