Behind the Boom in Breast Pump Innovation

A new wave of breast pump manufacturers is challenging industry leaders with smart, compact, user-friendly designs.

The compact Willow breast pump is designed to fit inside a woman's bra and tracks milk volume with a companion app.

Willow

About 75% of women that work full time have children under age 18, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

With more women entering the workforce, many of them re-entering after maternity leave, breast pump sales have steadily increased. According to a Grand View Research report, the market is expected to grow 7.6% annually through 2020.

As women balance motherhood with multiple other responsibilities, both working women and stay-at-home moms alike have sought more convenient and discreet pumps. Multiple startups have responded to their demands by offering breast pumps with user-friendly designs, compact profiles, and "smart" technology.

This new wave of breast pump manufacturers faces stiff competition from industry leaders such as Medela, Philips, Playtex, and Ameda, among others. "Some of these companies have had essentially the same system on the market for 40 or so years," said Hope Sams, business development associate for Motif Medical. "As technology changes, so must breast pumps."

Women away from home may need to pump several times a day, conveniently, and discreetly. They may not want to carry a breast pump backpack or tote into the office. They may not have time to get away from their desk to pump. And they probably don't want to be tied to an electrical outlet.

The Disruptors

Recognizing the need for a discreet, quiet solution, CEO Naomi Kelman and a group of Silicon Valley innovators created Willow, a mobile, all-in-one breast pump that fits in a woman's bra. Women can pump at their desks if need be, and they don't have to be tied to dangling bottles and cords. The device collects milk in an enclosed spill-proof bag and tracks milk volume with an app. The device costs $479.99. Willow is not covered by insurance.

Much like Willow, the Freemie Liberty mobile hands-free pump uses funnel-shaped collection cups that fit inside a bra. Freemie operates off a rechargeable battery and includes a shut-off timer.

Women who already have a traditional pump can use it with Freemie cups. The cups work with select Spectra, Evenflo, Ameda, and Medela models, among other brands.

Dan Garbez, founder of Dao Health, Freemie's parent company, said Freemie sees traditional players as partners rather than competitors.

"We have changed consumers' attitudes about breast pumps," he said. "We are actively collaborating with leading manufacturers in this industry to make our broadly patented technologies help even more women. In the process, we are also helping these companies sell more breast pumps, as demand naturally increases along with utility."

The real competition, as Garbez sees it, is the infant formula industry. "Historically, the ease and convenience of formula—expensive though it is—has proved to be the only viable solution for too many working women," he said. "Our discreet and cost-effective pumping solutions reduce the dedicated time and spaces needed to pump, which essentially makes it easier and more convenient to continue breastfeeding."

Motif Medical also kept working moms in mind when developing its breast pump line. The company offers two models—Duo and Twist—both of which are lightweight (less than a pound), portable, and extremely cost-effective. The Medela Freestyle hands-free pump retails for $325. The comparable Motif Duo costs $179. This matters at a time when insurers are dropping reimbursement rates for breast pumps.

"We didn't think it was fair for women to go without a quality product," Sams said. "We saw our ability to offer a quality, affordable solution as a way to penetrate the market."

Sams said Motif Medical currently has its products in the hands of 60,000 women. The company plans to expand to big-box retail stores and durable medical equipment suppliers in the near future. Most insurers cover Motif products.

A team of medical industry professionals founded Motif Medical to create a more comfortable, affordable breast pump. To compete with major players and fellow disruptors, the company spent a lot of time on customer research. "Lactating mothers—moms that went back to work, that traveled—designed these devices," Sams said. "We took their feedback into consideration. We were able to take the information they gave us and develop our breast pump solutions."

As companies find their niche, consumers will benefit from a wider range of convenient, affordable choices.

"Over the next five to ten years, our industry, with support from breastfeeding advocates and public policy makers around the world, will enable human milk to present a serious challenge to the $50 billion infant formula industry," Garbez said. "For this reason, we need Medela and the other players. This is not a zero-sum game for breast pump makers."

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