September 19, 2016 |

A lifesaving investment

Getting our new, soft NIFTY cup delivered to preemies in Malawi and Tanzania who can't breastfeed.
An infant sips breast milk from a NIFTY cup.
After a mom expresses breast milk directly into the cup, her baby can sip it from a reservoir near the rim. Photo: Laerdal Global Health.

My oldest daughter was born ten weeks early. She weighed less than 2.5 lbs and fit in the palm of her dad’s hand.

Like many preemies, my daughter coughed, choked, and struggled when she tried to eat. She simply couldn’t coordinate the complex suck-swallow-breathe sequence babies must master to thrive.

So I understand from first-hand experience the difficulties many preterm infants face when trying to breastfeed. I also know how fortunate I was to have the support of nurses, doctors, and lactation specialists who helped my daughter and me figure out the best way for her to eat.

Things are different in low-resource countries, where these services are rarely available.

In these settings, moms and health workers often use a metal cup and spoon, or sometimes a small cup, to pour milk into the mouth of a baby who can’t breastfeed. Infants who are fed this way don’t always get the nourishment they need.

As a result, approximately nine million babies born in Africa and Asia this year could be at risk of dying because they have difficulty breastfeeding—either because they were born too early; they have a medical condition, like cleft lip or palate; or their mothers died in childbirth.

Just a few ounces of breast milk a day can give these babies a fighting chance to live long, healthy lives.

The generosity of PATH supporters helped babies get those ounces from a NIFTY cup, an innovative feeding cup PATH designed with our partners from Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington.

A five-year labor of love

At PATH, I lead a team that turns great ideas into products that improve health for women and children in low-resource countries—from a gel that prevents fatal infections in newborns to a uterine balloon tamponade that keeps moms from bleeding to death during childbirth. It’s always exciting to watch ideas come to life.

But for me, the NIFTY cup is special—because it’s personal.

When we had the chance to design a new kind of feeding cup, I knew my team didn’t have the bandwidth or budget to take it on. But I couldn’t think of another organization with the expertise and on-the-ground connections to pull it off. And I knew what a difference it could make to moms and babies around the world.

What our team lacked in budget, we made up for in dedication. From idea to reality, this was a five-year labor of love.

And we created something truly innovative.

So much so that the Seattle Times, in an editorial, called the cup “Nobel Prize-worthy”!

Trish Coffey holds a NIFTY cup in one hand.
Trish Coffey with NIFTY x 10: The NIFTY cup can be a game changer for babies who are unable to breastfeed. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

The NIFTY cup is made of durable, soft silicone that’s gentle on an infant’s mouth and fits nicely in a mom’s hand. After expressing a few tablespoons of breast milk into the cup, the mom tips it to fill a reservoir near the rim for the baby to sip at his or her own pace.

No coughing, no choking, no stress.

The cup is easy to disinfect and inexpensive to manufacture. And thanks to a burst of media coverage, people are clamoring for it!

PATH donors help connect the dots

We’ve made it this far on a shoestring. But we needed help to get this simple, lifesaving cup the final mile to the moms and babies who need it.

PATH has partnered with Laerdal Global Health, a nonprofit product developer, to produce a cup based on our NIFTY design and sell it at cost to hospitals in Malawi, Tanzania, and elsewhere for moms and babies to use.

But even a small price tag can be a big barrier between a baby and this lifesaving cup.

Thanks to the generosity of PATH donors, we were able to send over 6,000 NIFTY cups to hospitals in Malawi and Tanzania.

My daughter is an everyday reminder of how high the stakes are. Thanks to the tremendous support I received, my 2.5-lb preemie is now a healthy, happy teenager.

Every mother and child can have the same opportunity to thrive.

Want to support more projects like the NIFTY cup? Click here to support PATH’s lifesaving work.

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  • Trish Coffey is the group leader for heath technologies for women and children in the Devices and Tools program at PATH.