“Does the breast pump have to suck?” ask innovators from the MIT Media Lab.
In this day and age of technology, it’s rather incredible that the modern-day breast pump remains largely unchanged from when it was first invented. The heavy machine, which either requires an outlet or a large battery pack, is antiquated. Somehow, society has managed to make dishwashers and cars quieter than the loud, incessant breast pump motor.
And, as any woman who has ever pumped will tell you, it’s not merely the act of expressing milk that is incredibly annoying. Once the physical experience of having your nipples pulled, stretched, and sucked is complete, the onerous task of cleaning several small breast pump parts awaits.
In 2014 a group of medical professionals, mothers, fathers, engineers, designers, artists, students, and even babies, gathered together at the MIT media lab to take on some of these egregious annoyances. Approximately 150 people met for the first-ever “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon.” The cleverly-named event makes a play on words, as obviously, breast pumps literally suck.
The idea was simple: Bring together several stakeholders with varying skills and perspectives to generate ideas and solutions around the breast pump. The well-attended event even attracted breast pump companies, some of whom sponsored prizes or sent representatives.
Working in teams such as “Team Milk Pod” and “Team Second Nature,” participants worked together to not only reinvent the breast pump but also to come up with innovative ideas that would enhance the pumping experience. Do breast pumps actually work best by sucking? Or are there ways to massage or compress the breast for better results? Can pumps be made quieter? Smaller? More portable? These questions were just a few of the many that were addressed.
The ideas that arose during the hackathon extended far beyond the breast pump, after all, breastfeeding is complicated by broader societal issues. Attendees broached critical subjects such as the lack of paid maternity leave and maternal health.
The dynamic energetic event was so successful that it is being hosted again this upcoming weekend. The hackathon, retaking place at the MIT Media Lab, will focus on equity and inclusive innovation in breastfeeding. In addition to plenty of time for “hacking,” the weekend-long event includes various workshops and keynote speakers, as well as a showing of Zero Weeks, a film about the sad state of family leave in the United States.
This year’s theme, The Future of Breastfeeding, will include a focus on the innovation systems, services and care, in addition to the breast pump. With a focus on equity and a ton of excellent sponsors, this hackathon is sure to generate great ideas, conversation, and future change for breastfeeding moms.
Photo credit: Make The Breast Pump Not Suck