"So if you know they've struggled during their gestational period, and maybe develop gestational diabetes, or perhaps they're at risk, you know, from diet or genetically for developing type two, breastfeeding, actually, it's incredible because it helps make you more sensitive to the insulin that your body's producing. So you're becoming more efficient with the sugar that's available in your body and that's how we see that. For moms, it prevents diabetes, and actually reduces the risk of breast cancer." - Lauren Wright, PhD(c), MSN, AGNP-BC
Shireen: Lauren Wright integrates her immunology research experience, and one as a nurse practitioner to design breakthrough biome and breastfeeding innovations. She's the founder of a biotech company and patented infant feeding system called the natural nipple. Her passion is providing families with biofeedback solutions to confidently build immunity and lifelong development. Hi, Lauren, how are you?
Lauren: Hey, I'm good. Shireen, thank you so much for having me on today.
Shireen: It is an absolute pleasure having you on. So a lot of interesting work that you were doing. I just want to start out with, by asking you what led you to become a researcher and nurse practitioner?
Lauren: Yeah, thanks so much for asking. It's, I don't know, it's been a lifelong passion of mine on preventative medicine and giving people essentially the tools to help improve their health before chronic complications begin. I remember being a four year old girl and like, my mom was pregnant. And so I was reading all of the pregnancy magazines trying to just figure out how I could help or how we could improve her health through that journey. And it absolutely mortified her. It was like a couple of days after she gave birth, we were in Blockbuster Video, I don't know if you remember those. And she goes to lean over and pick up a stack of VHS is and I was like, Mom, no, like, you're gonna bleed everywhere. So I'm fast forward to, you know, I'm finishing high school and really just trying to figure out the best way to take that passion and translate it into a career that I love. And I do remember having a nurse practitioner when we would do some visits back when I was probably like 12 years old. And I always admired when they would actually like, sit down and give you empathetic care and education. And it's really when I saw them, doing that for my mom to prevent the progression of diabetes, that I realized, okay, this is a great way to provide empathetic care. But then as a researcher, I can actually, you know, shape the protocol that clinicians follow, because I saw a lot of inefficiencies that weren't really best for the patient when I started on pursuing my, my nursing degree. And long story short, I started studying psycho neuro immunology and my PhD and all that is, is the study of how the mind interacts with the immune system and with the nervous system. And so you may have heard the term microbiome, it's kind of a topic in science, you know, the past couple years. And we know so much more now about the importance of the gut brain access, and so and how really the gut affects our ability to think clearly and even IQ and prevents neurodevelopmental disease. So I began studying the gut at the onset of life, like in the youngest population of preterm infants, to try to figure out how we can improve health outcomes moving forward for the next generation. And yeah, and so I, I was really into this review, because it turns out that an imbalance of gut bacteria, especially when you're born preterm, and you don't have the protection anymore of being in utero, is fatal, and costs our US healthcare system $10 billion every year just from that one single problem of imbalance of gut bacteria. So I figured, okay, I'll start here and figure out what can we actually control for, as clinicians to prevent this from happening. And it turns out, there's a couple of factors that are involved, we can't always control if a mom ends up having an emergency c section. And that's actually important is for a baby to go through the vaginal canal and be exposed to those beneficial microbes. We can't always control if a mom gets antibiotics during that period of time, what we can control though, is increasing the amount of breast milk that that baby gets, and for how long they get it for. And so when I realized this is the one modifiable factor, we can really address, I began to wonder what's preventing that from happening that side?
Shireen: Huh, interesting. And so in doing that research, what, what were you able to flesh out what certain, what was certain problems that she saw within that?
