Monday, September 15, 2014

MIT Breast Pump Hackathon

I'm super excited about MIT's upcoming "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck" Hackathon. It's a collaboration of 150 experts--from parents to engineers--working to improve/hack/reinvent the breast pump.

If you have suggestions for improving breast pumps, MIT is actively soliciting input. Please participate!

Here's what I submitted:

Mom of 4 breastfed babies...I never pumped for them, but I did pump and donate to other moms.

I'm sure you've already received lots of comments about the noise, about how the pump flanges have to be held just so to get the suction right, making replacement parts cheap and easily available, making pumps simple and easy to clean (the Ameda Purely Yours has been the simplest design out there from the pumps I've tried) about how it's awkward having these flanges and collection bottles sticking out...

The the biggest thing I'd like to see is something that actually replicates the *feel and motion* of a baby's mouth. Breast pumps work by suction to pull the milk out of the breast. But a nursing baby has entirely different mechanics. The baby's mouth creates suction, but what actually expresses the milk out of the breast is the rolling motion of the baby's tongue on the underside of the breast (relative to the baby's mouth)--NOT suction. That is the biggest flaw in all breast pumps. They don't replicate a baby's mouth, and hands-down a baby is more effective than a machine in triggering let-down and in expressing milk.

A breastpump needs not only adjustable suction levels, but also adjustable pump cycles. When a baby nurses, it starts with fast, short sucks until the milk starts to let down. Then the baby moves to long, deep, slower sucks. This cycle repeats several times while the baby nurses.

I've used several pumps, including a Medela double electric, an Ameda Purely Yours, a Hygeia EnJoye, and more. Some had adjustable cycle speeds, but even those often wouldn't go fast enough for my preferences. I found that I need at least 78 cycles/minute for optimal letdown, maybe even faster for triggering letdown. Many pumps max out at 36-60 cycles/minute, which is way too slow for me.

Another essential design element: a sealed system. The Ameda and Hygeia have sealed systems, which means that bacteria/mold/viruses can't enter the motor housing via the pump tubes and then reinfect the milk. Ameda's design used a simple silicone diaphragm. The Medela does not have a sealed system.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot to copy & paste it, but what I would really love is a pump that would work while I was lying down or in another position trying to get a baby to nurse from the other side -- the two (good, expensive, double electric) pumps I've used really only effectively worked while I was sitting kind of hunched over. The manual would let me nurse the baby on the other side, but it was awful trying to get any kind of output (too much work! too slow!)


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