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12th December 2014

We need to talk about breast pumps

With all my prejudice (and because I never actually attended one) I imagine a hackathon something like this: a bunch of people sitting in a warehouse type of room for a weekend; gulping down litres of coffee; and hitting the keyboards of their laptops without blinking. And mostly they are men.

At a recent hackathon orgaized by MIT it looked a bit different. There were men, but there were also a lot of women, and there were quite a few babies.

Hackathon Family, photo by Mason Marino

Whether they were engineers, parents, midwives, or designers they came together with one goal: to build a better breast pump.

“Make the breast pump not suck”

Somehow breast pumps usually fly under the radar. They’re common, widely used, and I’m pretty sure most moms out there who have ever used a breast pump have something to say about it. Like: they’re hard to use, they’re not comfortable, they’re loud, they have too many parts, or just overall the whole experience is somehow weird.

Organizers of the hackathon at MIT decided to put an end to that and “Make the breast pump not suck”. That’s also the title of the event by the way.

The groups had 24 hours to come up with a better breast pump and face the challenges of the ones currently available. And they had some pretty different ideas.

The winning team came up with the ultimate Mighty Mom utility belt. Their idea is a hands-free wearable belt that is more discrete and gives mothers the freedom for on-the-go pumping while wearing it discreetly under the clothes. To top it off, mums can log and analyse their data, a feature many of the other teams used as well. Another team built a prototype of a manual pump that is placed inside a bra making pumping a more comfortable and hands-free experience. Others focused on the sucking technology itself, making it mimic nature more and be less vacuum-based.

2 in 1, photo by Mason Marino

As Alexandra Metral, one of the organizers put it: “There really is low-hanging fruit here,” The technology is out there: wearables, data logging, battery lives, noise suppression. They just never make it to the breast pumping sector.

As authors to an article on the Times’ Motherlode blog put it “Shouldn’t the Breast Pump Be as Elegant as an iPhone and as Quiet as a Prius by Now?”

They should. And hopefully with more initiatives like this one, they will.

You are free to share this article under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license.

Header Photo credit: Fotolia

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