It's the mother of all hackathons — a group of MIT researchers are bringing together engineers, designers, health experts and parents with the goal of building a better breast pump. "We really want to bring the breast pump out of the lactation closet," said Alexis Hope, a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab. "If you talk to moms about something that makes the first part of having a baby miserable, they always say the breast pump. They're loud, they have a million parts, they're impossible to clean, heavy. They're completely impractical for the realities of your life."
In May, a small group from the lab came together to brainstorm, and a blog post about their efforts drew so much interest the organizers — who include four moms — decided to expand. They expect up to 80 people to join forces Sept. 20 and 21 and work all weekend "to make the breast pump not suck." Participants will split into five-person teams and then pitch their prototypes to the group at the end. Hope said it's "just a starting point," but ideally some of the innovations will catch the eye of pump manufacturers.
Half of all new moms in the United States now breastfeed for the six months recommended by pediatricians. Many of them use pumps to produce milk for when they return to work or are away from the baby. Studies have shown breast milk and nursing has health benefits for both the infant and the mother.