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Wednesday, July 17, 2019
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Second Breast Pump Summit to Hack Family Leave Policy

Breast pumps may suck a little bit less (or at least better) since 2014, when Emerson and MIT collaborated on a hackathon to improve the unwieldy and not-terribly-smart devices. But family leave and postpartum support in the U.S. still need a lot of work.

The first Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon, a project of the Emerson Engagement Lab and the MIT Media Lab, led to the development of smart pumps, new apps, and better services for breastfeeding parents. This weekend, April 27-29, Emerson and MIT will offer round two, this time with an added goal of addressing inequities in family leave policy.

“After the first event in 2014, we learned from over 1,000 women’s and parents’ stories that breast pumps are not the only problem for postpartum women,” said Catherine D’Ignazio, assistant professor of Journalism, an Engagement Lab Fellow, research affiliate at the MIT Center for Civic Media, and the director of the Hackathon.

“Women also said that they lack paid family leave, lactation support, and quality postpartum care. These gaps represent tremendous opportunities for innovation in technology, products, and services,” she said.

Hundreds of engineers, doctors, and doulas, as well as parents, are expected to join 30 companies from around the world at the Hackathon, being held at the MIT Media Lab, 75 Amherst Street, Cambridge.

New this year will be a policy track throughout the three-day event called the “Make Family Leave Not Suck Policy Summit,” centered on spurring action around changing paid family leave policy.

Unlike most of the developed world, the United States has no federal requirement that employers offer paid family leave following the birth or adoption of a child. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave, but many workers cannot afford to go even one week without a paycheck.

“We need to innovate for everybody,” said Binta Beard, who is leading the policy track. “Many women don’t even get the choice to breastfeed because they have no paid time off. We are convening thought leaders to change that.”

The breast pump market is projected to double by 2025. Running parallel to the policy track will be the Hackathon, where teams will create new, smart breast pumps with built-in milk tracking, telehealth services for nursing parents, apps to connect lactating parents on social media, and smart devices with voice interfaces.

The event kicks off on Friday, April 27, 6:00-9:00 pm, with a keynote address by Kimberly Seals Allers, award-winning journalist, author, and a nationally recognized media commentator and advocate for breastfeeding and infant health. Afterward, a book launch for Speaking Our Truths, a national story collection and research project about what it’s really like to pump in the United States, led by principal investigator Kate Krontiris.

For more information, and a complete schedule of events, visit makethebreastpumpnotsuck.com.