The big buzz in “baby tech”—the cottage industry of gadgets to aid fertility, pregnancy, and the first six months of infancy—looks like a simple black bra. At CES, the annual tech trade show, people swarmed the Nurture, a pumping bra made by the medical tech company Imalac, which announced the launch of its Kickstarter earlier this month.
The average nursing bra comes with clips or slits to allow pumps to access the area. The Nurture does those bras one better by including a massage mechanism in the cup of the bra, which you control with an app on your phone. When you’re a lactating mom, massaging the breast while pumping or nursing can increase output and prevent painful conditions like mastitis (an inflammation of breast tissue) or engorgement (as gross as it sounds). Imalac claims that the Nurture can cut pumping time by 72 percent and increase output by 32 percent. And it’s just one of a half-dozen products that are now available to pumping parents everywhere.
Tech like this is enjoying its “moment.” For decades, breastfeeding moms had to chain themselves to their babies for years, or otherwise hide themselves in storage closets while strapping loud, hideous machines onto delicate body parts. (I would know—I used to be one of them.) A few years ago, breast pump tech finally got the Silicon Valley treatment. Since then, it’s only gotten better.
Hands Off Pumps
When I began nursing my now four-year-old, I only had access to one pump. My insurance covered the Medela Pump in Style Advanced, an open-system, double pump that plugged into an outlet, pulsed as loudly as a dishwasher, and left me tethered to my kitchen table for several hours a day. In the future, sitting down to pump with bottles attached to your chest may seem as archaic and tortured an exercise as running inside to answer a ringing telephone.
That’s thanks to advances like the Babyation, which is finally available for preorder and will begin shipping to customers within the new few months. Rather than attaching unwieldy bottles to your chest, the Babyation connects the tubes to an attractive storage container that holds bottles, ice packs, and parts. Like everything these days, you control it with an app.
The Babyation joined other pumps on display at CES this year, like the widely-lauded Willow Pump. The original version, a beta of which launched last year, fit neatly into your bra. The newer Willow 2.0 adds spill-proofing and a clear receptacle to assess the volume of milk as its pumped. The app also gives moms real-time tips and notifications as they pump.
Another hands-free pump, the Elvie, recently announced that it had received FDA clearance to begin shipping in the United States. Like the Willow, the Elvie fits into a bra. It has a clear, reusable 5-ounce receptacle, and the company bills it as the world’s first silent breast pump. It’s aimed at moms who want to pump in a meeting or on a conference call without anyone knowing.
The Lilu, a breast massage device, will also launch its Kickstarter soon, with delivery to customers expected sometime in the spring. Slip the Lilu into your bra, where it compresses the breast to mimic the motions of a hand massage. You control it via a wireless, rechargeable controller, and it’s compatible with most breast pumps (although notably not the Elvie or Willow).
In the future, sitting down to pump with bottles attached to your chest may seem as archaic an exercise as running inside to answer a ringing telephone.
There’s also LaVie’s new warming handheld massager, which is now available for pre-order. You no longer have to stand in a hot shower for hours or apply soggy hot compresses to your chest to unclog ducts. LaVie also makes an affordable waterproof version that doubles as a baby teether.
Every day brings another new breastfeeding innovation—from brand-new, custom-sized breast shields to mobile pumping pods. Pumping tech may be on the rise because, like step-counting or heart rate monitoring, it’s an easily quantifiable accomplishment.
For most parenting achievements, we won’t really know if it worked until the child is around 33 years old. But we do know that breastfeeding confers all sorts of health benefits, from keeping microbes out of the infant’s bloodstream to reducing inflammation. Even just an ounce or two counts.
The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends that all infants be breastfed until they’re at least 6 months old. But the most recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s Breastfeeding Report Card stated that in 2015, less than 50 percent of new infants were exclusively breastfed at 3 months, and only 25 percent at 6 months.
Of course, new parents shouldn’t feel any pressure to breastfeed if they don’t want to do it; you get to make your own decisions with your boobs. But those numbers suggest that new parents might stop breastfeeding earlier than they’d like to. “Not all women have separate offices or places to pump,” says Naomi Kelman, the CEO of Willow. With the Willow pump, “moms don’t need to take off their clothes or find a separate place to pump because Willow is discreet and worn under your clothes.”
“Pumping can be overwhelming for mothers,” says Dr. Katie Au, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Oregon Health and Science University. “Therefore, any product or new technology that has the potential to make pumping easier is exciting and welcomed.”
I certainly breastfed for longer than was strictly convenient. It was only my pigheaded determination (and, well, the fact that it was part of my job) that kept me pumping during work conferences and in airports, in the jump seats of pickups, and rinsing pump parts in gas station bathrooms.
In and of itself, breastfeeding my kids doesn’t make me a better mom. But when everything else seemed to be collapsing around me—One baby not sleeping and another with pinworms. How high is that fever? Granola bars are unhealthy now?—those bags of frozen milk lined up neatly in the freezer reassured me that I was doing at least one thing right. And anything that can help new parents accomplish any task at all is probably a good thing.
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