Lauren: That's a good question. So I applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation and I had an idea of what could be the problem, but the whole premise of this grant is don't talk about your invention or your hypothesis, just go out and interview as many people as possible. And so it's qualitative research ended up interviewing over 300 new moms as well as neonatologists and new product committees in the hospital. So there's two primary barriers to breastfeeding that I came upon. And the first one that the moms were describing is, oftentimes when they have to go back to work, and it's time for them to introduce a standard bottle. They were experiencing challenges with latching afterwards. So the baby will get used to the shape, the feel and the flow of the bottle, and then have difficulty coming back to the grass to breastfeed. And this can become incredibly frustrating. For a variety of reasons, the baby gets fussy, they're expecting milk to maybe come out faster. There's different changes that occur like biting, because they're kind of getting used to this flimsy bottle nipple, and then that can cause them pain if they're biting and infection of the breast. And then, at the hospital level, it was fascinating because the population I started out studying the preterm infants, and if they're old enough to swallow, they are introduced to a bottle in the hospital setting. So a different scientist actually looked at the milk flows from every commercially available bottle. And when I saw this data screen, I was shocked because if you can just imagine, a firehose essentially like flooding a preterm infants mouth, that's really more often than not what's happening. And so that's dangerous, because not only if the baby can usually swallow, can it cause choking risk, and different episodes of lowered heart rates and decreased oxygen, which is terrible for brain development. But for the hospital, it's a huge problem, because they're actually increasing their console and length of stay costs. So much. So we average $6,000 per preterm infant. And so that is not reimbursable by insurance. And I remember thinking I'm like, Okay, well, what can we do to solve this, you know, for the moms, there's also something called reverse nipple confusion I became acquainted with where, you know, dad just wants to help maybe you're not even at that point, or you're going back to work, but you want to feed your pumped milk to the infant and just get some sleep, because rest is so crucial to help your body recover after the birthing experience. And if the baby is so used to the grass, that they can't take the bottle, it can be a real challenge for fathers who just want to experience some bonding time with their infant and want to have skin to skin contact with their child. And, and so long story short, I developed after 3d scanning lactating women, studying for the first time what maternal lactation averages actually look like over the first year of breastfeeding, and even density, how to make silicone and a product more similar to breast tissue density, the natural nipple, and so the idea is moving forward, a woman can actually pick from one of these four shapes, the shape that's closest to her own. And then every two and a half months actually gets sent an updated flow. So the idea is a bridge between when you have to be away with the baby, it's not going to cause latching challenges when you come back, and there's continuity between the breast and the bottle.
Shireen: Interesting. And so what I, what I do here normally is that, you know, moms sort of get frustrated with the, you know, trying to move back and forth between the bottle and breastfeeding naturally. And sometimes moms just give up, right, there's kind of like, forget it, this is not going to happen, and they may give up, give it, give up doing that sooner than they should. Ideally, yeah. So what does that look like for their health for the baby's health? Are there, are there challenges there?
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. And I'm really glad you touched on this because going back to, you know, my passion, which was preventative medicine. When I began studying breast milk immunology itself, I was just blown away, like this is your first life vaccine. It's free, it's accessible to the underserved. It's actually quantifies that we can save in the US $300 billion of preventable medical costs, just by helping women breastfeed for at least six months. And I could nerd out all day in terms of molecularly how that's happening, but the reality is that it reduces inflammatory conditions moving forward for the baby, and life enhances lifelong development. So we see, less ADHD, less autism, less neuro developmental delays, improved IQ, less anxiety and depression when we actually start measuring that in adolescence. There's far less autoimmune diseases, so diabetes moving forward, and that's something I wanted to touch on too, because this isn't just benefits for the child, but we actually see that it helps improve insulin sensitivity for moms. So if you know they've struggled during their gestational period, and maybe develop gestational diabetes, or perhaps they're at risk, you know, from diet or genetically for developing type two, breastfeeding, actually, it's incredible because it helps make you more sensitive to the insulin that your body's producing. So you're becoming more efficient with the sugar that's available in your body and that's how we see that. For moms, it prevents diabetes, and actually reduces the risk of breast cancer. And there was a study actually, longitudinally, and it was over like 1500 women. And they saw that women that breastfed for at least six months were actually 48%, less likely, like that's huge to develop, go on and develop diabetes, and also for issues that are often kind of taboo to speak about, like such as postpartum depression. And I'll touch a little bit about the hormonal changes that occur, like if you're, if you're exhausted and your body is just depleted, one real way to help boost and improve your neurotransmitter production, is by being able to have that skin to skin contact with your infant. And what that actually does is it releases the feel good hormone called oxytocin, which is what allows us to experience the sensation of bonding. It regulates serotonin, which is a mood neurotransmitter that helps us feel more calm, more relaxed, more stable and that actually influences our cortisol production as well. So we know that if our bodies are in this fight or flight mode, and we're really stressed, or we perceive a threat, that cortisol can really go through the roof. And that's also dangerous for our blood sugar levels, right. And not just for blood sugar, but just causing overall systemic inflammation if that condition in your body is prolonged. So you really want to be able to take the time and remove any, any barrier to those latching difficulties. Because, you know, psycho socially that can also feel like rejection, you just gave birth, you want this baby to be able to latch, you want to be able to feed it, and do the best thing for it and bond with it. And so that's really where I hope to see this greatly reducing that frustration for, for women and moving forward. And families as well. I mean, I've had dads come up to me and say, I have feed envy, I want to be, partake in this experience, too.
