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Smart bra boosts the benefits of breastfeeding

Despite clearly demonstrated health benefits for mother and child, breastfeeding is not as widespread as health authorities would like. Presque is a smart bra which encourages the practice, while also generating crucial data to maximise breastfeeding benefits.

Health

Although research shows that the majority of new mothers intend to breastfeed for at least 3 months, it often doesn’t happen. Mothers who delivered via C-section have been shown to breastfeed less, and the arrival of milk can be delayed due to illness or medication, for example. Globally, the main reason for premature weaning is a mother’s fear that her breast milk may not supply sufficient nourishment for her baby. This tempts mothers to bottle feed, adversely affecting their natural lactation cycle, in turn resulting in decreased breast milk. The EU-supported Presque project has developed a smart nursing bra. The bra holds a reservoir of supplemental milk (mother’s pumped milk, donor’s milk, formulated milk) delivered to the mother’s nipple and areola, in response to suckling. The EU funding enabled Presque to conduct a market and technology feasibility study, resulting in a few revisions and enhancements to product features and the road map for the product launch. So far, the project has secured five patents related to the novel areola/nipple design, as well as several pending applications related to other aspects of the system.

Reinforcing the mother-child bond

Presque was specifically designed to encourage babies to actively suckle, allowing mothers to supplement their breast milk without the use of bottles. “By addressing one of the key reasons mothers wean early – perceived insufficient milk – Presque increases both the breastfeeding period and the rate. The resulting skin-to-skin contact also reinforces mother/baby bond,” says Soody Tronson, project coordinator. Smart sensors incorporated into the bra generate valuable monitoring data. For example, the system can provide information about the baby’s suction power, the flow rate of mother’s natural milk and the required amount of supplemental milk. This data, used individually or in combination, can offer insights about maternal and child behaviour. After introducing a basic proof-of-concept version of the bra, to potential users and healthcare professionals, the team conducted anonymous surveys and tests. They found features, price, look and feel, ease of use, source of recommendation, and potentially brand name, were the most important factors impacting purchase decisions. Gathering this information was more difficult in Europe than in the US, with fewer mothers familiar with different breastfeeding tools.

Benefitting wider health initiatives

Reduced breastfeeding duration and rates have been shown to adversely affect the physical and mental health of mothers and children. A 2019 study from WHO/Europe, for example, showed that babies who have never, or only infrequently, been breastfed, have an increased risk of childhood obesity. Despite these findings, duration and rates of breastfeeding remain low. Another 2019 study found only six out of 11 EU countries studied had national plans to promote, protect and support breastfeeding. Presque could help countries develop impactful evidence-based action plans. “Ethically gathered Presque data offers the real-time front-line breastfeeding insights that are currently missing. This data can help the development and implementation of health initiatives, and reduce problems resulting from insufficient breastfeeding,” says Tronson. Once further funding has been secured, the team will conduct more user tests to refine the bra’s design, using frugal engineering principles to keep the final product affordable. They will also complete development of the operating software. After manufacturing arrangements have been put in place, Presque will be supplied directly to end users as well as to healthcare institutions such as hospitals and healthcare providers.

Keywords

Presque, breastfeeding, breast milk, lactation, suckle, bra, supplement, sensors, nourishment, weaning, nipple, pumped milk

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