A startling 50 percent of new mothers give up breastfeeding because they worry that the baby is not getting enough milk. They switch to formula primarily because it promises a more exact measurement.

A new Israeli startup is out to change that. Tel Aviv’s Momsense has built a special pair of headphones that connects on one end to the mother’s iPhone or tablet and on the other is attached just under the baby’s earlobe where it listens to the patterns of sucking and swallowing.

The sounds of the session are then compared in real time with the Momsense app’s database to provide the nursing mother with instant feedback – in the form of animation on the device’s screen – on how well her baby is feeding.

 A visual log of baby’s nursing history. Photo courtesy of Momsense
A visual log of baby’s nursing history. Photo courtesy of Momsense

The Momsense device doubles as real headphones, too, so Mom can use the second earpiece to listen to her baby feeding.

The animation is the key selling point for Momsense, though. “Our visual sense is much stronger and we tend to neglect sound,” Momsense CEO Dr. Osnat Emanuel tells ISRAEL21c. “There’s an emotional value. You can show it to your spouse, your other children. Nursing becomes a joint experience.”

At the end of the session, Momsense provides a visual summary of the baby’s overall nursing sessions to date.

Improving nursing may sound like a niche, but it has the potential to become big business for Momsense. Eighty percent of mothers in developed countries breastfeed. It’s even higher in Israel, at 90%. Moreover, 83% of moms today are millennials who are already used to tracking everything – steps, pulse, sleep, weight gain.

But not only do half of mothers stop nursing after just four to six weeks, 85% don’t make it to the recommended six months, Emanuel laments.

There are many reasons they stop, Emanuel says. “Maybe the mother-in-law said something, or maybe a professional felt the baby wasn’t gaining enough weight. The mother can worry that if the baby falls asleep during nursing, she’s not getting enough milk.”

The Momsense team at work in Tel Aviv, with founder Dr. Osnat Emanuel in the middle. Photo: courtesy
The Momsense team at work in Tel Aviv, with founder Dr. Osnat Emanuel in the middle. Photo: courtesy

Emanuel, 49, came to Momsense with a medical degree and an MBA. She has spent much of the last 20 years developing technology for children. Remember the kid-friendly Comfy Keyboard that connected to a PC? That was hers. She also produced interactive television for the HOT kids channel in Israel.

“But this product is my greatest passion,” she says of Momsense.

Meant for short-term use

The Momsense system may sound simple, but it’s taken $3 million in investment and four years of study with hundreds of breastfeeding mothers in Emanuel’s lab, listening to and weighing their babies, to build a database that tracks everything from speed and frequency to intensity and amplitude.

The product formally launched last year at the ABC Kids Expo in the United States. It is available in Israel at the Shilav chain and in the US at giant retailers Target and Babies R Us (online for now, in stores in August).

Momsense isn’t the first attempt at measuring how well a baby is nursing. Three years ago, ISRAEL21c covered the similarly named MilkSense, which takes a different technological approach. Rather than just listening to the baby, mothers attach MilkSense’s sensors to their breasts before and after a nursing session. MilkSense measures electrical changes to the alveoli, the small sacs in the breast where milk pools prior to nursing, to determine how much milk was consumed.

MilkSense is sold at Walmart online and in the United States. Funds are now being raised to further develop this and other products for the breastfeeding market, according to Assaf Nahoum from the parent company, Tel Aviv-based Bradley & Luka.

Momsense takes a different tack, with no electronic parts in its headphones – it’s all acoustic with the app interpreting the audio – and advises users to switch their phone to airplane mode in order to reduce even the smallest amount of radiation that might be associated with the device.

After the first few uses, a mother should start to become a “swallow expert,” Emanuel says.

“What’s important is that if a mom is hesitating, it will comfort her. If latching on is not going well and she cannot hear the swallow sound, then she will double check and won’t wait a week worrying that the baby is not gaining weight.”

In that sense, Momsense is not just a device to confirm proper feeding. It identifies issues before they become bigger problems. The device is popular with lactation consultants, EmSanuel says.

Momsense retails for $89. For mothers searching for peace of mind that their babies are eating enough, it pays for itself for the price of just a few refills of formula.

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