Published on 30th August 2019

There is no doubt breast pumping is a great way of keeping stock of breast milk. Moms can rest assured they have enough milk supply for when their babies need it, even when they aren’t able to breastfeed.

But, sadly, most modern breast pumping solutions out there have been outdated and almost unfit for purpose until very recently. Fitting pumping into their busy daily lives seemed to be a struggle for moms around the world. How is it possible that women in the 21st century have to be plugged into their breast pumps to be able to express? Or that ‘modern’ portable breast pumps still resemble something you might find on a farm?

Breast pump technology has seen very little progress for decades. And the needs of mothers have not been heard. There was a calling for a change, an empowering solution allowing moms to express whenever and wherever they wanted.

That's how Elvie Pump was born, inspired by modern women fed up with existing archaic breast pumps. Launched in September 2018, Elvie Pump fits in a nursing bra and is portable, electric and wireless, meaning new mothers can now get on with daily life whilst expressing for their baby!

Andrew Carr is the Lead Engineer at Elvie who made Elvie Pump possible. Here he walks us through the design process as well as the challenges faced.

How was Elvie Pump born?

We had a core team of 10 people on the project. We develop smart connected products so our team is split across many design disciplines; research, product design, user experience, software and electronic engineering. We bring in specialist consultants at different stages of the project to bring technical expertise and a sprinkling of magic, to challenge us on our design and help add a level of refinement that ensures our products are great.

We’re 100% focused on User Centred Design at Elvie, aiming to solve real problems that people have. This makes user-research critical to the process, helping us develop a deep understanding of the human need. Once we understand the problem, we define the core principles of what a perfect solution would look like.

When it came to the design of Elvie Pump, we needed to forget what a breast pump currently looked like, and set out six core mantras that define what a breast pump should be: Silent, Handsfree, Discreet, Smart, Easy to Use and Not for Cows! These became the unbreakable ‘design rules’.

User research was critical to understand the problems moms were facing when breast pumping. How did moms feel about pumping?

When we started looking at this area, we were getting feedback like ‘necessary evil’, ‘dehumanising’, and a large number of moms reported feeling like a dairy cow. However, in 2019, people have high expectations of what their product experience should be like, so it was clear we needed to improve the pumping experience. How can there be 20+ major phone innovations a year for the past decade when breast pumps have barely changed since the Victorian era? Something needed to change.

A couple of years and several user trials later, Elvie Pump was born. What were the main challenges faced during the process?

We had to overcome countless challenges to stay true to the six mantras.

Normally, moms will be feeding their child or holding their breast pump, meaning they are really focused on the act of expressing milk. A big test early on was to establish if women would like the idea of pumping milk when not focusing on the task. Thankfully early prototyping told us it worked great and women loved the freedom to pump hands-free.

As we got closer to the launch date, we needed to develop a new manufacturing technique to create the unique 5oz bottle shape. We designed new production line equipment to help us stay on schedule. There were a few sleepless nights, but things that are worthwhile are never easy!