Are We Ready for a Better Breast Pump?

This weekend I took part in hacking the breast pump. Yes, as odd as that sounds, more than 150 breast pump users, engineers, designers, health care and lactation specialists, and industry players, including myself, met for two days hacking and collaborating on a much needed makeover for the breast pump. Our goal: to make it more efficient, affordable and comfortable for all moms on the go.

With the first mechanical breast pump patented in the 1920s, today's pump doesn't seem much different from that of the past. It not only lacks the sophistication and convenience of the 21st century, but also considered a despised trapping of modern motherhood. It's loud, uncomfortable, expensive and very inconvenient with no or little options. I agree with the headline on New York Times' Motherlode blog: shouldn't the breast pump be as elegant as an iPhone and as quiet as a Prius by now? The Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon essentially aimed to reinvent this ever-relevant blast from the past providing a space in which a community of passionate individuals could brainstorm to reinvent the outdated breast pump.

For the most part it was encouraging to see the presence of major breast pump manufacturers such as Medela and Ameda, and the community's desire to listen and create change; however in light of the positive energies, there are challenges in making this idea a reality.

The Affordable Care Act kicked in January 1, 2013 and changed the game for nursing moms. This act made it mandatory for health insurance companies to cover the cost of breast pumps. Although it was considered a huge victory for breastfeeding in the United States, these new laws did not necessarily give moms a choice in quality breast pumps. If insurance companies are already providing the bare minimum, it's doubtful they would then offer this new and improved option. So, women who could not afford the cost of a quality pump may still be faced with paying out of pocket for the best option.

Additionally, FDA regulations make a new breast pump prototype a lot more cost prohibitive due to required regulations that could be potentially stifling to new, start-up level companies who are looking to create a better option.

Now let's imagine that we are able to get past these challenges and actually create a better product. The top prototypes featured in the hackathon were designed in theory to give women the option of breast-feeding anywhere and everywhere without it being seen. With all the positives offered from the MIT's Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon, the common theme of prototypes was discreet, wearable technology.

The designs were convenient and efficient, but are we ready for the technology? Is society willing to accept the change?

The idea of the advantages of wearing a discrete wearable breast pump may not always outweigh the circumstances of reality. It's become somewhat of a social taboo. Yes, a mom is not necessarily faced with the same problems as breastfeeding in public; however, there are psychological factors that come into play. I'm surrounded by breastfeeding and pumping advocates and I commonly hear: "if no one can see it or hear it, just do it." However, in reality, the thought of pumping in public without anyone knowing may be uncomfortable for any mom, especially a new one.

As a former telecommunication sales representative, I imagined myself in this male-dominated workplace wearing a discrete breast pumping bra, similar to the Mighty Mom Utility Belt, the winning prototype from the Hackathon. The Mighty Mom Utility Belt straps at the waist and lets moms pump anywhere with the convenience of bottles and pumps hidden under their blazer. Although it cannot be seen or heard, the thought of wearing this device and breast pumping alongside my co-workers made me uneasy, uncomfortable and paranoid that my breasts might be noticeably moving. It might change everything for new moms, but are all moms ready for this new technology?

As I've been reflecting from this past weekend's Hackathon, this event is a step in the right direction. The power of taking an intimate problem and exposing it nationally will only bring awareness and more possibility for change. Someday we'll make the breast pump not suck.