At present, an estimated 13 million mothers worldwide use a breast pump to produce milk for their children. “More often than not, it’s a negative experience,” says Adriana C. Vazquez Ortiz ’11, co-founder of LiLu.
She says that two-thirds of mothers in a Journal of Human Lactation study complain that pumping is uncomfortable, time-consuming, and does not always help them produce adequate milk supply. While research has shown that breast hand compression while pumping can improve milk quantity and quality, that can be a tall order for moms trying to pump while multi-tasking at work.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to find equally talented, motivated, and passionate people to improve a product that’s so important to motherhood,” says Vazquez Ortiz, who majored in mathematics with computer science at MIT.
Vazquez Ortiz and her co-founder, Sujay Suresh, think they have the solution. The pair — drawing upon existing research on hand compression, their own surveys of pumping moms, countless beta-testers, and consultations with lactation experts — have designed an automated compression bra that is truly hands-free. Called the LiLu, the bra hooks onto an existing pumping bra, can be charged for two days, and uses air instead of hands to massage a mother’s breasts while she pumps. It is compatible with most standard pumps on the market today. “We set out to see if we can be as good as hands or better,” said Vazquez Ortiz. “That’s our goal.”
It’s already showing results. Pumping moms report between 30 and 50 percent increases in milk supply both during a session and over time. Some moms praise the product’s ability to make pumping more comfortable. One mom struggling with “mommy thumbs” — a common and painful condition from repetitive hand compression — was pleased that she could finally give her hands a break
“It’s really rewarding that we are making a difference … we can’t move fast enough,” says Vazquez Ortiz, noting that despite limited marketing, she receives frequent emails from moms eager to try out the LiLu.
Along the way, Vazquez Ortiz has turned to her friends at MIT as an informal focus and support network. She recently attended the MIT Media Lab’s Make the Breast Pump Not Suck hackathon and meets with other female founders regularly. “My best friends are all from my college years. They are the [company’s] first supporters and mentors.”
What’s next for LiLu? The company continues to improve upon the compression bra but thinks that this is just the beginning. “We’re making the whole transition to motherhood a little easier through technology,” Vazquez Ortiz says.
This article originally appeared on the Slice of MIT blog.