For Katherine Hornbostel, breastfeeding was torture.
“Since I was having twins first, I figured it would be hard,” says the 29-year-old mother of three. “I didn’t realize how awful it would be. I went into it not knowing how much stress it would take on my body.”
Due to latching problems, she decided to exclusively pump to feed her ravenous boys, who were consuming roughly 1,200 calories a day. Hornbostel rented several pumps, including a hospital-grade device for $60 a month. But she found them to be cumbersome and time-consuming.
Frustrated, sleep-deprived and guilt-ridden, she switched to formula six months after Nicholas and Benjamin were born.
But the challenge never left her mind. Hornbostel is an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. As an engineer, she was determined to solve this particular puzzle for women everywhere.
Today, four years after her feeding debacle, Hornbostel is introducing Pump2Baby, an accessory that connects to any Medela breast pump.
The gadget, which retails for $14.99 and is on pre-order from LacTeck.com, allows mothers to bottle-feed and bond with their newborns while pumping. Hornbostel estimates that the BPA-free, dishwasher-safe product could save pumping moms a total of 180 hours over a six-month period. Hundreds of orders have already been placed, and the product is expected to ship in the next month.
Here’s how it works: The user begins hands-free pumping with a pumping bra. Once some milk has accumulated in the bottle, the baby can suck that milk out through a tube at the bottom of the bottle into a nipple. A special valve in the bottom of each bottle prevents milk from leaking until the baby starts sucking. Milk is accumulating in the bottle, so whatever milk the baby doesn’t drink is being saved for future feedings.
A mother can even pump and feed while riding in a car next to the baby in a car seat — the tubing extends far enough that the baby can have the nipple while the mom is attached to her pump, safely seat-belted next to her baby. Simple but revolutionary.
Hornbostel began tinkering with the idea during the 2014 Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she received her doctoral degree. More than 150 engineers, designers, developers and healthcare professionals in attendance were tasked with building a better breast pump.
“When you look at a lot of stuff on the market, it’s really outdated,” Hornbostel says. “The basic design has not evolved much in decades. I feel like the field is lagging.” But, she points out, there has been progress in the last five years thanks to female-lead start-ups tackling the problem.
She tested the Pump2Baby prototype on her daughter, Evelyn, and found the experience to be less stressful than her first. Through her affordable invention, she hopes new moms will be able to focus more on themselves and their infants.
“First and foremost, I would tell moms that it’s not worth killing yourself over,” she says. “Your health and sanity are just as important for your babies,” she explains. “If you are dedicated to exclusively pumping, this device will make life a little more manageable.”