Thank you, MIT

medela bottle

MIT is hosting a breastpump hackaton.

What a wonderful thing, to end my pumping career on this note. I am now down to two pumps a day, from a previous four/five. I thought it might take me a month to gradually wean, but no. Immediately after I cut my pumping sessions to three a day, the game was up, and my boobs totally figured out what I was trying to do. The end is nigh!

But back to the hackathon.

As this article points out: “If men could breastfeed, surely the breast pump would be as elegant as an iPhone and quiet as a Prius by now.”

Uh huh. My husband essentially made the same comment, after a few days of observing my pumping activities: breastpumps are clearly outdated, unevolved pieces of machinery. Let’s count the ways, shall we?

1) Heavy, and non-portable. I have used both Medela’s Pump-in-Style and Freestyle. The Pump-in-Style is as heavy as… I don’t know… a baby’s head? Although this becomes quite irrelevant because it only operates when it’s plugged into an electrical socket. So you’re pretty much tied to a wall while pumping anyway. The Freestyle is my favouritest pump everrrr and even then, it still weighs like half a baby’s head. This means that even though it is battery operated and you can clip it on the waistband of your shorts and literally pump as you go, your shorts better be extremely secure, let’s just say. I clearly remember that I only had one pair of shorts which passed muster. I guess I could have used a belt and clipped the pump on that, but that’s clearly five hundred steps too many when there’s a screaming baby in the background.

Portability is crucial, especially for the exclusive pumper who very often does the ol’ pump and feed (i.e. feed baby while pumping). If you’re feeding while pumping, you need to be able to move yourself and your baby around without getting everybody splashed with milk and entangled in the tubes. But I mean, who wants to be shackled to a wall for any length of time anyway? No mama’s got time for that! Every pump should be portable. No question. It should be small enough and light enough to stick into a pocket.

2) Not truly hands-free. Not much use being portable if you still have to steady the suction funnels with your hands. There are the infamous hands-free bras of course, which are brilliant, but once the bottles start to get heavy or if I move a little too much, I still have to hold things in place. It means that I can’t really cook dinner while pumping. I can’t hang the laundry. I can’t lean back too much. Holding one’s baby while pumping is completely out of the question of course. (But can you imagine how awesome that would be?) I can walk around like I have invisible books balanced on the top of my head, though.

I suspect this has a lot to do with the fit of the funnels – they are hard plastic, and they need to form a good seal with your boobs, which is kind of tricky considering all our boobs are shaped so differently, and any significant movement kind of throws things off.

3) Noisy. This is for the poor women who have to pump in offices / church / their cars / other public spaces. The last thing you need on your conference call is the rhythmic woooshawooosh of your breastpump in the background. It’s distracting, it’s awkward, and it just makes the whole process feel… industrial. I think more women would let down easier to the pump if there weren’t that hideous noise directly working against our calm, nurturing, hungry baby visualisations.

4) Featureless. I don’t need my breastpump to have an inbuilt camera. No. Definitely not. But they should all have automatic timers which tell you how long you’ve pumped for (thank you, Freestyle). They should all be programmable to shut off after a certain time, just in case we fall asleep while pumping. Maybe even have a vibration alert to wake us up at the end of the session. Basic, helpful things. Although I wouldn’t mind if it could make me coffee.

5) Leaking bottles. This makes me so mad. It took me a few terrible accidents to realise that the Medela pumps have gigantic holes at the tops of the bottles (probably something to do with the suction mechanics), which means that if you accidentally knock over your bottle after pumping, milk and tears are going to spill. It means that if you lean over a little too far while moving your baby, milk is going to gush down your leg. Do a one-way air valve or something. I don’t know. Something.

6) Suction action doesn’t resemble the real thing. Of course. How could it? Or maybe… it could. I don’t know. But what I do know is that my baby doesn’t work out the milk by pulling my nipple straight out like that. It’s a much more complex movement, and vastly more efficient. If suction could be improved, I’m sure many more women would be more successful with pumping from the get-go, and they wouldn’t give up as quickly as they do.

7) The plastic things stick out and are ugly. Behold, I speak plainly. There is no way to be dignified and pump at the same time. Not when your nipples are being pulled through a see-through plastic funnel, and everything extends exactly two inches too far out from your body. We don’t need to hide the pump completely (again, how awesome would that be?) but the current look is… not a good look. I think I told my friends that I look like a half naked cyborg, walking around with my pump. The un-sexy kind.

Clearly, we just need Apple/Samsung/Google to get on this. Or, MIT. (Thank you.)

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One comment

  1. Ha – nodding my head on every point above. A timer would be awesome – instead I sit holding the funnels, watching the timer on my iPhone and sitting uncomfortably straight.

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