One baby feeding brand aims to help breastfeeding mothers with easy-to-use multi-functional products, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan
MOTHER-of-four Yvon Bock, 39, is a staunch breastfeeding advocate who has turned her problems into solutions for other mums plagued by the same predicament.
Her youngest child was born eight years ago. She fully breastfed the first three but moaned the fact that after all these years, breastfeeding equipment are still so clunky and cumbersome to carry around.
“You need to pump, collect and transfer them into bottles for feeding. Already breast milk is so precious. Transferring it from one container to another increases risk of spilling,” says the entrepreneur.
At that point, Bock was working with her father’s company, Johor-based Fitson, which manufactures baby products such as bottles, teethers and milk containers.
She wanted to create an ecosystem of products — a Lego system of sorts — where products are multi-functional and are connected to one another without the need to buy separate sets.
So in 2015, Hegen was born, challenging the design norms of baby products as we know it.
Its bottles are in soft square — the angular shape helps baby with self-feeding. And instead of a screw lock for feeding bottles, Hegen uses a press and twist mechanism that’s completely leak-proof.
“I think the design of bottle and baby products do not complement the lifestyle of mothers. Breastfeeding is a difficult process and yet product designers don’t realise the hardship mothers face in this endeavour so they do not design for the benefit of mothers and babies.”
One of the issues in breastfeeding is nipple confusion, which happens when the baby is introduced to teats before direct feeding is properly established. The baby will then reject his mother’s breasts and the mother would need to pump milk and feed him with a bottle.
Bock’s second daughter was born premature and had this issue so she was bottle-fed all the way.
So Bock wanted to create a teat similar in texture and flow to the human breast to eliminate nipple confusion.
“We had 30 prototypes before we found the right one. And customers’ testimonies attest to how this little product helps their babies alternate between breast and teat without confusion,” she says.
Hegen’s teat is elliptical and with a liquid flow that mimics that of breast milk so babies do not have to suck profusely for more milk. The teat is also anti-colic, making sure babies don’t suck air in as they do milk.
Bock was in the city to launch the brand’s electric breast pump after its manual pump. I asked Bock if mothers need a manual pump if the electric one works just fine. She told me her story of travelling to Europe on a 15-hour flight. Her breast pump was charged but for some reason (maybe it’s the altitude, she says), it didn’t work.
So she had to express manually in the restroom. Some of the cabin crew thought she passed out because she stayed in the cubicle for too long.
“You always need a manual pump as a back up,” she says.
Despite the many baby feeding offerings available in the market now, Bockbelieves that there is still a void in the segment when it comes to products designed to make a mother’s and her baby’s life easier.
Which explains why made-in-Malaysia Hegen is sold in 15 markets including the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Russia and China.
Bock says while she is Singaporean, she sees Hegen as the collaboration of two countries.
By 2022, the brand hopes to be in 35 markets to “make a global footprint of breastfeeding community”.
Bock says next year it will focus on market expansion.
But beyond expanding her brand, she wants to help mothers and make them prolong breastfeeding.
The World Health organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life — only breast milk for the little one, not even plain water. After that, it recommends mothers to breastfeed their baby, along with complementary food, for up to two years, for optimal health and growth.
“Many mothers throw in the towel because the process and equipment do not help make it easy. We need to step in and empower mothers with the support they need — be it products, support group or breastfeeding knowledge in general,” she says.
“We will conduct seminars and workshops and get support from employers to have a positive opinion about breastfeeding and providing what’s needed for mothers to breastfeed while working. Employers cannot see it as a burden because these mothers are shaping the health of the next generation.”