Breastfeeding delivers the key nutrients and vitamins a baby needs, as well as provide antibodies that can fight deadly illnesses.
Australian dietary guidelines recommend babies be exclusively breastfed until six months of age.
But not all babies are able to be nursed through breastfeeding, due to various reasons including premature birth or being born with a cleft palate.
When health anomalies prevent a baby from feeding through their mother, the World Health Organisation recommends cup feeding. But this method is problematic when babies and mothers can’t control the pace of feeding, while bottles and cups can also be rife with bacteria leaving infants at high risk of infection.
"We just knew that there had to be a simple intervention that could be life-changing for this population."
That’s where the NIFTY cup comes in. The elegantly designed cup by Dr. Michael Cunningham at Seattle Children's Hospital and the team at the University of Washington is made from silicon and has a small reservoir tip from which the baby can sip. This allows for mothers to express their milk into the cup and for babies to be able to lap up the milk from the tip, while controlling the pace of their feed.
"They pace the feed because they're the ones deciding through their jaw movement and their tongue movement when to bring more milk into their oral cavity. That helps the infant be more participatory in the feeding experience," said Christy McKinney, a clinical assistant professor in oral health sciences at the University of Washington.
In order for families in poorer regions such as Africa and Asia to benefit from the life-changing tool, Cunningham teamed up with a charity called PATH to work on manufacturing and distributing them to hospitals for the price of $1 each.
"We were devastated to learn that newborns with clefts were starving to death because they were unable to properly feed," said Cunningham.
This allows for mothers to express their milk into the cup and for babies to be able to lap up the milk from the tip.
"We just knew that there had to be a simple intervention that could be life-changing for this population which led to our quest to develop the perfect feeding tool."
In a pilot test conducted at Sri Ramachandra University in South India, the NIFTY cup was used in premature babies and those born with cleft palates.
The study confirmed that “the design worked as we had planned and anticipated and hoped.”
“It was quite dramatic to see how much easier it was for infants to feed from the NIFTY cup, because it was soft and well-designed,” McKinney said of the pilot test.