Shireen: Mm hmm. And so walk and so you just mentioned a little bit ago about gestational diabetes, I want to tap into that a little bit. So walk me through the science of it. What, what happens during gestational diabetes? And how does it really transfer into a potentially transfer into type two diabetes after birth? What is that relationship there? And how does it manifest?
Lauren: Okay, that's a great question. Let me think of the simplest way to put it. So your body, all of a sudden, you have a brand new human inside of you that also has a demand for energy. And so the quickest way to give yourself and that baby energy is by like, utilizing glucose, right? So you begin to really rely heavily on your insulin production. So insulin is what allows ourselves to actually uptake that circulating glucose in our blood. And so there's a period of time where if your pancreas has already had this demand on it in the past, you've had risk factors for diabetes or maybe your diet it, you know, you you weren't actually sure how to eat properly to prevent this kind of strain on your pancreatic cells. That can be a dangerous time because what happens is, as you're increasing the demand for this insulin production, your cells can begin to become insensitive to it. And then that's where we see later on that gestational diabetes can develop into a type two sort of diabetes. So what I really recommend for, you know, my patients is just to, there's a couple of ways to mitigate this. And number one, it's making sure that every meal that you're eating is as nutrient dense as possible, you know, today's day and age and living on the go, it's very easy to grab a pre packaged sort of snack. And the downfall with that is unfortunately, they're often packed with empty sort of carbohydrates that are sweet. And they will give us that immediate feel, that rush of sugar. And, but they're not complex to really sustain our energy levels. And so this is where I think it would be incredible to actually utilize an app like young lash, because oftentimes, you know, we think, by the marketing on, on the package, and you know, I'm guilty of this as well. It's like, oh, there's six vitamins in this. But there's so much else that it's hiding. So it's really important to have in your, in your pocket tools that help you decipher, Is this the most nutrient dense snack for me and my baby at this time? And another recommendation, I would say is eating at least every two hours, just aim for that. Even a small complex carbs. So something like nuts, or a hard boiled egg or some peanut butter, something with protein in it as well really helps prevent your pancreatic cells from experiencing this yo yo effect where all of a sudden there, you have to spike the insulin production because men our bodies out of sugar. And so you want to just make sure you're meeting your needs before they become urgent, and dietarily. And that's why I'm yeah, I'm so excited shooting for what you've developed with young lash because it is very confusing to navigate our food choices.
Shireen: Thank you. Thank you so much for that. And so you were, you were talking about some of the things that women can do to stay healthy during their pregnancy, especially if they've if they have gestational diabetes. Are there other tips that, that you can share to that? And so you mentioned the eating healthy, the nutrition, dense foods, anything outside of nutrition, perhaps that they can do?
