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Mother Invents a Gentler Breast Pump : Nursing: A lightweight device with a silicone cup designed to be easier on nursing women has turned into a successful business venture.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Elena Grant was nursing her first child, she remembers gritting her teeth in pain every time she pumped milk out of her breast to feed her baby.

But the discomfort of the hard, bulky breast pumps was the price she had to pay to continue in her job as a supervisor of computer operations at the Vancouver Stock Exchange.

Several years later, while nursing a second child, she reluctantly decided to feed her baby a formula. But her baby became very ill from the formula, so she took temporary leave from her job to nurse the infant back to health.

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“Thank God my baby didn’t die,” said the 36-year-old Garden Grove native.

In the early 1980s, Grant decided to so something about the problems that she and other nursing mothers face. She developed a lightweight electric breast pump with a soft silicone cup designed to be gentler on nursing women. The pump was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1985.

By 1987, her invention had turned into a successful business venture. The White River electric pump is now patented and has a distribution system of 1,200 dealers throughout the United States.

A recent medical study out of Georgetown University found the White River Breast Pump to be the pump that most closely resembled the natural breast-feeding process.

The other breast pumps that were on the market were “designed by using cow udders,” Grant said. The pumps had a hard rigid funnel that tugged at the mother’s nipple, often tearing the tissue and making the breast sore.

“They don’t suckle the way a baby suckles,” she said.

The White River pump, she explained, resembles an infant latching on to the breast normally and comfortably, and yet, with the soft silicon flange, releasing pressure from the woman’s breast.

Grant’s company, Natural Technologies Inc., has targeted its seven-pound pumps to two markets: working women and mothers who are breast-feeding premature or sick babies who are unable to digest formula.

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But the pumps aren’t inexpensive. They sell for $880 or can be rented for $60 per month.

Natural Technologies has also developed a hand pump using the same soft cup that she plans to sell for about $24.

In recent years, breast-feeding has become more popular, particularly among professional women. Considered superior to infant formula, breast milk has been identified as a key ingredient in infant health, Grant said.

“What’s really sparked the comeback to breast feeding,” Grant said, “has been the overwhelming scientific evidence that there is just no way to duplicate milk that comes from the mother.”

And Grant is hoping that the move toward natural breast feeding not only will help make healthier babies but also give a boost to her tiny company. She estimates the total market for breast-pumping devices at $2.5 billion.

“There are a lot of players in the hand-pump market, but they all utilize that hard funnel,” Grant said in an interview at her home in Modjeska Canyon. Natural Technologies patented the soft-funnel device in 1988 and is now negotiating license agreements with several companies.

Grant, who studied biology and computer science at UC Irvine, conducted ultrasound studies on nursing babies to learn how she could best imitate the physiological process of breast feeding.

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