On Sept 20th-21st, 2014, 150 parents, engineers, designers and healthcare providers will gather at the MIT Media Lab for the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon. Other than finding a perfect, less toxic daycare, breast pumps may well be one of the bigger problem issues facing working women today. Current breast pumps on the market don’t often function well enough for mothers who pump their breast milk. Even some of the better breast milk pumps available are too large, hard to transport, loud, and tough to use in a smaller space, such as an employee break-room, or heaven forbid the bathroom. MIT notes that other current breast pump problems include the following: “The motor is loud. There are too many parts. They are hard to clean. You can’t lay down and pump. There is no good space to pump. It’s hard to keep track of what you pump. Your colleagues think pumping is weird. People are skeeved out by breast milk. People are embarrassed by breasts.” Considering that only 43% of U.S. babies are actually being breastfed at six months of age, in spite of the benefits of breast milk, MIT is correct in thinking that the common breast pump needs a major overhaul.
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Back in May, five MIT researchers hosted a mini breast pump hackathon, tossing around ideas about improving the breast pump, but they realized a much larger hackathon was needed in order to develop ideas further, hence the upcoming event. MIT wrote, in their virial breast pump post, “The goals for the hackathon were to educate ourselves and our colleagues about the mechanics of breast pumping, discuss design challenges posed by current technologies and societal norms, and generate ideas for how we could change our machines and our society to make breastfeeding and breast pumping a normal, painless, and not-degrading experience for moms. Our larger goal is to help fuel a culture of innovation in the space of maternal and neonatal health, a space that typically lags behind other fields in technological innovation.” At the smaller May hackathon, the researchers came up with some ideas, such as:
- Smarter interfaces and guided experiences for breast pumps.
- Pumps that can interface with your phone.
- Pumps that are able to transmit data about the milk collected, saving moms time from having to jot down every ounce pumped.
- A “Tupperware party”-style system where breast pumps can be tested before they’re purchased.
- Universal battery packs so any pump is ultra portable.
Hopefully the upcoming hackathon will result in even more breast pump innovations, because the better the pump, the more likely a mom is to pump and breastfeed longer. Just because women need to go back to work, doesn’t mean their babies don’t deserve the healthiest start possible. Got ideas of your own about how to improve breast pumps and pumping culture? Send them to MIT here.