Promoting Health

Social Innovation Spotlight: Lactation Innovations

Social Innovation Spotlight is a quarterly feature launched by Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program to highlight the contributions of social innovators promoting the health and well-being of children, families and communities.

In her recent blog post, Breastfeeding is Best!, Nancy Trout, MD highlights the health benefits of breastfeeding for infants and mothers. She also discusses how Kohl’s Start Childhood Off Right, an initiative of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health, advocates for breastfeeding and distributes information to pediatric practices and community outreach workers in Hartford as part of a comprehensive approach to supporting healthy infant and toddler nutrition and preventing childhood obesity. While many women in the United States are aware that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants, many barriers to breastfeeding still remain.

In honor of breastfeeding awareness month, this Social Innovation Spotlight features Lactation Innovations. Brittany Molkenthin and her team at Lactation Innovations are developing novel solutions to address barriers faced by breastfeeding mothers. Brittany discusses her company’s solution in more detail below.

To read more about our Social Innovation Spotlights, click here.

Even though Lactation Innovations is a newer company and its device is still in development, the company’s efforts are being recognized throughout the state. At the 2018 Connecticut Entrepreneur Awards, Molkenthin was recognized as the Community Favorite Student Entrepreneur and was the runner up for the Community Favorite Scalable Venture. She also received Honorable Mention for Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Molkenthin was also featured in Innovation Destination Hartford and The CT Startup Podcast.

Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health continues to support and advocate on behalf of Lactation Innovations and looks forward to a continued partnership supporting children’s optimal healthy development.

For more information on breastfeeding in the United States, please see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Breastfeeding Report Card and The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.

From our conversation with Brittany Molkenthin:

Innovation Description: Lactation Innovations is developing a non-invasive medical device to empower mothers to breastfeed. Leveraging infrared and Bluetooth technology, the device will track and share in real-time how many ounces of breast milk a baby is consuming. By providing mothers with knowledge and data, Lactation Innovations seeks to decrease maternal anxiety regarding their infant’s nutritional intake and increase breastfeeding maintenance rates. The maternal and infant health benefits of breastfeeding are well documented. Breastfed infants are at decreased risk of hospitalization, respiratory tract infections, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, childhood obesity, meningitis, allergies, diabetes, and asthma. Benefits for mothers include, but are not limited to, increased bonding with their infant, balancing of postpartum hormones, a quicker return to pre-pregnancy weight, suppression of maternal infertility, decreased risk of breast cancer, and potential protection against ovarian cancer.

Innovation Interaction with Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program: Lactation Innovations participated in a Community Health Innovation Check-Up hosted by Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program (AKIP) in Fall 2017. AKIP introduced Lactation Innovations to the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center. Both AKIP and the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center have provided ongoing consultation and support to Lactation Innovations.

Innovation Need: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants be exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their life, yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card, only 24.9 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed during this time period. A recent survey found that 60 percent of mothers stopped breastfeeding earlier than desired, citing difficulties with lactation, concerns regarding infant weight gain and nutrition, maternal illness and medication consumption, and efforts associated with pumping milk. Another survey found that mothers’ concerns about lactation and nutrition issues were the most frequently cited reasons for stopping breastfeeding. According to that survey, 55.6 percent of mothers who stopped breastfeeding between months one and two, and 49.7 percent of mothers of mothers who stopped breastfeeding before nine months reported that “breast milk alone did not satisfy my baby.” However, research shows a lack of confidence in breastfeeding and a lack of knowledge regarding the physiology of lactation can lead to the perception of insufficient milk supply, when in fact the quantity is enough to nurture the baby. Additional research shows the disconnect between a mother’s expectations about breastfeeding and the reality of her experiences are identified as key reasons for stopping breastfeeding soon after birth.

Innovation Model: The device utilizes infrared sensors to calculate an infant’s breast milk consumption during a feeding in real-time. The device rests on the infant’s abdomen while feeding and Bluetooth technology syncs with an application on the mother’s smartphone. The smartphone application will also have the capacity to track feeding frequency and duration, as well as other relevant information about the infant, such as height and weight. Lactation Innovations hopes the data collected in the smartphone application will enhance communication between mothers and healthcare providers regarding the health and development of the child.

What skills and characteristics do you think social innovators need to promote the optimal healthy development of children, strengthen families, and support communities? Social innovators working in pediatrics need to have compassion for children and passion for their idea. It is important to have children’s best interests at heart, and to have the ability to work closely with children and their families. I believe that social innovators need to be active in the community and with the population they intend to serve. It is when I work in the field, interacting with breastfeeding mothers and their infants, that I have the best ideas to support the advancement and growth of Lactation Innovations.

Why are you passionate about promoting the health and well-being of children, families and communities? As a pediatric registered nurse, I work closely with children and their families daily and am passionate about promoting their health and well-being. I believe that primary care and education both play a vital role in pediatric health. I have always wanted to have a positive impact on children as they grow and develop, specifically in primary care and health education. As the company and device have evolved, and as I share the device with breastfeeding mothers who want to be the first users, my passion grows stronger. I always love hearing, “Where were you when I started breastfeeding my babies?”

What value did you gain from engaging with Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program? Engaging with Connecticut Children’s Advancing Kids Innovation Program was a rewarding, positive experience. Presenting to a diverse group of professionals within the healthcare field stimulated an engaging discussion regarding Lactation Innovations’ business plan, market strategy, evaluation, and next steps. It was an enriching, educational experience that I would recommend to other social innovators.

What advice do you have for social innovators promoting the health and well-being of children, families and communities? It is important for social innovators to remember “why” they are developing an idea and “who” the innovation is being developed for. To have children’s best interests at heart is truly a motivator in itself. As things get difficult and challenges are faced, remember the end goal: providing a better life for a child and their family. It truly is rewarding to know you are enhancing the life of someone as young as a few days old and that the impact of your idea will benefit them into childhood.

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