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Need help with breastfeeding? This Manly local has the mother of all inventions

Etta Watts Russell, corporate lawyer and mum of four, couldn’t find a solution for her breastfeeding struggles. So, she built a pioneering new product from the ground up.

“I never expected my biggest challenge as a mum would be breastfeeding. As a young, active parent living on the Northern Beaches, I assumed breastfeeding would be easy – and that childbirth would be my biggest struggle,” she tells Manly Observer.

“But breastfeeding caught me off guard with all of my four children (Emilia, 9, Otto, 7, Ingrid, 4, and Albert, 2). I experienced every roadblock imaginable: oversupply, undersupply, pain, blocked ducts, engorgement, and mastitis (just to name a few). The daily struggles of breastfeeding made me feel like a complete failure.

“During this time, I couldn’t find any products to provide relief, which made me think I was the odd one out. “If everyone has such a hard time breastfeeding, why aren’t there solutions to fix it?”, I wondered.

“But with my third child (Ingrid), I found an amazing local mother’s group and shared my breastfeeding woes. That’s when I realised that most Manly mums (and mums across the globe) also faced challenges with breastfeeding,” she adds.

Out of the 300,000 babies born in Australia each year, 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. But, by three months 61% of babies aren’t exclusively breastfed.

There is a long way to go to improve breastfeeding rates, and this is being highlighted this week in particular as part of World Breastfeeding Week.

Etta has developed a product to help women with breastfeeding issues

“Experiencing the problem myself – and seeing the extent of the problem worldwide (UNICEF reported recently that “no country in the world meets the recommended standards for breastfeeding”) – helped me to understand what sort of solution could help.

“So, I swapped my 15+ year career as a corporate lawyer (most recently for a Fortune 500 company) to create Lactamo (Latin for ‘milk-friend’), the first-of-its-kind breastfeeding massage ball. I put together a team of experts and spent the next 18 months finessing prototypes. Deakin University and the Western Health Partnership independently carried out (and funded) a clinical trial on the product: 100% of mums in the clinical trial said that they would recommend Lactamo to other mums,” Ella says.

Lactamo is specifically developed and designed for the elasticity of lactating breast tissue, with hollow surface lumps filled with gel that can be heated or cooled, and is simple, reusable and affordable.

The product is rolled over the breast and is aimed at stimulating milk production and flow and aiding the let-down reflex, helping clear blocked ducts, and helping relieve swelling and pain.

“In just 18 months since I dreamt up the product, Lactamo has been hailed as a breakthrough and “a potential game-changer in breastfeeding” by leading industry experts (including Professor Linda Sweet, Chair of Midwifery at Deakin University and Western Health Partnership).

Etta with her young family

“We’ve already won multiple awards including Best New Business Idea 2020 at TEDxSydney with St.George and have taken out the 2019 Australian MedTech Actuator Award (Australia and India). Women’s Agenda recently announced me as Australian “Emerging Entrepreneur” Finalist 2021: the FemTech industry is finally getting the attention it deserves and I’m proud to be part of this change.”

But launching a new product during a pandemic hasn’t been without its challenges for Etta.

“I’ve faced delays, stock being tied up in locked down depos due to COVID-19 outbreaks – as well as the daily juggle of keeping four young kids under 9 entertained in lockdown! Luckily, Lactamo is manufactured here in Australia, meaning we’re less impacted logistically than if we’d taken our manufacturing overseas. Plus, I’m able to support our local economy at a time when they need it most.

“The feelings of failure I experienced are all too common when it comes to breastfeeding, and I’m determined to give other mums a better start in their motherhood journey than I had.”