Lactation Innovations is developing a non-invasive medical device to empower mothers to breastfeed. Leveraging infrared and Bluetooth technology, the device will track and share in real-time how many ounces of breast milk a baby is consuming. By providing mothers with knowledge and data, Lactation Innovations seeks to decrease maternal anxiety regarding their infant’s nutritional intake and increase breastfeeding maintenance rates. The maternal and infant health benefits of breastfeeding are well documented. Breastfed infants are at decreased risk of hospitalization, respiratory tract infections, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, childhood obesity, meningitis, allergies, diabetes, and asthma. Benefits for mothers include, but are not limited to, increased bonding with their infant, balancing of postpartum hormones, a quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight, suppression of maternal infertility, decreased risk of breast cancer, and potential protection against ovarian cancer.

Lactation Innovations participated in a Mastermind session hosted by Childhood Prosperity Lab in Fall 2017. The Lab introduced Lactation Innovations to the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center. Both the Lab and the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center have provided ongoing consultation and support to Lactation Innovations.

Helping Mothers Establish and Continue Breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their life, yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card, only 24.9 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed during this time period. A recent survey found that 60 percent of mothers stopped breastfeeding earlier than desired, citing difficulties with lactation, concerns regarding infant weight gain and nutrition, maternal illness and medication consumption, and efforts associated with pumping milk. Another survey found that mothers’ concerns about lactation and nutrition issues were the most frequently cited reasons for stopping breastfeeding. According to that survey, 55.6 percent of mothers who stopped breastfeeding between months one and two, and 49.7 percent of mothers of mothers who stopped breastfeeding before nine months reported that “breast milk alone did not satisfy my baby.” However, research shows a lack of confidence in breastfeeding and a lack of knowledge regarding the physiology of lactation can lead to the perception of insufficient milk supply, when in fact the quantity is enough to nurture the baby. Additional research shows the disconnect between a mother’s expectations about breastfeeding and the reality of her experiences are identified as key reasons for stopping breastfeeding soon after birth.

The device utilizes infrared sensors to calculate an infant’s breast milk consumption during a feeding in real-time. The device rests on the infant’s abdomen while feeding and Bluetooth technology syncs with an application on the mother’s smartphone. The smartphone application will also have the capacity to track feeding frequency and duration, as well as other relevant information about the infant, such as height and weight. Lactation Innovations hopes the data collected in the smartphone application will enhance communication between mothers and healthcare providers regarding the health and development of the child.

Q&A with Brittany Molkenthin of Lactation Innovations

Social innovators working in pediatrics need to have compassion for children and passion for their idea. It is important to have children’s best interests at heart, and to have the ability to work closely with children and their families. I believe that social innovators need to be active in the community and with the population they intend to serve. It is when I work in the field, interacting with breastfeeding mothers and their infants, that I have the best ideas to support the advancement and growth of Lactation Innovations.

As a pediatric registered nurse, I work closely with children and their families daily and am passionate about promoting their health and well-being. I believe that primary care and education both play a vital role in pediatric health. I have always wanted to have a positive impact on children as they grow and develop, specifically in primary care and health education. As the company and device have evolved, and as I share the device with breastfeeding mothers who want to be the first users, my passion grows stronger. I always love hearing, “Where were you when I started breastfeeding my babies?”

Engaging with Childhood Prosperity Lab was a rewarding, positive experience. Presenting to a diverse group of professionals within the healthcare field stimulated an engaging discussion regarding Lactation Innovations’ business plan, market strategy, evaluation, and next steps. It was an enriching, educational experience that I would recommend to other social innovators.

It is important for social innovators to remember “why” they are developing an idea and “who” the innovation is being developed for. To have children’s best interests at heart is truly a motivator in itself. As things get difficult and challenges are faced, remember the end goal: providing a better life for a child and their family. It truly is rewarding to know you are enhancing the life of someone as young as a few days old and that the impact of your idea will benefit them into childhood.