Lactation counselor invents one-of-a-kind, hand expression education device

For as long as there have been humans, there has been human milk. As it happens, according to Greek mythology our entire galaxy originates from breastmilk. 

Although people have been breastfeeding for millennia, breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come naturally, especially in our modern world where common birth practice, industry influence and cultural phenomena are at play. 

Adhering to a mentality where breastfeeding is viewed as completely natural, is one of the most “harmful and hurtful” beliefs because it assumes that lactating people don’t need support, Founder/CEO of Orolait Ana Rojas Bastidas, CLC explains. 

“The majority of women are not able to fulfill their [infant feeding] goals, and that’s unbelievably sad,” Rojas Bastidas says. 

“That’s where innovation comes in,” she continues. 

Rojas Bastidas’s company Orolait, is a breastfeeding apparel company at its core, but this summer she released a one-of-a-kind lactation education tool: the LactoPRO Trainer

The LactoPRO is an anatomically-correct, tissue-mimicking human breast used for demonstrating hand expression. The device features a realistically-sized areola, nipple, and six lactiferous ducts and effectively ejects a human milk-like or colostrum-like substance. The breast is available in various skin shades too. 

In April 2020, Rojas Bastidas shifted Orolait operations to help provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) to a hospital in Haiti alongside a Houston-based company that creates surgical organs.  With Rojas Bastidas’s vision and entrepreneurship and the company’s patented technology, the LactoPRO Trainer came to fruition. 

Rojas Bastidas and the team are working to create a model with inverted nipples as well as fashioning a breast that can develop clogs and mastitis. 

Rojas Bastidas emphasizes that she is always working to make her contributions more affordable and accessible.

“Having great things that are not accessible to the community are not helpful to anyone,” she says. 

Through her movement PowerToPrevail and other projects,  Rojas Bastidas has been a force for body positivity, cultivating self worth and supporting modern motherhood. This work led her to complete the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) earlier this year. 

“As I was going through the course and tried to teach hand expression, I became frustrated by the lack of options to demonstrate it accurately and in a constructive way,” she reports. 

Evidence-based lactation care emphasizes a hands-off approach. Couple this with the idea that infant feeding is a learned behavior and in American culture we don’t grow up seeing lactating breasts and breastfeeding, hand expression is a terribly abstract practice to teach. 

The LactoPRO helps fill this void. 

“Innovation in the lactation space has been slow and overlooked, so this is really exciting for me,” Rojas Bastidas says. “I’ve created something for the private sector that’s going to push public perception.” 

She likens her invention to the evolution of professional lactation care services; maternal child health advocates took a stand and refused to let women suffer, she explains. Like lactation care, Rojas Bastidas has created something that validates people’s stories and experiences. 

Rojas Bastidas’s influence stems from her experience as a new mom and the way she viewed her evolving body. 

“I didn’t realize that the way I viewed my body was impacting so much of my life including my breastfeeding journey,” she says. 

So many parents sympathize with the conundrum of breastfeeding in public spaces for instance. To do so discreetly often means lifting your shirt and exposing the midsection.

It seems vain and trivial, Rojas Bastidas acknowledges but when you multiply it by the millions of moms who experience challenges like this, there’s got to be a solution.

“Don’t be afraid to tackle whatever problem you see,” Rojas Bastidas encourages. “Innovation is for anyone.” 

Rojas Bastidas’s apparel serves as functional fashion. Simultaneously, her pursuit celebrates the bodies that have been largely misrepresented and often altogether censored. 

“The absence of bodies sends a broader message that those bodies don’t exist,” she explains. 

“It makes every battle so much harder, but that’s what keeps driving me. I  should have just closed up shop because this is so hard, but  I’m going to make as many people as uncomfortable as humanly possible,” Rojas Bastidas says of being a female innovator in health and wellness advocacy. 

She adds that by showing the public what bodies actually look like, it frees us, elevates us and empowers us. 

“Lactating individuals deserve to be seen, heard and helped.”

