West Lafayette, IND. (WLFI) - A new breastfeeding simulator developed by four Purdue Biomedical Engineering students could change the game for perinatal nurses and breastfeeding moms.
When a lactation consultant from the Indiana Perinatal Network approached the group looking for help, they decided to take on the challenge.
“We were paired with a clinical mentor who is a nurse and lactation consultant,” said co-inventor Daniel Romary. “She was telling us about this need for better hands on training devices for nurses in terms of breastfeeding.”
Romary, Neal Patel, Jennifer Ray, and Alexandria Sacoupulos developed anatomically correct “Martina” to help solve the issue.
The need for this kind of technology stemmed from nurses only have paper training materials to learn about proper breastfeeding techniques. And any hands-on simulators that currently exist don’t address realistic challenges that come up for breastfeeding mothers.
Martina uses light sensors that go off once the baby is properly oriented with the mother and once the breast is properly inserted into the mouth of the baby.
Romary said the prototype can be used on a mannequin or worn by the person practicing, so that they get a better understanding of what breastfeeding actually feels like.
One of the major reasons mothers stop breastfeeding before the recommended six month period is due to pain and discomfort.
But when nurses are well prepared, the mothers they are helping hopefully will be too.
“If this can help nurses better teach new moms how to breastfeed, then I think it will make their experience much better and ultimately improve the health of babies as well,” said Romary.
Romary said he enjoys the fact that he and his team are making a real-world impact.
“It was really exciting to see a problem, a clinical need and actually be able to work on it and get it to a point where we have a working prototype of something that could end up in the clinic one day,” he said.
Andrea DeMaria is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Consumer Science and Public Health Graduate Program at Purdue. Her research focuses around women’s sexual and reproductive health behaviors and issues.
She says she is excited that these students care enough to address this issue.
“We still have a ways to go with education and training nurses and healthcare providers how to help women breastfeed,” she said. “So I think it will be a great tool to help expedite that process.”
And nurses who are going through clinical curriculum where there is so much to learn, time is of the essence.
“Breastfeeding is something that is touched on but not really going in depth,” she said. “So I think it is going to help with that learning process.”
She says other reasons women stop or don’t breastfeed at all is because of inventions like the bottle and formula. Or that women are working now and aren’t getting enough time off to fully breastfeed their newborn.
“Breastfeeding is a commitment,” she said. “But women also have the choice in how they want to nurture their baby.”
She said social stigma may also prevent women from breastfeeding, even though it is now legal to breastfeed in public in all 50 states as of the end of July of 2018.
But improving conditions and resources for new moms starts with people who care. DeMaria says she sees this in students at Purdue.
“They are innovative, they are open-minded, they are advocates, they support women,” she said. “I think that is what we need to not only have the technology behind and the education behind what we are doing, but also really the empowerment and social support of women.”
Romary said now they are looking for someone to license the product so that they can get Martina out on the market.
DeMaria mentioned that there are resources in the Lafayette area that breastfeeding moms can utilize including reaching out to your OB/GYN for recommendations in your own health office, researching local hospitals that do group breastfeeding support, and visiting local lactation consultants.