It’s Time for a New Generation of Thinkers in Reproductive Care

Imagine a process that single-handedly could prevent 823,000 infant deaths, lead to 20,000 fewer cases of breast cancer each year, and save $17.2 billion in annual costs treating preventable mother and baby health risks. Now imagine that this process already exists. It’s called breastfeeding.

Many women find it difficult to continue breastfeeding due to circumstances out of their control, whether returning to work, addressing physiological changes, or caring for a child in the NICU. Enter a piece of technology that can make the lifesaving process of breastfeeding more attainable for many: the breast pump.

Like many products and systems related to women’s health, however, the breast pump, patented in 1854, is not designed for its core users—women. Invented by Orwell H. Needham (surprise! a non-user) and modeled after electric dairy milking machines, the breast pump was created to vacuum the greatest volume of milk from a woman’s body. Fast-forward 164 years and the pump shows little evolution; today’s models are still not designed to be gentle, discrete, comfortable, pleasant, or accessible at different price points. Breast pumps have remained tools for basic extraction, not to help mothers care for their children.

Breastfeeding is just one touchpoint of a cycle often fraught with emotion, uncertainty, and factors beyond a person’s control. The reproductive journey can be a surprising, alienating, and at times traumatic experience, one that’s difficult to balance with unrelenting personal and professional responsibilities and schedules. As one mother describes it, the road from conception through childbirth is supposed to feel “natural” and “joyous,” but in reality presents “constant change, surprise, pain management, excitement, tiredness. I felt an array of ways from the beginning through my child’s birth.”

The brands and organizations committed to supporting reproductive care know the complexity of this journey well. They also have the power to champion a paradigm shift: instead of assuming reproductive care is “easy” and “natural,” they can hold the industry to a higher and more empathetic ideal. Brands and their technology partners can change the status quo in the reproductive industry, moving away from unemotional tools that optimize activities like “basic extraction” in order to create experiences that make women and families feel heard, comfortable, and supported.

In this installment of W+K Lodge Frontiers, our team of designers and engineers explores how brands can create better products and experiences for women, children, and their partners. Our ideation, research, and writing has been informed by research and participation at MIT’s Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon 2018, as well as through interviews and learnings from healthcare providers, brand creatives, and parents themselves.

From menstruation tracking to in-hospital care and bringing home baby, join us as we consider what it means to deliver not just utility but care along the reproductive journey—navigating the emotional ups and downs, the nervous planning and the unexpected hurdles, and the joy and stress of growing a family.

Illustration by Ashley Lukashevsky.