For a new mom, breastfeeding can sometimes feel like an insurmountable challenge. It hurts a lot, especially if you haven’t figured out how to get your baby to latch on correctly. It takes hours out of your day and forces you to wake up several times a night. But above all, you worry that your body may not have enough milk to nourish your baby.
Many studies have shown that this is a major reason women give up breastfeeding. Research by the Surgeon General’s office found that nearly 50% of mothers stop breastfeeding because of concerns that their babies aren’t eating enough. These women switch to bottle feeding so they can quantify exactly how many ounces their baby is consuming.
An Israeli startup called MomSense has developed a tool to directly address this concern. The product looks like a regular pair of headphones that you plug into your smartphone or tablet, except for a little piece that attaches to a spot on the skin right below your baby’s earlobe. The device amplifies the sound of your baby swallowing during breastfeeding, while an animation on the screen shows the patterns of sucks and swallows. At the end of the session, it tells you exactly how much your baby ate.
“We think that it’s a lot more than just a milk consumption meter,” says MomSense CEO Osnat Emanuel, who is also a medical doctor. “It allows a mom to develop a sense of how her baby is feeding. In one or two sessions, she knows to identify how her baby’s swallow sounds.”
In many cases, a mother’s concern about not having enough milk is unwarranted. This device is designed to give her confidence and provide emotional support. Sometimes, though, babies really aren’t getting enough milk, either because they are not latching to the breast properly, or because their mother is having supply issues. In these cases, it is valuable to get an accurate figure about exactly how much the baby is taking in every day.
The MomSense product is especially valuable to women who have just given birth, given that the first few weeks of breastfeeding are the hardest. Also, the device is less useful for older babies who are more dexterous with their hands and might start tugging at the wires that are within their reach.
But Emanuel says there are many critical points in the baby’s first year when it is valuable to track a baby’s milk consumption. Babies feed less regularly as their stomachs get bigger, and eventually they will stop feeding at night. They also go through periods of growth when they are eating more than usual. During these periods, tracking milk consumption can be very helpful, even if moms don’t choose to use the device all the time.
This technology is the result of four years of research and testing, funded by about $1 million of seed investment. The MomSense team also brought in hundreds of breastfeeding mothers. With machine learning, they observed and recorded the baby’s swallows—tracking things like speed, frequency, intensity, and amplitude—then weighed the baby before and after the session to determine how much they consumed. All of this data was used to determine how much a baby is consuming. “We’ve compiled all of this information into a simple device,” Emanuel says. “We don’t want it to interfere with the breastfeeding session.”
Over the last two years, MomSense has received several other rounds of funding with the goal of helping them bring the product to market. Last year, they introduced the product at a big U.S. trade show called the ABC Kid’s Expo, where the company received a lot of interest from many big American retailers including Target, which will start selling the device on its website on May 1. MomSense says it will announce partnerships with other major retailers over the next few months.