Four Purdue University biomedical engineering students developed an anatomically correct, hands-on breastfeeding simulator system to assist the training of perinatal nurses and professionals for their senior design project.

The idea came from Tina Babbitt, an Indiana Perinatal Network nurse and lactation consultant, who brought the need for better breastfeeding training materials to Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering as an idea for a project and mentored researchers Neal Patel, Jennifer Ray, Alexandria Sacopulos and Daniel Romary throughout development of “Martina: A Breastfeeding Simulation System”.

“One motivation was that many new mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than recommended, due to pain or discomfort from poor placement,” said Romary. “If we could help new moms better understand how to breastfeed, they could do it correctly and longer without pain. Also, the recommended six months has been shown to have health benefits for the baby.” (The World Health Organization’s Infant and Young Child Feeding report recommends infants should be breasted exclusively for the first 6 months of their lives)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 11.9 percent of babies are breastfed for the recommended six-month period. Mothers often stop breastfeeding early due to discomfort or poor technique. The researchers wanted to help solve this problem by better preparing perinatal nurses and professionals in breastfeeding techniques.

Their Martina invention teaches nurses-in-training the appropriate breastfeeding techniques that will ensure comfort for new mothers. Currently, breastfeeding training materials available to nurses are printed on paper or don’t have a realistic feel. For example, doll-based simulators do not account for realistic challenges such as supporting the baby’s head during a feeding. However, Martina’s systems use its sensors, motors and lights to guide training nurses step-by-step through the appropriate breastfeeding procedure.

“We designed the device for nurses, so that they (can) better understand how to teach new moms to breastfeed,” Romary said. “They learn the important checkpoints of breastfeeding. For example, they have to correctly orient the baby and make sure the nipple goes far enough into the baby’s mouth.”

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization has a patent pending on this technology. The researchers aim to further refine the existing prototype by finding a partner with manufacturing capabilities.  “We see our system as the first device to combine hands-on practice with anatomical correctness in a cost-effective way,” Romary said.