My breastfeeding journey: “I felt like a failure, and there was no solution – so I created one.”
Founder of Lactamo, lawyer, and mum of four, Etta Watts-Russell, shares her story.
I had my first baby, Emilia in 2011. In my heart I knew I would be able to breastfeed, that it would naturally just happen – like an on/off button.
But, from the first moment, I struggled. Everything from engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis and low milk supply. I was hit with it all and I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was failing at something that was important to me, and that should have been easy.
Despite having a lovely mother’s group, no one else was talking about the same kind of struggles. This confirmed my fears that this was my fault, my problem alone to solve.
I found myself in the same place two years later with the birth of my second baby, Otto. The same pain, the same struggles, the same feeling of utter failure. All my fault. While I’d had access to lactation clinics in hospital, it never occurred to me that these varied problems were something a lactation consultant could help me with; I assumed they just focused on the early-stage basics of position and latch. Once I was home, it was all on me.
“Breastfeeding was hard – it wasn’t just me.”
By the time I had my third child, Ingrid, in 2017 I had a “broken record” feeling of failure. But, while I experienced the same issues with breastfeeding, this time I had a mother’s group who talked – about everything! It was just such a beautiful group of really supportive and progressive women all experiencing very similar problems and having the confidence to share those issues with others.
Via WhatsApp, which hadn’t existed when I had my first two children, we’d message all night while we were up trying to feed. Everyone would be texting about the problems they were facing, and it finally dawned on me – breastfeeding had its challenges, it wasn’t just me.
Finding a breastfeeding solution for all women
While trying to navigate all of my breastfeeding experiences, I had found massage a valuable part of self-treatment. But it was time consuming and now with three children it was getting harder to make the time for the self-treatment I needed. I was frequently faced with the choice of trying to find the time to try to gently massage away blocked ducts – or leaving them and risk getting a bout of debilitating mastitis. I knew there had to be a better solution.
But there wasn’t. Nothing in the breastfeeding solutions aisle at the pharmacy offered a cohesive, realistic, progressive solution. No easy, accessible aid for mothers struggling with the same issues as me.
I'm a solutions person by nature and so I got to work. I read academic papers, and breastfeeding journal articles. I discovered that the breastfeeding rates in Australia and around the world were disappointingly low. Given the nutritional, economic and psychological benefits associated with breastfeeding I found that counterintuitive. I knew by then that the problems I’d had, women everywhere were having, with no easy solution to help solve them.
I found one study that highlighted the benefits not just of breast massage, but the combination of temperature, movement, and compression. I needed to come up with a solution for women that would make these three parts of the puzzle come together and give moms better success and a better experience than my own.
Lactamo started as an idea, but became a breastfeeding solution
Soon I was literally living and breathing the whole space of breastfeeding. Lactamo started as a need, an idea, but progressed quickly. I wanted to make something that would match the elasticity of lactating breast tissue, able to be warmed or cooled, and would facilitate that all important trifecta of temperature, movement, and compression with breast massage.
A corporate lawyer by profession, I used that skill set to look at the business side of creating Lactamo. It was complex. First, we had to protect the IP, which was critical. Then we started reviewing regulatory compliance requirements for our solution. We spoke to lactation consultants, healthcare professionals, midwives, and surgeons who discussed catering for the specific requirements of the anatomy of the breast in our solution. My team focused on lactating breast tissue and the type of application and pressure appropriate.
Then there were medical technology companies, commercialisation consultants, and industrial designers. We consulted with a huge number of different specialists and key opinion leaders in the breastfeeding space. My aim throughout all of this was clear and solid - create a solution that innovatively supports and promotes breastfeeding and women to have the best success and experience possible.
The light bulb moment
Baby number four, Albert, arrived in 2018, and I used my maternity leave to progress Lactamo as much as I could. I was too late for me, but I was committed to creating a solution for other women if I could.
One day I went to see a highly recommended lactation consultant. By that time, I had a primitive prototype, far from finished, but she held it in her hands and just smiled. “I see people every day that would benefit from this. Why isn't this available already?” It was a light bulb moment. I was on the right track. I could create something that could help potentially millions of women. Her response was the fuel I needed to keep going.
Lactamo – a social impact product for purpose
After extensive research and development, and also an incredibly successful independent clinical trial we finally launched in August 2021. The generosity and interest of healthcare professionals has confirmed I'm doing something of value which is a going to help women.
I describe Lactamo as a social impact product for purpose and I’m proud to say we're 100% Australian designed and manufactured. Excitingly markets around the world have reached out and we will soon be expanding into other countries as we grow.
Personally, there's heartwarming validation when mothers say Lactamo has saved their breastfeeding journey. The word Lactamo came from the Latin, lact for milk, and amo which is love or friend. That’s the message and ethos behind everything we do.
There is no ‘one solution’ for breastfeeding
If I could give one piece of advice to my younger self, or to other women who are still on their feeding journey, I would say love and support yourself. Breastfeeding is often at a very vulnerable and sensitive time, full of highs and lows and everything in between.
Society plays a huge part in the breastfeeding rhetoric. It’s overly sexualised. If we breastfeed until our babies are two, apparently that’s disgusting. If we breastfeed for two weeks, apparently we’re failing. I think women are also naturally very hard on themselves, I know I am. We always think we should be doing better and are overly critical in a way we aren’t with others.
So, yes, be kind. Love and support yourself. Find your own pathway. Ask for help. Get informed and stay supported. There are so many educational resources available that can help people feel much more prepared ahead of the birth. If you want to breastfeed and have any questions or concerns, a certified lactation consultant can really help before and after you’ve had your baby.
And remember, there is no ‘one solution’ for breastfeeding. Natural processes often have a learning process. There is space for so much more innovation and support in this space. I'm just delighted to be playing a part with Lactamo.