Top 10 Willow Breast Pump Hacks – Tips & Tricks You Need!

Have you fallen in love with your Willow breast pump and now want to know all the hacks?  Are you wondering what Willow pump tips and tricks other moms use?  You’ve come to the right place!  After we posted our review of the Willow 3.0 breast pump, we had all kinds of questions come our way.  We sought out answers from our Willow loving mamas and collated the top 10 Willow breast pump hacks!

Related article: 10 Reasons You Need to Buy the Willow Breast Pump!

1. Why does the Willow breast pump hurt my nipples?

Are you using the correct size flange?  Make sure you are using the correct size flange.  We’ll say it again, MAKE SURE YOU ARE USING THE CORRECT SIZE FLANGE.  This means to measure your nipples.  Print the below graphic, measure with a measuring tape or ruler, or use an app.  Measure however you prefer, but measure you must to ensure you are using the correct flange size. This step is so important that we put at the top of Willow breast pump hacks!

Willow offers different flange sizes on its website: 15mm, 17mm, 19mm, 21mm, 24mm (the standard size), and 27mm.  The pump comes with a 24mm flange; other sizes cost additional money.  If you have pumped with other pumps, then your Willow sizing is likely the same.  However, your nipple size can change over time due to pumping, nursing, pregnancy, weight gain/loss, etc.  It’s essential that you re-measure your nipples to make sure you are using the correct size for the size you are now.  Also, make sure to measure before pumping since your nipples will swell post-pump.

If none of Willow’s flanges work for you, you can try using flange inserts.  Flange inserts make the flange size smaller by sitting inside your existing flanges.  Maymom inserts, available on Amazon, are the most common inserts used among our pumping moms.  They are softer than other inserts and come in multiple sizes.  

For example, if you’ve measured your nipples and you are a size 15mm, you can purchase 15mm inserts to place inside the standard 24mm flange that came with your Willow.  Willow has added smaller flange sizes recently, but some moms prefer to use the smaller and softer flange inserts.  Inserts are also cheaper to buy than the official Willow flanges.  Maymom inserts can also be used with other pump flanges such as Spectra or Medela.

If you have measured your nipples and know that you are using the correct flange size, but are still experiencing pain try using a little coconut oil.  Put a bit (just a little bit!) of oil on your nipple and on the flange itself.  Do not use multiple coats of oil.  Doing so will make your nipple slip too far into the flange.  Remember you are going for grip–not slip–when it comes to using oil.  Providing a little lubrication can make the suction easier on your nipples.

Related article: FAST Clogged Milk Duct Treatment – Warm Compress & Massage

If you have measured your nipples and you have tried using oil but it’s still not comfortable, you can try BeauGen cushions.  BeauGen cushions are especially good for moms with elastic nipples.  BeauGen cushions fit inside the flange of any pump–not just Willow–and provide exactly what it sounds like: a cushion for your nipples.  BeauGen cushions will not drastically reduce the size of your flange and are geared toward 21mm flange sizes and larger.  

The way they work is to enhance the comfort of pumping by reducing the friction between your nipple and the hard plastic of the flange.  They add a layer of softer plastic between the flange itself and your nipple.  Note that you can’t use BeauGen cushions with flange inserts.  The BeauGen cushions are mainly trying to soften the pumping experience, while the inserts are trying to make the flange smaller.  Both are aiming to make pumping more comfortable. 

2. How do I align the Willow breast pump correctly?

Aligning the Willow pump correctly is absolutely essential to pumping the most milk possible.  This is hard, though, because you can’t actually see the pump on your nipple like you can with most other pumps.

View of Willow breast pump from top

We have a few Willow breast pump hacks on how to align the hubs properly.  We suggest trying this with just the flange at first, but then trying with the whole pump assembled.  If you are a busy working mom on the go, you will likely be putting the Willow on completely assembled when you pump and won’t have time to align the flange and then assemble the pump.

First off, try standing in front of a mirror to determine which way your nipples point.  Not all nipples point in the same direction.  See which way your nipples are pointing and practice placing the Willow on the center of your nipple.  Your pumps may be positioned in different angles depending on your specific body.  That’s totally fine.

Related article: 12 Methods to Treat a Clogged Milk Duct Fast!

Another Willow breast pump hack is to lean forward and have your breasts dangle in front of you.  From there, bring the Willow to your nipple in order to get a good view of where your nipple is going in the flange.  After you have lined everything up, stand up while holding the Willow to your breast and then tuck it into your bra.

3. What kind of bra should I use with the Willow breast pump?

Speaking of bras, make sure you are using a tight enough bra.  This will ensure there is no space in between your breast and the pump.  If you are getting lots of air in your Willow pump bags, then your bra may not be tight enough.  Additionally if you are experiencing clogged milk ducts, your bra may not fit correctly.

Related article: Husband Unclog Milk Duct? Yes, It’s Possible.

Like choosing a name for your baby or whether or not to sleep train, there are a million opinions on which bra is the best.  This is obviously due to our different shapes and sizes.  Some of us are members of the itty bitty titty committee, while others wear the big breast crest on our chests.  When we asked our working moms for their top Willow breast pump hacks, these bras were mentioned the most frequently:

4. Can I reuse Willow pump bags?

Officially, no.  Technically, yes.  We have the ultimate Willow pump bag hack for you.  As you are painfully aware, Willow will only work with its proprietary bags.  They work fine, but they’re expensive.  #4 on our Willow breast pump hacks list will allow you to reuse your Willow pump bags as many times as you would like.  We’re all about saving money where we can here!

