learnings & Reflections

Our 2014 Event

Held in September 2014, the first "Make the Breast Pump Not Suck" Hackathon brought together 150 parents, engineers, designers and healthcare professionals to re-imagine the Breastpump, a fundamental yet overlooked technology.




In Fall 2014, we hosted the first "Make the Breastpump Not Suck" Hackathon at the MIT Media Lab. 150 designers, developers, mothers, fathers and babies converged to create better breastpumps, nursing environments, and support systems for breastfeeding moms.

The event received over 90 articles in the global press and viral attention on social media. After the hackathon ended, we produced an online documentary, created a Facebook community and wrote two peer-reviewed research papers. Through this process we learned that the breastpump isn’t the only thing that sucks. We need to invest in research and technology, change public and private policy, and shift social norms.

Prior to the event, we received thousands of e-mails from moms across the country who had suggestions and requests for improving the Breast Pump. At the hackathon, we created an "idea wall" with excerpts from these e-mails and helped our participants incorporate user stories into their prototypes.

Participants at the event took apart existing Breast Pumps (generously donated by our sponsoring companies) to understand how they work and incorporate new features. 

From sewing machines to soldering irons, we equipped our participants with everything they might need to prototype their ideas.





Team Projects



peer-reviewed research publications


Press Articles

Centering the needs of mothers and babies


Prior to the event, we received 1,136 ideas for ”making the breast pump not suck.” Though we did not limit who could submit ideas, we received responses primarily from mothers who described direct experiences of pumping.

These ideas were either submitted to our group email address, submitted on a web form for the project, or submitted on Facebook in response to our solicitation. We did not collect demographic data, however, it was clear from their numerous references to the lack of maternity leave, insurance characteristics, and care practices that most women were living in the United States.

Responses range in length from very short ideas, ”Moore’s Law for breast pumps! Each year breast pumps should be smaller, lighter, and more effective.” - Mother 6775, to ten-point plans and even separate Google documents with matrices.

A common refrain from new mothers, which our research confirms, is that many hate breast pumps and the breast pumping experience. This has as much to do with the machine as it does with the lactation environment and with the social and cultural norms around pumping. Boyer & Boswell-Penc’s research on pumping in the workplace names this as a ”politics of banishment,” where pumping is considered an individual problem.

Mothers pumping at work must secure permission from employers, secure a space (or find a bathroom, closet, or car), conceal themselves, and discreetly store the resulting breastmilk somewhere where it will not offend colleagues.

While public health policy is clear that breastfeeding is a public issue, there is very little family leave policy or workplace policy in place in the U.S. that conceives of it as such. 


Mother-submitted ideas posted up on the wall at the ”Make the Breast Pump Not Suck!” Hackathon at the MIT Media Lab in September 2014

The most frequently mentioned concepts in the archive of 1136 mother-generated ideas

The overwhelming feelings of shame, guilt, humiliation and anxiety can be interpreted as individual women internalizing the failings of society.

What was the Hackathon like?


Typically, hackathons draw from a young, male, technologically sophisticated audience. We wanted to create a different kind of event, one that welcomed people with diverse expertise and made room for parents—and yes, babies! We helped our participants build diverse teams that included breast pump users, engineers, designers, and more. 

To see what participants experienced, check out the official documentary below, produced by ASKLabs


Who won?


1st prize: Mighty Mom utility belt


2nd Prize: Helping Hands manual expression bra


3rd Prize: Pump.IO: An open software and hardware platfom


1st Prize, $3000 (sponsored by Vecna Technologies) and a trip for two team members to Silicon Valley to pitch their ideas to investors (sponsored by Pejman Mar Ventures)

Mighty Mom utility belt is a fashionable, discrete, hands-free wearable pump that automatically logs and analyses your personal data. 

Contact the team via Erin Freeburger or Robyn Churchill

2nd Prize, $2000 (sponsored by Medela) and a hand-knit Freestyle breastpump cozy knit by Jessica Barnes

Helping Hands: a sturdy, easy to clean, minimal parts, hands free compression bra designed by nursing moms. The bra helps women manually express breastmilk (a technique proven to be as effective as electric pumps) without their hands. 

Contact the team via Katherine Ong

3rd Prize, $1000 (sponsored by Naia Health)

PumpIO: An open software and hardware platform to make the breast pumping experience smarter, more data-rich and less isolating. PumpIO puts pumping women in touch with lactation consultants and communities as they are pumping, when they have questions and to help reinforce their commitment to their baby. 

Contact the team via Max Metral

Most Outstanding User Focused Design, $500 (sponsored by Moxxly)

Second Nature is a breast pump that mimics the way that a baby suckles with massage and compression. This team also designed soft, low-profile flanges to be worn discreetly. 

Contact the team via Kristy Johnson

Pioneer Award & Winner of the Popular Vote

Compress Express: A breast pump that mimics the natural and age-old art of hand expression, instead of archaic vacuum technology that dominates the market. Inspired by the simplicity of blood pressure cuffs, this project's gentle compression technology enables efficient milk expression and creates a discreetly wearable, virtually silent and hands-free breast pumping experience. This project, led by Susan Thompson, has been under development for two years and received the Pioneer Award for early and persistent innovation. 

Contact the team via Susan Thompson

You can see all of the awesome projects that were prototyped at the hackathon on ChallengePost.