How Babyation built a better breast pump — from St. Louis
Samantha Rudolph wasn’t yet a mom, and was still living on the East Coast, when she and her husband, Jared Miller, set out to build a better breast pump. The task would consume the couple through a relocation to St. Louis, the birth of two sons and the founding of their company, Babyation.
Last month, they finally brought their third baby into the world — a discreet, app-controlled breast pump that retails for $499. And while it’s not cheap, this newcomer is already enormously popular: Rudolph noted on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air that Babyation has a 4,500-name waiting list.
Rudolph said the Babyation pump has two things that separate it from the competition. It has the market’s smallest, lightest breast shields, which make it possible to use even in meetings or at social events. And, she said, its suction expertly mimics a baby’s mouth. Early data from the company’s studies suggest that leads to greater milk expression.
For Rudolph and Miller, Babyation’s launch is a long time in coming — but, in some ways, it’s actually a remarkably short gestation period. Both the pump and its app are technically medical devices, which means FDA approval and a host of regulatory hoops.
“When we talk to people with medical device experience, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, how did you do this so fast?’” Rudolph said.
Though she acknowledged that she’s no engineer, Rudolph herself is even taking a small role on the assembly line to help plow through the product’s waitlist — something Babyation aims to have worked through by the end of this month. That’s possible because not only is the company’s headquarters local (in Clayton), but its manufacturing is too, with a 10,000-square-foot facility in Maryland Heights now producing pumps.
Rudolph credited growth in the region’s manufacturing sector for making that possible.
“A few years ago, we started looking in St. Louis, and we widened the net from St. Louis to Missouri and then to the Midwest,” she acknowledged. “We couldn't find all of the different capabilities that we needed, with the appropriate FDA registrations. But when we decided to move final assembly in-house into our St. Louis facility, we then started looking again to see if we could find vendors locally. And there's been a lot of growth, actually, in the manufacturing side. So while we do still have some out-of-state vendors, many of the relationships now are in St. Louis.”
Rudolph and Miller were living in Connecticut when the promise of a $50,000 Arch Grant persuaded them to move back to Rudolph’s native St. Louis. Flying into the city while 36 weeks pregnant to pitch for the Arch Grants process, Rudolph found herself stunned by how much her hometown had to offer — and she’s only been more impressed since.
“We had this very wrong preconceived notion that people in St. Louis couldn't possibly have been at the caliber of the people that we were interacting with on the East Coast, which was wrong,” she stressed. “I was incredibly, incredibly, incredibly wrong. And I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to be corrected.”
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.