In order to reuse a Willow pump bag perform the following steps:

  1. Using a toothpick, coffee stirrer (ones from Starbucks work great for this), or a paper clip, carefully open the valve on the top of the bag. 
  2. Leave the toothpick in the valve and slowly turn the bag over and pour pumped milk into a bottle.
  3. Carefully squeeze all the milk out.
  4. Turn the bag upright and carefully remove the toothpick, making sure the valve shuts.
  5. Put the bag back into your Willow.

If you would like to see this in action, check out this quick video for the ultimate Willow pump bag hack:

Related article: Can You Refreeze Breast Milk? It Depends. Find Out How.

5.  How can I use the Willow breast pump if I have an oversupply of breast milk?

#5 on our list of Willow breast pump hacks is for all of you mamas with an oversupply of breast milk.  It involves pumping with your bags outside of the Willow breast pump.  Instead of positioning the bags into the flange just so, attach the bag like normal but pull the bag over the front of the Willow pump.  Then close the bag door and start pumping.

Many of our moms are able to get 7 ounces in one bag when pumping like this.  You may have to break suction and start again if the pump automatically stops pumping (which it’s programmed to do at 4.4 ounces).  But, that’s an easier thing to do then stopping and attaching a brand new bag.  Just be careful when you flip to finish!

Related article: 10 Most Common Reasons (& Remedies) for Breastfeeding Pain

6. What kind of case should I carry my Willow breast pump in?

You need to protect your investment!  Willow pumps don’t come with their own case.  Since most of us are throwing our pumps in a bag along with bottles, a cooler, pump parts, etc., we need something to protect our expensive pump hubs.

Related article: Pumping Supplies – All the Essentials You Need

7. How do I get the milk out of the bottom of the Willow containers?

If you use the reusable containers from Willow, you know how hard it is to get all of the milk out.  While they are much more economical than using the bags, leaving that little bit of milk at the bottom of the containers hurts!  You work hard for that milk and every single drop matters.  Thankfully, #7 of our Willow breast pump hacks will allow you to get every single drop out. And you probably already have this little tool in your medicine cabinet.

You know the syringes that come with any infant medication?  Simply use one to suck all of the milk out of the bottom of the container and squirt it into your bottle of freshly pumped milk.  Voila!  No breast milk left behind.

8. What if the Willow breast pump stops expressing even if I still have milk in my breasts?

This is a frustrating feature of the Willow.  It will automatically stop expressing milk if it reaches 4.4 ounces–or if it thinks you have pumped 4.4 oz.  Your options are to empty the container/change the bag and continue to pump, or utilize #8 on our list of Willow breast pump hacks.  Allow the suction to express milk naturally.  The Willow breast pump forms an air-tight seal on your nipple.  It’s the way the pump works.  This air-tight seal is similar to how the extremely popular Hakaa works.  It also forms an air-tight seal and naturally pulls milk from your breast.

If the Willow shuts off and you still have room in your container or bag, leave the hub in place and allow physics to finish expressing milk.  Many of our moms report getting another ounce or two by using this method.

Related article: How Often To Replace Pump Parts – Everything You Need to Know

9. Why is my Willow breast pump gulping continuously?

If you are experiencing continual gulping, you may need to thoroughly clean the Willow breast pump.  Milk fat can build up around the valve of the pump which will interfere with the hub’s sensors.  Beyond just cleaning with soap and water, you can try boiling the containers and FlexTubes in water (add ½ cup of vinegar if you’re really serious) for a few minutes.  If this doesn’t work, try doing a vinegar rinse.

Here are step by step instructions to perform a vinegar rinse for the Willow breast pump:

  1. Mix one part vinegar to two parts warm water (ex. ½ cup vinegar to 1 cup water).
  2. Assemble your containers and attach the FlexTubes.  Turn the dial to #2 (finish position).
  3. Fill each container with the vinegar rinse.
  4. Close the cap.
  5. With the cap facing downward, vigorously shake the container for 2 minutes.  Optional: allow the container to soak for 10 minutes.
  6. Drain the container and disassemble parts.
  7. Rinse all parts under running water.
  8. Rinse the back of the valve under water for an additional minute.
  9. Allow to air dry before use.

One other Willow breast pump hack is to use a Q-tip to gently clean under the valve.  You can probably see the milk fat located right under the valve.  Gently (and we mean, gently) insert the Q-tip into the container and remove the milk fat from under the valve.

If the vinegar rinse isn’t working for you and the Q-tip is too daunting, some of our moms recommend using Medela breast milk removal soap.  Clean the containers and FlexTubes like normal, but use this soap.  It’s formulated to remove breast milk and it works wonders.

Related article: BeauGen Cushions: What Exactly Are They? Do I Need Them?

10. Before giving up on Willow completely, call Willow!

So the last of our Willow breast pump hacks isn’t a hack per se, but Willow offers coaching calls for free.  Take advantage of this service.  Willow breast pumps are expensive.  Don’t throw in the towel without talking to the experts first.  They have spoken with loads of moms and can likely guide you through whatever problem you are encountering.  Willow’s contact information is available here. You may find out even more Willow tips and tricks by speaking with one of the Willow coaches.

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Shannon Tisdale
Shannon founded Work Breastfeed Mom in 2019 during her second round of pumping at work. She was tired of googling the same pumping questions over and over again, and discouraged at the lack of websites aimed at working breastfeeding moms. So, she created one herself. Shannon lives, works, and doles out Puffs to her little people in sunny Florida. She has her MBA and works as a strategic planner for a large healthcare system. She is passionate about coffee, memoirs, paddle boarding, and skincare routines. Shannon is mom to Scarlett and Ivy, and hopes to have more babies if her career allows.