Rojas Bastidas has a lot to offer on her website including her shop, lactation counseling services, a member forum and blog. Check it out here

Follow her on social media @orolaitofficial and @powertoprevail

Fostering connection through technology

Even before Covid-19 forced us to get creative with technology– doulas providing support over Facetime, virtual summits, virtual lactation care visits, and online certifications— so much birth, infant feeding and parenting information and support already existed online. 

Although screens don’t come without risk, they’re a tool to literally meet parents where they are.

In recent months, several noteworthy apps and online resources have emerged, growing and enhancing the information and support available to parents. 

Earlier this month, Global Health Media announced the launch of their smartphone app Birth & Beyond

“Knowing that in-person support of mothers had been curtailed due to coronavirus, we created the app to put our teaching videos right into the hands of mothers and families worldwide,” a Global Health Media newsletter reads. 

The app features 28 videos in 21 languages which can be streamed, downloaded to an offline library, or shared with friends and family. Topics covered include birth, breastfeeding, newborn care, small baby care, and complementary feeding. The app is currently available for Apple iOS phones and soon for Android phones.

In its first month, Birth & Beyond has been downloaded 1,500 times, with the largest number of users in the USA, Australia, UK, and Canada, Global Health Media director Deborah Van Dyke reports. 

The app will continue to be updated with new videos and more languages.

In Fall 2020, we can anticipate the release of Kimberly Seals Allers’ and her team’s app Irth (as in Birth without the ‘B’ for bias), a “Yelp-like” review and rating app for hospitals and physicians made by and for Black women and birthing people of color. 

Irth recognizes that implicit bias is a significant barrier to fair treatment for all; specifically contributing to high Black maternal mortality and Black infant mortality rates, a Tara Health Foundation press release points out. 

The app will allow users to access identity-based reviews which will empower them with peer-based information for health care decision-making.

The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has connected parents virtually through videos released with their Global Day of Parents 2020 Statement.

The videos feature parents from Guatemala, Malaysia, Sweden and Zimbabwe sharing their perspectives on parenting and breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic poses challenges that affect infant feeding both through the lack of support for breastfeeding parents from the healthcare system, workplace and society at large coupled with the exploitation by the breastmilk substitute industry to market their products to vulnerable populations,” WABA’s Thinagaran Letchimanan explains. 

Parents’ stories demonstrate challenges and triumphs, commonalities and differences and highlight the overall need for support.

The WABA statement emphasizes that “parents should have access to support from all levels of society to enable a successful breastfeeding journey” and looks forward to World Breastfeeding Week 2020 as an “important opportunity for society to galvanise actions in support of breastfeeding for a healthier planet.”

“There is an ongoing need to advocate for breastfeeding as a public health intervention that saves lives and prevents infections and illness in the population at large especially in the context of COVID-19,”  Letchimanan emphasizes. “Essentially we need to create a warm chain of support for breastfeeding that considers the needs of all breastfeeding families. Join us in celebrating WBW2020!

Photo by Raul Angel on Unsplash

It’s easy to argue that technology has the potential to disconnect us– eyes cast over glowing screens, swiping, scrolling digits–  but the pandemic has offered a new outlook on how to connect meaningfully through technology. Tools like Birth & Beyond, Irth and WABA’s campaigns promote connection and a shared goal to achieve better health outcomes for families, communities and ultimately our planet. 

There are of course products to be leary about,  such as ‘smart’ diapers embedded with RFID chips that notify caregivers electronically when baby has a wet or dirty diaper. “Convenience” seems valued over connection.

In response to these inventions, Healthy Children Project’s Karin Cadwell PhD, RN, FAAN IBCLC, ANLC replies, snark on point, “This way you don’t have to interact so much. You have the remote to inform you of cries and the diaper to tell you [when] wet. Perfect! The babe can enjoy the $15,000 nursery room and you can watch TV uninterrupted.” 

As lactation care providers, we can help families achieve balance by directing them to reputable resources and channeling technology use for connection rather than distraction or detachment.