I knew I wanted to pump this time around, as I have with my previous babies. First time, in 2013, I had a single Medela swing. Reliable and reasonably priced, it was fine for occasional pumping but took quite a while to get the job done. Second time round, in 2015, I pumped exclusively for five months so hired a heavy duty, hospital grade Medela Symphony. Both boobs out and wired up to bottles, this was the polar opposite to Elvie’s ‘fits in your life.’ At £47 a month to rent it wasn’t cheap, but it was super duper powerful and efficient, and so worth every penny when pumping 10+ times a day.
This time I was planning to do a mixture of boobing and pumping. My priorities for a pump were efficiency and convenience. After mulling indecisively for months - and finding it hard to get my hands on any detailed reviews from people who’d actually paid money for an Elvie - I decided to go for it and buy one. That’s right, not #gifted - I paid actual money for it. Which is where my review kicks off.
Holy crap, at £250 for a single or £449 for a double, it’s expensive! For this price I would expect an exceptional product which delivers precisely what its slick marketing campaign promises: wearable, silent, hassle-free and smart.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it up close, the Elvie has a ‘hub’ - basically the pump motor part - to which you attach the bottle and the breast shield. It’s charged via USB so fits into your bra with no wires and is, therefore, in principle, wearable.
Good things about the Elvie pump:
When it works well (more on this below) it does make pumping a lot more convenient, mainly because you're hands-free and unrestricted by wires, so you can do other things at the same time. For a mum, this is golden. I’ve pumped while working on my computer, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, driving, and even on my assault bike.
Again, when it works well it’s easy to pump one side while feeding from the other or while giving a bottle, which I’ve found really handy especially during the night. I’ve been able to build up a decent stash from doing this.
Elvie’s customer service when things have gone awry has been really good (see below).
Not so good things about the Elvie pump:
After a few of weeks of using the pump I noticed the suction getting weaker and weaker. I ensured I was following all of the instructions for assembly, fitting and cleaning carefully but it didn’t help. In the end I switched to the larger breast shield to see if that would make a difference and - success - suction returned. Then, a couple of weeks later the same thing happened. Suction grew weaker and weaker and eventually was lost entirely. My husband realised that both breast shields had warped - we guessed from being sterilised in the microwave, despite the instructions saying that they were suitable for microwave sterilisation. When I spoke with Elvie (via John Lewis) they said that other customers had reported the same, so they sent me new shields on an expedited, next day service, and advised me to boil or cold water sterilise in the future. Another blip: the clip which attaches the bottle to the hub snapped. Again, Elvie indicated that other customers had experienced this problem, and that they’ve now redesigned the clip using a different material. They quickly sent me a new clip and so far this does seem more robust. To be clear, the rest of my observations, below, are based on what has happened since I've been using the new shields and sterilising in cold water.
I’ve found - with increasing frequency - that the breast shield can be quite hard to position in order to get the suction working properly, even when I’ve carefully followed Elvie’s instructions. Sometimes it takes me a few goes to get it right. Other times I have to hold the pump in place with my hand for the whole session, in order to keep the suction going. Similarly, when I do get the position right, I've noticed that it seems to slip out of place when I am moving around. Needless to say, only using the pump when sitting still and/or holding it in place with my hand totally defeats the purpose of having an Elvie pump.
Perhaps linked to the point above, I’ve noticed that, often, drops of milk trickle down the outside of breast shield instead of passing through the valve and into the bottle, which makes quite a sticky mess.
The pump is definitely not the most efficient. Sometimes it can feel frustratingly slow. I consistently pump more milk, more quickly, with the cheap manual pump I ordered in a panic when my Elvie stopped working. If I need to pump in a hurry I don’t use my Elvie, I use my manual pump to do one side with my Haakaa on the other - dream team.
The app, which you can use on your phone to check how much you’ve pumped, isn’t accurate. It often tells me that I’ve pumped an ounce less than I actually have. Not a major issue. In fact, a nice surprise. But if you’re going to market your pump as ‘smart’ on the basis of your tech, make sure your tech is accurate.
Finally, and not a huge problem for me but worth mentioning, it isn’t as compact as you might imagine from the marketing. I definitely look like I have one boob which is considerably bigger and more protruding than the other when I wear it.
Would I recommend the Elvie? I don't know. I absolutely love the concept and when it works it's amazing: truly transformative for the pumping mum. But, for me, hassle-free it has not been. The pump costs so much money and, based on my hit-and-miss experience of it over the past 2 months, it feels like quite a high risk recommendation to make. Maybe, in this instance, it really is a case of better the devil you know.