Lauren: That's a great question. So aside from nutrition, actually, breastfeeding, we see, and I touched on that a little bit. But the longer that you breastfeed, that really does decrease your risk of developing diabetes, because of the way that it helps regulate cortisol. And you actually are burning about 500 calories per breastfeeding session, believe it or not me. So it's incredibly good for you, and incredibly good for your baby's development. Also, I'm not being I know you hear this often, but not being afraid to just get active. You know, sometimes there are certain conditions that require a bit of bed, bed rest, but the best recoveries I've seen are moms that just get up and I had a mom, that's one of my close friends and just did like a five K, the next day after she got home. And your body is just so much more capable and dynamic than sometimes we allow our minds to believe. So when you're encouraged to just get up and move and make sure that your, your blood is circulating, get it, get involved in like a local yoga studio, where you can also utilize that for relaxation. Those are some ways outside of diet, I would say that you can help manage the effects of gestational diabetes.
Shireen: Okay. Okay and so, when you mentioned about the, you know, the standard bottle and how it sort of failing us in that it is the flow concerns there, why do you think the standard bottle design hasn't changed in years? Why do we still have this problem?
Lauren: I'm so glad you asked that. So when I did this pitch for Florida Blue, which is an insurance company, that was the very first question by the panelists. Same for Johnson and Johnson, who we won their clinical Innovation Award once they looked at our IP compared to other feeding systems. And honestly, I can't say with all certainty other than the past two and a half years to create something that really mimics something as beautifully evolved as maternal anatomy and our milk duck system is, it's complex and it's not cheap to build something new. And so when I, when I look at competitors products, where has the demand really been it's 33 cents to produce a cheap flimsy silicone nipple, I don't think that any of the CEOs I've looked at the competitive landscape are clinicians or moms, and really don't have too much incentive for disrupting the infant feeding market. And so at the end of the day, they're still being bought, you know, there's still, there's not too much incentive for industry leader to shake up the market.
Shireen: Okay, all right. So with, you know, with everything that you're doing, and the way you sort of redesigned the standard nipple, tell us more about it, tell us how people can can connect, we're sort of towards the end of the podcast, I want to make sure that folks get a chance to sort of connect with you after this. How can people learn more about your work, understand more about your product?
Lauren: Thank you. Yeah, easiest way is to go on the natural nipple dotcom. So when you arrive on that site, Don't be shocked, because while we are building the bottle, and ensuring that the flow rates are actually meeting, this is the quality control part that I other competitors really haven't done, is matching it to our maternal lactation data. And we're anticipating to be about nine months out from launch, you know, fingers crossed with funding during this pandemic, that we can make that happen. And so what we've decided to do is we always wanted to be the first bottle that actually comes with health care to be differentiated, because when you get home, sometimes that one lactation consultation may, the key tips may have slipped your mind. And like that's really where you need a healthcare professional is, in that moment, when you are experiencing those lodging frustrations, we want to make sure that you have access to care. And another reason that's crucial is because right now, specifically, you don't really want to go into the urgent care or the ER if you don't have to, and potentially put yourself or your family at risk. Also, it's burdening the front line if it's not truly an urgent problem. And so this is the idea with providing new and expecting moms virtual visits, is we can actually have a health care professional triage you and your symptoms, you may think that you're experiencing milk production deficiency, but when we get through the full health history might learn it's actually uncontrolled blood sugar that's impacting your ability to produce milk properly. So I'm providing these services now as something that we've already launched. While the product is ready, we're also doing immuno biome testing. So when the bottle comes, it'll be a great biofeedback tool. So you can actually see how your breastfeeding journey is shaping your baby's gut microbiome. And then when they're able to start introducing solid foods, it's a great tool to know which ones to choose that are best for your baby's unique gut bacteria. I will say that when you go on the site, and there's also a link that you can donate to our AI fund women campaign. And so the reason I've launched that is one, we want to get that bottle finalized so we can actually launch it and get the solution into mom's hands working as we've intended to reduce latching frustration and increased bonding time. And then we are giving moms those virtual visits covered if we if we make our goal and I fund women campaign, we want to…
Shireen: I love it.
Lauren: Everyone has access to care.
Shireen: I love it. I love it. So repeat the website one more time.
Lauren: It's the natural nipple.com and if you go on our Instagram, that's our most active social media network and at the natural nipple.
Shireen: Got it. Okay, and we'll link all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for your time learn, really appreciate it. Thank you.
Lauren: Thank you. Have a good one.
Shireen: You too.