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Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford alumni aim to redesign the breast pump

Three Stanford graduates have an idea that could dramatically impact the daily life of active breastfeeding women: They plan to design and build a breast pump that is discreet, intuitive, and supportive of mothers. This may sound obvious, but nothing like it currently exists. In August of this year, Cara Delzer, MBA; Gabrielle Guthrie, MFA; and Santhi Analytis, PhD, founded Moxxly, "a consumer products company designing for women." They’re in the final stretch of their 16-week incubation with Highway 1, which helps hardware startups move from a concept to a prototype ready for production.

"We've talked to women, hundreds of women, who have told us things like 'pumping makes me feel like a cow,'" shares Delzer, Moxxly's CEO, who I interviewed in late November. So she and her colleagues are aiming to re-imagine the pumping experience.

Delzer experienced the current, poorly-imagined pumps firsthand after the recent birth of her child: "I just remember watching my husband take piece after piece out of the pump box for the first time thinking, how in the world am I going to put this together? All those pieces, and clean them? I was already overwhelmed as a new mom, but completely overwhelmed by the pump." Once she went back to work, she found that she was spending 25 percent of her day dealing with the logistics of pumping - mentally integrating it into her schedule, worrying about having all the parts. The experience is similar for many of today's busy, mobile moms.

Meanwhile, Guthrie was at Stanford developing her passion for designing for women, Delzer recounts. "A lot of things that have been designed for women and girls in the past have followed this 'shrink it and pink it' trope where you literally make it smaller and bright pink and think, ‘Oh, now the girls will buy it.’ Well, Gabrielle doesn't buy it." For her masters' thesis, Guthrie interviewed working moms, and the breast pump kept coming up as something that needed to be redesigned. She spent much of her last year at Stanford working on just that. At a hackathon, she and Analytis worked together to put the new designs into practice, and Analytis, whose PhD is in mechanical engineering, was hooked on solving this problem as well.

The three women "got together, looked one another in the eyes and said, ‘Do we believe this is a problem? Do we believe we can solve it? Do we believe the time is now?’ And it was yes, yes, yes,” said Delzer. They took on the challenge despite the fact that the breast pump is an FDA-regulated medical device and they will face a lengthy review process. They invented the name "Moxxly" with the intent of conveying spunkiness and strength, and incorporated XX to signify women.

I asked Delzer about the three biggest problems with the current pump, and she told me:

The lack of discretion: You literally have to disrobe at least 50 percent in order to put it on. The unintuitive design: The whole system is complicated, so many little pieces… And third, we think there is a lot of room for being more supportive of breastfeeding moms. We're never going to lecture somebody about what she should or shouldn't do, or how many times is enough... We'll give you a virtual high five at the end of the session.

Moxxly's pump will also integrate mobile software to answer questions that often run through a mom's head: 'How much did I pump today? Do I have enough for tomorrow? What's going on over time?' While "some moms are just actively noticing what's going on day to day, and they're not stressed out one way or the other… unfortunately a lot of other moms are really worried about the numbers." It's a challenge to provide data that will not fuel this anxiety: "words like 'target' and 'goal' and 'decrease' are really negative words, really charged." The women aim to contribute to a “movement of encouraging women to pump confidently, pump as they are, pump with their clothes on" whether on a park bench or an airplane, in a lactation room or in front of their steering wheel.

Moxxly is currently fundraising and hopes to launch the product later in 2015. They're improving their prototypes by gathering feedback from lactating moms and say they're always looking for women who are interested in being interviewed.

Previously: A Q&A with breastfeeding expert Susan Crowe, A call to protect and encourage breastfeeding, Victory for nursing moms: IRS now says breastfeeding is a medical expense and Really, IRS? Agency doesn’t recognize breastfeeding as form of preventive medicine
Photo, of the Moxxly team (from left to right: Analytis, Delzer, and Guthrie) working in the Highway 1 office space, by Andrea Ford

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