Mothers who have just given birth and are breastfeeding know how hard it is to be available 24/7 to meet the demands of their babies. Many make use of breast pumps to draw out and store milk so someone else can bottle feed the baby, giving moms time to resume their careers or even just get some off time.
Breast pumps become even more essential when babies are born prematurely and may lack the strength to suckle properly. In those situations, pumped and bottled milk become a matter of health.
However, pumping milk is not that much fun: the machines can be loud, feel uncomfortable at the touch and often fail to extract all the available milk, because, well, it is a machine, and not a baby.
Enter Masha Waldberg, her husband Senia Waldberg and engineer Ron Edelman. The three Israeli partners make up Anabella — a company developing a new breast pump which aims to solve these problems by artificially replicating the suckling motion of a human baby.
Masha Waldberg, a test-prep teacher from Tel Aviv, tells the story behind the birth of the Anabella — named after her and Senia’s first daughter – on the company’s Indiegogo page.
“The machine was loud and useless. Ania, (short for Anabella) has just finished eating and almost no milk came out. I knew I had more milk left inside, because when I tried to do it with my fingers it came out,” wrote Masha Waldberg, who says she had purchased one of the most expensive, top rated breast pumps on the market.
Waldberg spent hours on forums for mothers — both Israeli and international — looking for an alternative. She also complained to her husband, an internet marketer. Seeing an opportunity, he commissioned Edelman to develop a prototype, and made him an equal partner in the project, with an initial investment of around $10,000.
Edelman’s prototype is innovative for one simple reason: it seeks to imitate the grip, strength and feel of the actual act of suckling — down to the simulation of the baby’s tongue motion. It seeks to make the breast pump experience feel more natural while also extracting more milk than breast pumps currently on the market. The crowdfunding campaign has currently raised more than $30,000.
Men often don’t see the need for the product, but women understand immediately, said Waldberg in a phone interview.
Understanding the pain
“Women understand the pain. Men don’t understand the pain unless their wife tells them,” he said.
As Edelman worked to develop a prototype, Masha Waldberg conducted tests personally.
“Everything goes through her, she’s a perfectionist,” said Senia Waldberg.
There have been previous attempts to develop improved breast pumps, including one along the same lines as the Anabella, but none has reached a successful prototype, according to Senia Waldberg. The team wants to have functioning test models ready within five to six months, to allow for important safety tests and market demonstrations, as well as approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.
Ariella Dubrowin, who owns and runs Hanaka Tova, a Jerusalem store and website offering a range of maternity products, including a variety of breast pumps agreed that current breast pumps have design issues.
“The classic incorrect breast-feeding latch is when a baby only puts the nipple in its mouth,” explained Dubrowin. “The correct latch for a pump is exactly that.”
The project has attracted significant amounts of feedback online, in response to the Indiegogo page and two videos posted to YouTube. Senia Waldberg says the Anabella team has received “thousands” of comments and emails — almost exclusively from women.
Some wrote to thank the project for working to develop a product they sorely needed, others expressing concern, including worries it might contain latex, which Waldberg says will not be the case.
Dubrowin, whose store carries a line of flanges designed specifically to make up for the limits of breast pumps currently on the market, said milk supply issues cannot be solved by design alone.
“My experience is that it is very challenging for women to maintain their milk supply when they are not with their baby,” said Dubrowin, who is not a lactation consultant, but has by her own account advised “hundreds, if not thousands” of women on lactation products.
“The body is not going to react to anything the way it reacts to a baby.”
While the Anabella team is currently working with an eye to the US and Israeli markets, their long-term goals are more ambitious.
“We’ve had 10 people from Singapore asking to be the sole retailer in Singapore and Malaysia,” said Senia Waldberg.
“We are going to try to distribute around the world,” he said.