For most people, too many sleepless nights in a row can sap creativity. But for Priska Diaz, CEO of Bittylab, exhaustion led to The Bare bottle. A product she (day)dreamed up in 2008, it is proven to mimic nursing from a real breast and prevent the tummy pains that keep little ones–and their parents–up at night.
“I was committed to exclusively breastfeeding my first child, but the pediatrician and I quickly realized that due to a low milk supply, my son was being undernourished,” says Diaz, whose doctor recommended supplementing with formula. “The bottle immediately turned my baby into a bag of gas, causing pain and all-night crying. Plus, he preferred the fast, easy feeding of the bottle [over my breast]. Upset, I spent night after night trying to figure out a better solution,” says Diaz, who had already tried all the bottle options on the shelf. “During one of those sleepless nights, I learned about air vents, which eliminate the negative pressure in bottles caused by suction, but also let in air that babies then ingest, resulting in gas and colic. I thought, ‘My breasts don’t have air vents, why should baby bottles?’ That was the million-dollar question.”
The former packaging designer–she created containers and displays for big brands including Avon and L’Oréal for nearly a decade–set out to answer it, and in the process she reimagined the very concept of the baby bottle. The goal was to solve two problems: nipple confusion (when babies shun the real thing for the easy latex version) and tummy trouble caused by excess ingested air. For the latter, her thoughts quickly landed on the idea of a hypodermic syringe, which dispenses liquids sans air. And she soon realized the nipple itself was part of what was causing confusion.
Typical bottle nipples don’t require much work; thanks to gravity, you simply tilt it up and out flows the milk. But the human breast doesn’t work that way. Little ones are forced to latch on just the right way and then use their whole mouths to control the flow. So Diaz looked to the breast for inspiration. “The nipple on the Bare bottle, called ‘perfe-latch,’ is very short, a little over half an inch. This promotes a full latch, just like with breastfeeding. There’s no free feeding with Bare,” Diaz explains. “When baby initiates suction, the short tip extends inside the mouth to reach the soft palate. And it adapts to suction, so baby controls the amount of milk and the pace at which he drinks.”
After seeing a patent attorney, the basic idea progressed to a crude prototype crafted from off-the-shelf elements, an X-Acto knife, a Dremel tool, and lots of glue. Her husband, Dana King, who now serves as the vice president of sales and marketing, got her a meeting with a rep at a big-box retailer who told her: “Many people come here saying that they have something innovative and unique. It never is. This is. Make it and come back.” So she did.
And it was an instant success. After creating a website in 2011 that explained the concept, she quickly amassed thousands of newsletter subscribers clamoring for a new way to feed their infants. Within 24 hours of launching a presale in June 2013, she had 1,000 orders and a website that had temporarily failed under the strain. They eventually sold $75,000 worth of bottles and are on track to double that this year, mostly via web sales.
More than just being novel, it actually works. “In an independent trial, we found that babies with diagnosed acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) showed up to 95% symptom improvement after using Bare for a couple days,” says Diaz, 39. Now a mom of two–Carlton is 6, and little sister Adriana is 5–she runs the company from her office in Eastchester, New York.
Up for 2015 is a second nipple design. “My first priority is to design a nipple for non-breastfed babies so they can also take advantage of the air-free feeding to help prevent gas and colic,” she says. She is also partnering with lactation consultants to help women who are having trouble breastfeeding and preparing for clinical trials, in hopes of proving that Bare’s therapeutic benefits make it worthy of being covered by health insurance. Who knew sleep deprivation could be so productive?