Milk Expression Research Lab (MERL): Proof of concept and feasibility of an investigation into claimed versus actual breast pump specifications and performance

Human milk (HM) provides optimal nutrition for infants and the perfect version of milk for the first years of life. However, a variety of barriers to breastfeeding exist and, while the overwhelming majority of parents initiate breastfeeding at birth, most do not breastfeed for as long as they initially desired, despite the negative health and emotional consequences associated with early breastfeeding cessation. Exclusively pumping or expressing human milk (EPing; also EP, EPer), usually with an electric breast pump, may provide a solution for some of these problems while still providing most of the benefits of HM.

Currently, no rigorous or independent testing of breast pumps occurs: there is no verification of the information provided by manufacturers. Breast pump users have few places to turn for information about pumps, with those places often dominated by social media influencer reviews or non-independent/ sponsored representatives.

This research is multi-staged, ultimately culminating in the establishment of the Milk Expression Research Lab (MERL), whose mission will be to research all aspects of milk expression. The first major project (the “main project”) will be to investigate claimed versus actual breast pump specifications and performance. Different breast pumps will be subjected to the same protocol of testing, with this data being compared to publicly available information.

A pilot study will be conducted to demonstrate that a “Lactation Simulation Model” (LSM) is an appropriate tool to use in the main study. An LSM is a functional silicone breast model that allows for liquid to be expressed out of the nipples either by hand or with a pump. It is the only such device in the marketplace and has the potential to be a consistent model of milk expression in ways that a human breast could never be. However, the LSM has never been tested for long-term pumping use nor for consistency in its performance over time; therefore, the goal of the pilot study is to investigate the stability and durability of this device.

Fall 2019
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