Meet the mum on a mission to create a... nipple encyclopaedia?

Meet the mum who is trying to overhaul the sucky reality of breast pumps.

The breast pump is more than 200 years old, and there's been little progress over the years. Sure, the humble glass-collecting-bowl-with-brass-syringe of the late 18th Century has (mercifully) been upgraded, and the invention of the first electric breast pump in 1942 made things more efficient – but the one-size-fits-all pump didn't work then and doesn't work now.

"Pumping can be traumatic for many women," says Melbourne-based lactation consultant, Pinky McKay. 

"For some, it can mean toe-curling pain every few hours on repeat and dreading the next pumping session throughout the day or feeling like a cow while being hooked up to a pump. It can [also] be super stressful knowing that whatever amount you can pump is what your baby is depending on to thrive."

Watch: Breastfeeding aids are classified as "luxury or non-essential". Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

Pain, discomfort, and the never-ending emotional rollercoaster – every woman has their own breast pump horror story to tell – but after having to "psych" herself up to spend several hours a day on a breast pump, Alex Sinickas, the founder of Milkdrop, knew there had to be a better solution.

"I had huge troubles pumping," says 40-year-old Sinickas, who is a trained engineer. "My daughter struggled with feeding at the breast, and I was so panicked and guilty about getting her breastmilk that I put up with pain and damaged nipples. 


"I would hover my finger over the power button because I knew it was going to hurt. Over time, and especially as I spoke with other mums experiencing the same problems, I started to get annoyed that pumps weren’t designed better."

For eight out of 10 women, pumping is unpleasant and difficult. And for 15 percent, it's downright damaging.

"It motivated me to want to change how they worked and felt," Sinickas tells Mamamia.

So the Melbourne mum secured funds and assistance from Swinburne University after winning an innovation competition in 2019 and was accepted into the 2021 cohort of the Startmate Accelerator Program, where Milkdrop's first product was created – a soft silicone cushion that is fitted onto the head of a breast pump making it more comfortable. The cushions were manufactured after securing a female founders grant from the government in 2021.

Now, Sinickas has fixed her sights firmly on a new mission that will change the way breast pumps are designed and made – and, more importantly, how mothers feel when using them. 

Alex Sinickas, founder of Milkdrop. Image: Supplied.

"I spent a lot of time pumping, which led to a lot of thinking and experimenting with how they're made," says Sinickas.

"Usually they are just one shape, and they're quite hard plastic or silicone. This might have made sense decades ago when we were limited by technology, but these days we have access to softer materials, and we can 3D print pretty much any shape with can dream up."


Creating a pump that is a closer fit to a woman's breast and nipple shape, while closely mimicking how a baby suckles at the same time, means women won't have to just put up with using the standard pump size – 24mm – when nipple sizes in reality are usually anywhere from 13mm to 20mm.

"It's like wearing a D-cup bra when you're an A," says Sinickas of using a breast pump that doesn't fit properly. "But instead of just not feeling supported because the bra is too large, if a pump is too big, it can unnecessarily drag in your areola and cause pain or discomfort."

But finding a reputable source detailing the size and shape of lactating nipples has been impossible, Sinickas has found, and comprehensive research studies into nipple sizes simply doesn't exist. Yet. 

As Sinickas says, "You can't design for what you don't know".


"Not knowing about nipples isn't particularly surprising because historically we haven't put much public or private investment into the health and experience of women," she says. "I found more studies on the attractiveness of the female nipple or how to detect nipples on social media for censoring, than on their size and shape."

Not having the necessary data has led Sinickas and her team to start from the beginning: collecting nipple data from women in Australia and around the globe to create of the International Nipple Encyclopaedia. The data will then be used to learn more about nipple size, what happens to the nipple when it's in a pump, and how breast dimensions and shape contribute to pain or discomfort.

"From there, we'll take the data to pump manufacturers to try to prompt them to think about their own designs," explains Sinickas. "We'll definitely incorporate the learnings into how we design our own pumps and cushions at Milkdrop."

Sinickas is aiming to have 5,000 entries by the end of 2023. "The higher the entries, the more reflective we can be of the full spectrum of size and shape," she says. 

"With better data we create better products."

Australian women are needed to help create the International Nipple Encyclopaedia. Head to The Uncomfortable Feed to upload your nipple measurements anonymously. All you need is two minutes and a ruler, and you can help change how mums experience pumping.

Feature Image: Supplied; Getty; Canva.

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