Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon 2018

Community-Based Design, Hackathon

A feminist hackathon centering racial and socioeconomic justice in breastfeeding and postpartum care.

In collaboration with Binta Beard, Alexis Hope, Kate Krontiris, Rebecca Michelson, and Jenn Roberts

I led the transformation of the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon 2018 from an event to a multi-year research project and community-based design program. In addition to a hackathon, we undertook a national-scale research project, hosted an art exhibition, published a book, ran a nine-month community design program and hosted a policy summit called the Make Family Leave Policy Not Suck Summit.

Poster from the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon 2018.

300+ hackathon participants worked in groups to design telehealth lactation services, better nursing spaces, milk bank technology, nursing clothing and community-based interventions, in addition to hacking the breast pump itself. The hackathon was preceded by a qualitative research project and community design program where we worked with leaders in racial equity in breastfeeding to develop their ideas and co-design the hackathon event.

Director, Principal Investigator

Catherine D’Ignazio


  • MIT Media Lab
  • Emerson Engagement Lab

Student Researchers

Crystal Lee and Cathy Edwards


For the qualitative research project, we interviewed 27 breastfeeding parents and 13 lactation care providers over a one-year period.

For the co-design aspect of the project we worked with community-based partners over a period of nine months. These groups included Indigenous Women Rising (Albuquerque), Harambee Care (Detroit), the Neighborhood Birth Center (Boston) and Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project (Tupelo). Partners developed their own innovations to bring to the hackathon as well as shaped the design and format of the event itself.


Drawing from our interviews, we published a book called “Speaking Our Truths,” which was distributed to hackathon participants to help build their awareness of the diversity of parents’ experiences breastfeeding. U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth shared a letter of support with our participants about the importance of supporting breastfeeding parents.

Altogether, these events attracted 500+ participants, including engineers, designers, midwives, clinicians, researchers, moms, dads and babies. The events received dozens of articles in the popular press, including the New York Times, USA Today, Boston Globe, BBC, CNN and Forbes.


  • “Designs for Different Futures.” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, 2020.
  • “Designs for Different Futures.” Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, PA, 2019.
We were invited to share a documentary of our work at the “Designs for Different Futures” exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The documentary was created by Elizabeth Gray Bayne (watch at


  • D’Ignazio, Catherine, Rebecca Michelson, Alexis Hope, Josephine Hoy, Jennifer Roberts, and Kate Krontiris. “The Personal Is Political’: Hackathons as Feminist Consciousness Raising.” Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 4, no. CSCW2 (October 14, 2020): 1–23.
  • Hope, Alexis, Catherine D’Ignazio, Josephine Hoy, Rebecca Michelson, Jennifer Roberts, Kate Krontiris, and Ethan Zuckerman. “Hackathons as Participatory Design: Iterating Feminist Utopias.” In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1–14. Glasgow Scotland Uk: ACM, 2019.
  • D’Ignazio, Catherine, Kate Krontiris, Rebecca Michelson, Alexis Hope, Jennifer Roberts, and Binta Beard. “Speaking Our Truths: 27 Stories of What It’s Really Like to Breastfeed and Pump in the United States.” Puritan Capital, 2018.

Media References

  • “The Impossible Quest to Build a Better Breast Pump.” Vox, Anna North, April 1, 2019.
  • “How VR May Take the Drudgery out of Pumping Breast Milk — and Help Ease New Mothers’ Stress.” Stat, Elizabeth Preston, December 31, 2018.
  • “‘Make the Breast Pump Not Suck’: How Women Are Redesigning Breastfeeding.” The Guardian, Zofia Niemtus, August 13, 2018.
  • “Scientists Are Trying To Make Breast Pumps Less Awful, But How?” Romper, Mallory McMaster, May 17, 2018.
  • “At Breast Pump Hackathon, Asking Why Visions Of The Future So Often Ignore Mothers And Babies.” Wonderland, Greg Cook, May 13, 2018.
  • “The Problems With Breastfeeding Go Way Beyond Breast Pumps.” The Atlantic, Amy Carleton, May 4, 2018.
  • “Addressing Bias, Inequality, and Accessibility in Breastfeeding.” MIT News, MIT Media Lab, May 4, 2018.
  • “The Time Has Come for a Better Breast Pump.” Neo.Life, Anna Nowogrodzki, May 3, 2018.
  • “Indigenous Women Rising & NM Breastfeeding Task Force Recognized for Work to Make Pueblo Regalia Breastfeeding-Friendly.” Native News, Online Staff, May 2, 2018.
  • “‘Breastfeed or Don’t. You Do You.’” Slate, Haley Swenson, April 30, 2018.
  • “Engineers, Doctors and Moms Team up to ‘make the Breast Pump Not Suck’ and Hack Other Barriers to Breastfeeding.” ABCNews, Katie Kindelan, April 30, 2018.
  • “A Gift, A Challenge, An Isolating Experience: Artists Explore The Complexities Of Breastfeeding.” WBUR The ARTery, Andrea Shea, April 27, 2018.
  • “MIT Shows How to ‘Make the Breast Pump Not Suck’ for Women of Color.” Women’s ENews, Kimberly Seals Allers, April 26, 2018.
  • “Spectra Baby USA Joins MIT’s ‘Make the Breast Pump Not Suck’ Hackathon.” Chicago Evening Post, Ari Roul, April 24, 2018.
  • “New Perk for Breastfeeding Moms: Lactation Pods Signal Changing Times (and Laws).” The Boston Globe, Katie Johnston, April 9, 2018.
  • “Building A Better Breast Pump Should Be Everyone’s Hackathon Challenge.” The Establishment, Marya Errin Jones, April 4, 2018.



MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA


W.K. Kellogg Foundation and MIT Media Lab Director’s Fund