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Sewickley mother-daughter team helps breastfeeding women

| Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, 9:39 p.m.
Elizabeth Best (left) and mother Clareanne Best, creators of the Millybutton breastfeeding device, which they are wearing around their arms, sit for a photo in their makeshift office inside Elizabeth's Sewickley home Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Best (left) and mother Clareanne Best, creators of the Millybutton breastfeeding device, which they are wearing around their arms, sit for a photo in their makeshift office inside Elizabeth's Sewickley home Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.

A mother-daughter team from Sewickley has developed a breastfeeding device that's a literal babe magnet.

The Millybutton is a small gadget that secures a breastfeeding woman's shirt, allowing her to nurse hands-free, maintain the important skin-to-skin contact with her baby, and avoid having to awkwardly tuck her shirt under her chin while trying to maneuver the baby.

“Every mother is different, every baby is different,” says Millybutton co-creator Elizabeth Best, an architectural designer. “I assumed because breastfeeding was natural, it would be easy.”

But Best says that as a new mother, she found nursing her daughter extremely challenging, especially when she returned to work. She couldn't afford a new wardrobe of breastfeeding-friendly clothes, so the entire process was awkward and frustrating.

Her mother, Clareanne, a retired nurse, had a moment of ingenuity while seeing her daughter's struggle. She took a plastic clip designed for keeping potato chip bags closed and used it to hold up the part of Elizabeth's top that was impeding her progress.

That was their “aha!” moment, the pair says.

The Millybutton uses two magnets, one under the shirt and one on top, to keep the shirt tucked neatly in place, but without crimping, snagging or otherwise damaging the material. When not in use, it can be stored as a bracelet on the wrist (as a reminder for which side to nurse on next) or around a diaper bag.

When their idea was accepted by startup accelerator Amazon Launchpad last year, the Bests were excited. But their first prototype was made of a hard plastic and didn't work all that well, and they were a little stymied by the process of getting a product to market.

“We were a little naïve,” Clareanne admits.

So they got to work. An adviser at the Tech Shop in East Liberty suggested changing the material to silicon, which is a popular material for many wearables because it's pliable.

That was the first breakthrough. Next was finding a manufacturer that would be able to make the Millybutton at a price point that would allow the Bests to sell it for a reasonable price.

“We didn't want it to be a fancy, high-end product, we wanted it to be affordable, so a mom could use it with any shirt in her wardrobe,” Elizabeth says.

That idea of using a woman's own wardrobe resonated strongly for Elizabeth. “After you have a baby, your body has not been your own for nine months, and you just want to get back to being you, to wearing your own comfortable clothes.”

Elizabeth says the advice they got from the Women's Center for Entrepreneurship at Chatham University proved invaluable: “They really taught us to be entrepreneurs, and got us focused on how to get our prototype ready.”

The Millybutton team worked with MAKO Invent and Pittsburgh-based, women-owned Pittsburgh Plastics Manufacturing to get their improved prototype designed and produced.

“Once we had the right product design, with the added benefits of skin-to-skin contact and eye contact, it really exceeded all our expectations,” Clareanne says. In order for babies to latch successfully during breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact and eye contact with the mother is crucial.

The Bests have the patent for the device, and for now are working toward getting the Millybutton ready for a November launch. Their Indiegogo campaign is seeking $20,000 to help defray the production costs and to gauge interest in the product.

There are other potential uses for the Millybutton, including for home care nurses treating patients with wounds that need careful cleaning, Clareanne adds.

The Millybutton is named for Elizabeth's daughter Amelia, whose nickname is Milly. The inspiration for the device, Amelia celebrates her eighth birthday in October, which is how long the Bests have been working on the Millybutton.

And its namesake is well aware of her role in the process.

“There were a few interesting phone calls from school, after she told some of her classmates about breastfeeding and how it works,” Elizabeth says with a chuckle, “and how ‘Mom used to spill milk all over her clothes.'” But Elizabeth says the Millybutton gives her one more connection to her daughter, whose beautiful spiral bellybutton helped inspire the product's spiral design.

“Even when they're outside the womb, this is one more symbol of the connection between mother and baby.”

Kim Lyons is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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