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Bio-Inspired Breastfeeding Simulator (BIBS): A Tool for Studying the Infant Feeding Mechanism

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Many breastfeeding difficulties arise from a variety of issues such as infant oral structural or motor abnormality, or maternal issues. Collectively, these issues manifest themselves as departures from the normal infant suckling patterns, and therefore their mitigation is closely tied to a deeper understanding of the complex biomechanics of breastfeeding, including the complex motions of the infant oral cavity and the resulting compressive and vacuum forces applied to the breast.

In order to better understand the biomechanics of breastfeeding and the impact of various structural and motor abnormalities on breastfeeding outcomes, we developed an easy-to-control, fully-coordinated experimental apparatus called bio-inspired breastfeeding simulator (BIBS) to mimic various forces that an infant applies on the mother’s breast to extract milk.

The complete design includes a flexible and transparent lactating breast phantom, a vacuum pump, two actuators that represent infant’s oral maxilla and mandible, a rotating soft tongue-gear motor, a milk reservoir, and a set of measurement systems. Vacuum pressure and compression dynamics are inspired by the infant’s oral behavior from clinical studies and observation. Results indicate that the BIBS performance is in a good agreement with the infant’s oral motion and successfully imitates the effect of infant applied forces on the breast with the real-time oral pressures and nipple deformation measurements.

BIBS has achieved its goal to mimic natural breastfeeding suckling behavior in vitro with remarkable fidelity. The apparatus can run mechanical simulations under various suckling patterns that can be matched to individual mother/infant dyads. This simulator is programmed with the extensive and precise measurements obtained from the preliminary collected clinical data, to model both healthy and infants with oral motor disability. The BIBS setup provides a powerful tool for understanding the biomechanics of breastfeeding and provides a foundation for future breastfeeding device development.

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