The Make the Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon

Art & Design, Community Organizing

In September 2014, we brought together 150 parents, engineers, designers and healthcare professionals to re-imagine the breast pump, an important yet overlooked and stigmatized technology.

In collaboration with Tal Achituv, Alexis Hope, Taylor Levy, Alexandra Metral, Dave Raymond, and Che-Wei Wang

In Fall 2014, we hosted the first “Make the Breastpump Not Suck” Hackathon at the MIT Media Lab. 150 designers, developers, mothers, fathers and babies converged to create better breastpumps, nursing environments, and support systems for breastfeeding parents

The event received over 90 articles in the global press and viral attention on social media. After the hackathon ended, we produced an online documentary, created a Facebook community and wrote two peer-reviewed research papers.

Through this process we learned that the breast pump isn’t the only thing that sucks. We need to invest in research and technology, consider equity, change public and workplace policy, and shift social norms.

Lead Organizer

Catherine D’Ignazio


  • MIT Media Lab
  • MIT Center for Civic Media


To solicit parents’ feedback on existing breast pumps and postpartum breastfeeding support, we opened a crowdsourcing process for parent ideas prior to the hackathon. This drew over 1000 ideas and stories from parents. We created a large gallery of these ideas on the wall at the hackathon and tied our judging criteria to how well teams responded to parents’ existing issues breastfeeding their babies. We also qualitatively analyzed these stories and summarized the themes that emerged in a paper at CHI 2016.


Two new businesses were created at the hackathon, while two established pump companies used what they learned from the hackathon to directly inform the design of new breast pumps that came to market several years later. At least two mothers at the hackathon returned to graduate school in engineering and attributed part of this decision to participating in the hackathon.

This hackathon was covered in over 90 articles in the popular press.

I am a co-founder of the “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck” Hackathon at the MIT Media Lab. The first instance of this collaborative art & design intervention took place in September 2014 and the second in May 2018.

We were invited to participate in the exhibit, “I Will What I Want: Women, Design, and Empowerment” at the Parsons School of Design, April 8-23, 2017.


  • “I Will What I Want: Women, Design, and Empowerment.” The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons School of Design. New York, NY. 2017.
  • “I Will What I Want: Women, Design, and Empowerment.” Muca Roma. Mexico City, Mexico. 2018.


  • D’Ignazio, Catherine, Alexis Hope, Becky Michelson, Robyn Churchill, and Ethan Zuckerman. “A Feminist HCI Approach to Designing Postpartum Technologies: ‘When I First Saw a Breast Pump I Was Wondering If It Was a Joke.’” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2612–22. San Jose California USA: ACM, 2016.
  • D’Ignazio, Catherine. “Questions on Design, Social Justice and Breastpumps.” In Exploring Social Justice, Design & HCI Workshop at ACM SIGCHI Conference, 2016.
  • D’Ignazio, Catherine, Alexis Hope, Alexandra Metral, Willow Brugh, David Raymond, Becky Michelson, Tal Achituv, and Ethan Zuckerman. “Towards a Feminist Hackathon: The ‘Make the Breast Pump Not Suck!’ Hackathon.” Journal of Peer Production 8, no. Feminism and (un) hacking (2016).
  • D’Ignazio, Catherine. “Four Tensions Between HCI Research, Social Justice Aspirations, and Grassroots Politics.” In CSCW ’19 Workshop on Design and the Politics of Collaboration. Austin, TX, USA: ACM, 2019.
  • Kumar, Neha, Daniel A. Epstein, Catherine D’Ignazio, Amanda Lazar, Andrea Parker, Muge Haseki, and Anupriya Tuli. “Women’s Health, Wellbeing, & Empowerment.” In Conference Companion Publication of the 2019 on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 116–21. Austin TX USA: ACM, 2019.

Selected Media References

  • “La Révolution Est Au Bout Du Tire-Lait!” Slate France, Béatrice Kammerer, July 30, 2016.
  • “It’s Time to Dump the Pump.” Working Mother, M. LaScala, August 2, 2016.
  • “It Sucks _ Startups Look to Redesign the Breast Pump.” Associated Press, Barbara Ortutay, June 29, 2016.
  • “Q&A with Catherine D’Ignazio.” MISC Magazine, J. Ferguson, Spring 2016.
  • “Building a Better Breast Pump, Not a Milking Machine.” The New York Times, Claire Martin, April 23, 2016.
  • “We Need a Better Breast Pump and We Need It Now.” ELLE, Chloe Schama, April 18, 2016.

Website 2014-event.html


MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA


MIT Media Lab Director’s Fund


Make the Breast Pump Not Suck 2018 – Official Documentary from Engagement Lab on Vimeo.

On Sept 20-21, 2014, 150 parents, engineers, designers, babies and healthcare givers gathered to address the profoundly terrible experience of breast pumping. The official mini-doc was produced by Alberta Chu and ASKLabs.