September 17, 2014
For a device that’s supposed to help new mothers everywhere (and for something that’s been around since the mid-19th century), breast pumps sure haven’t gotten any better at doing their job. While the main goal of a breast pump is to literally pump milk out of a breast, in order to, you know, provide milk at a later time for an infant, current designs for the breast pump fail on many different standards. Now, MIT is hopes to fix it by hosting a breast pump hackathon to build a better a breast pump.
The “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon” will be hosted by the MIT Media Lab this weekend, September 20-21, and will be aimed at creating a breast pumps that tackle the current issues that plague current models of the device. According to Catherine D’Ignazio, a Research Affiliate in the Civic Media group at the MIT Media Lab, and one of the organizers of the event:
“The breast pump is a key technology in extending the nursing relationship and providing babies with breast milk for longer,” writes D’Ignazio in a post for Medium. “But most women will tell you that the experience of using the breast pump SUCKS, literally and figuratively.”
D’Ignazio goes on to write that breast pumping overall is just the worst, and that working with a device and engaging in the activity itself never feels right or comfortable. She lists several reasons for why it’s so terrible, including: 1) education – that women have to educate themselves on the proper use, and know about various equipment and techniques, just to get the right amount of suction and flow; 2) milk let-down is difficult and current devices don’t properly allow for it; 3) current devices have either too many part or too little parts, and often fail to provide the right experience for mothers; 4) breast pump models now are degrading and make women feel “like a cow being milked”; and 5) the act of breast pumping itself is treated as a negative thing in society.
According to the event page on MIT:
“Breast pumping is an experience many women hate, yet it saves the lives of premature babies and permits working women to continue a nursing relationship with their baby. The health benefits of breastfeeding, both to mother and baby, are numerous and include the reductions of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, female cancers, heart disease and osteoporosis. Despite the overwhelming data and worldwide endorsement of breastfeeding for at least two years, many women do not breastfeed or wean after several months. In particular, low-income, working women are rarely able to take extended maternity leave, to afford the cost of a pump, or to pump breastmilk at their workplace. In emerging economies around the world, women who go back to work wean their babies rather than using a breast pump.
The breast pump is the rallying cry for the event because it is a symbol of a technology that could be vastly improved in order to save lives, save money and lead to healthier and happier families. At the same time, our goal is to make space for innovation in family life more broadly and support a wide variety of different kinds of projects at the event”
It is because of this apparent lack of innovation in maternal and neonatal health (and its significance) that MIT is hosting the breast pump hackathon, which is bringing together 150 parents, engineers, designers, public health researchers, and lactation consultants to redesign the breast pump. The organizers of the event are all MIT Media Lab students and researchers who all also happen to be parents. This weekend’s event is actually the second breast pump hackathon, with the first taking place earlier this past May. The top three ideas will win cash prizes from various health tech companies, including Vecna Technologies, Medela, and Naia Health.
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