Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Strap-on breast raises questions for breastfeeding advocates

If you've seen the movie Meet the Fockers, Christa Anderson's baby feeding invention may sound strangely familiar to you: a baby-feeding device that is worn by a parent or grandparent in an attempt to simulate the experience of breastfeeding. (In the hit comedy, Jack Byrnes, played by Robert DeNiro, invents an artificial breast so he can "nurse" his grandson Little Jack. He calls his product the The Mannary Gland.)

It wasn’t until after the Lower Sackville, N.S., mother of one had already invented Nurse Me Tender that she heard about The Mannary Gland. After watching Meet the Fockers, she concluded that her product, which features a custom-designed baby bottle and matching holster and a wearable body harness, was superior in design to the product the comedy geniuses in Hollywood had dreamed up.

Early in the product development process, Anderson ditched the idea of incorporating anything bra-like into her design, feeling that a baby-feeding device that reminded potential buyers of Frank Costanza and Cosmo Kramer’s Manziere would kill sales to the crucial dad and grandpa markets. (View the product prototype at nursemetender.com, where Anderson is tweeting about her journey as a first-time inventor.)

Nurse Me Tender was inspired by Anderson’s own experiences as a mother. When she stopped breastfeeding son Anderson at 10 months, she found she missed the intimacy and the convenience of breastfeeding. “I felt very awkward and uncomfortable bottlefeeding after breastfeeding—really restrained.”
That’s a comment Teresa Pitman, spokesperson for La Leche League Canada and the co-author of numerous bestselling books about breastfeeding, hears time and time again. “I talk quite often to mothers who weaned and were disappointed by the results of the weaning. Pretty much any other way of feeding your baby is going to mean more work for you.” And forget those rumours about how you’ll have all kinds of extra freedom once you stop breastfeeding, she adds: “Your baby is still going to want you. Breastfeeding means more to babies than food."

So what are the odds of a product like NurseMeTender finding a market and making money for its inventor? “I tell clients that for every one that gets a patent, 99 will not be a commercial success,” says inventor and registered patent agent James Gastle of Gastle and Associates of Lakefield, Ont.

And what do mothers and those who work with them have to say about a product that attempts to mimic breastfeeding?

"I am always intrigued by products that attempt to make the experience of drinking from a bottle more like breastfeeding. However, I am also wary of them because I think they are often a marketing gimmick intended to convince moms to buy one product over another without any specific reason (like the infant formulas that claim to be 'closest to breastmilk')," says Annie Urban, mother of two and author of the popular parenting blog PhD in Parenting (phdinparenting.com).

Sam Leeson, founder of BabyREADY (babyready.ca), a Toronto-based company that helps families prepare for baby’s arrival, is concerned about the way the product positions the baby in relation to the mother: “The product pushes baby further away from mom’s body than traditional bottlefeeding.” Pitman of La Leche League echoes that concern, noting that a mother who wants to enjoy an experience that feels like breastfeeding can strip baby down to his diaper, take off her shirt and feed baby skin-to-skin.

“The intention of the product is good, but I don’t think it’s really necessary,” says Desiree Kretschmar, a Peterborough mother of one, and author of the popular motherhood blog So Fawned.

“I don’t really see the value immediately in this product, because I think it is possible to bottle ‘nurse’ a baby without having the bottle on a harness that is attached to your body,” says Urban. “The only time I would see a product like this being useful would be in the case of a parent with a disability who could not hold both the baby and the bottle at the same time.”

What do you think of the product?

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