The breast pump’s last significant redesign was in 1956, the year Elvis Presley released his first single.
That changed in 2015 when, while on vacation, Samantha Rudolph read The New York Times blog article that asked, “Shouldn’t the breast pump be as elegant as an iPhone and as quiet as a Prius by now?”
Although she and husband Jared Miller hadn’t yet started a family, she imagined the discomfort of being hooked up to a noisy and unwieldy machine.
Miller recounted that she turned to him and said, “Women deserve so much better than this.”
The couple worked nights and weekends to develop a new design. Rudolph, who was working as an executive consultant, read medical literature and interviewed moms to pinpoint what would make the pumping experience significantly better.
She and Miller, an electrical and systems engineer, designed a prototype that eliminated the device’s hallmark bulky bottle attachments and loud noises so women could pump discreetly, quietly and comfortably.
A key component that enabled the new product, called The Pump by Babyation, is a pair of valves that controls the vacuum function. Solenoid valves on older breast pumps are noisy; the couple realized that in order to fundamentally change the pumping experience they needed to find a silent valve.
Pumping new life into an old design
Sourcing a valve proved to be a challenge. For its initial trials, Missouri-based Babyation experimented with a wide variety of valves from several domestic and international sources. Some valves were too loud, others too expensive and some didn’t meet the need for a long life cycle.
Then Miller reached out to Emerson’s ASCO medical team to solve the start-up’s dilemma.
“We understood how important it was for Babyation to source a silent valve — without delaying its tight production timeline,” Emerson Business Development Manager David Wyandt said.
The Emerson team recommended series RB Miniature Valves, which offer compact, lightweight design ideal for portable medical devices. The series RB valves are typically used in applications like respiratory therapy instruments, patient monitoring equipment, compression therapy (DVT), and robotic pharmacy dispensing — just to name a few.
Miller noted the series RB met the company’s specs for cycle life, a feature some competitors couldn’t match. It’s rated up to 10 million cycles, a lifespan that well exceeded The Pump’s needs.
“We didn’t want a product that had a limited shelf life. We’re building a premium product. We didn’t want to worry about failures in the early stage, so we wanted something that was well oversized for the life cycle,” Miller said.
The valve’s small footprint also allowed Babyation to incorporate it without altering the device’s housing. The result was a consumer-friendly product weighing under 5 lb, about the size of a small purse.
Despite its compact size, Emerson’s valve solution provides a high flow rate — up to 4 lpm — needed to pump efficiently. In addition, it consumes less than 1 W, preserving the product’s battery life.
Emerson’s solution proved more cost-effective than competitors’ valves as well, allowing the startup to develop a premium product designated as a Class II medical device while keeping costs in check.
Collaborating to build a product that delivers
Babyation’s aspiration to create a reimagined pumping experience also weighed heavily on discreetness. The start-up approached Emerson about making the valve component quieter — a task that had to be done quickly to accommodate Babyation’s tight manufacturing schedule.
The teams collaborated in what Miller described as a “joint engineering” project. They quickly modified the series RB valve so it operated much more quietly, creating an engineered solution that solved one of the biggest problems in conventional breast pump design.
“Emerson has provided fast turnaround support every step of the way. They were always able to very quickly go to the lab, get those prototype parts built to allow us to iterate through our design and find the exact combination of specs,” Miller said. He noted that Emerson also worked with his team to optimize the valve’s placement, keeping noise levels as low as possible.
“The team at Emerson was instrumental in bringing to bear their resources to look at the construction of the valve that met our flows best, including looking at how they might be able to make a quieter version that fit our specs,” Miller said.
Production of The Pump will continue to scale up, with its official launch scheduled for the near future. Miller says Babyation will continue to partner with Emerson to tweak and optimize the valve for current and future versions of the product.
Most importantly, the product has earned a seal of approval from Rudolph and Miller’s young son Odin, their company’s CBO—Chief Baby Officer.