Growing the Project - Kathy's Story

Kathy Phelan is the CEO and founder of Small World Social.  She specializes in discovering and applying new technologies to improve productivity and effectiveness. Kathy is passionate about using these to understand and explain complex concepts in health, science and medicine.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a mother of two daughters, 29 and 30 years old, and I am a technologist that loves to build big things and collaborate with inspiring people.

 2. How did you become involved in maternal and child health?  What led you to become a breastfeeding advocate?

Breastfeeding is the single most impactful thing we can do for long-term health for both the health of the mother and baby. The recent Lancet Breastfeeding Series highlighted this. The greater women's participation in the labor market, the greater the recorded decline of breastfeeding. With all our clever technology, we should be able to reverse this trend - and quickly.

I really love the juxtaposition of using the latest technology to support something that really exemplifies the essence of what it is to be a human being - breastfeeding an infant.

With my own journey, I was surprised how difficult it was to learn the practice and I had a lot of help and support from my neighbors, mother and sister, as well as the luxury of time at home.

We know from a great deal of research, that to have healthy and happy communities, all age groups need to participate fully in raising children. This is where I think seniors in our community can help with supporting breastfeeding and positive parenting more broadly.

It's really important that we have seniors involved in child-raising. They are wise and experienced, and have insights that can really improve the quality of life in our communities.  I am especially excited about the involvement of our wonderful community volunteers in the Mother-Baby project. They are such an inspiration to our team, providing caring encouragement and guidance on strategies and approaches to use in the application and educational materials.

I have had a career-long interest in health and technology. I want to find better ways to promote health and wellbeing, deliver services, and innovate.

3. How did being a mother yourself influence your approach to breastfeeding? What challenges did you have and what support did you receive? 

I was able to breastfeed both my daughters and initially, it was a very difficult skill for me to confidently master.  Breast pumps and all the associated gear needed for getting back to work were a real shock, that's for sure.

4. What do you think are the biggest challenges for mothers today in your community to breastfeeding?

There is a lot of variability in the quality of advice and support. Generally, in the U.S., I don't think breastfeeding is encouraged enough in public and in communities more broadly.  Mothers should be told they are doing an excellent job and how well they and baby are doing by other women in public, so we reinforce a culture of encouragement and affirmation.

5. Why do you think that despite the evidence, the numbers of women breastfeeding are declining? Why do you think women often don't get support from communities and society in general that they should?

The reduced rates are linked statistically to women's participation in the labor force.  We have seen this trend appear in all industrialized countries around the world.  

6. Why have you become involved in the Mother-Baby project? What role do you think innovation can play in promoting this age-old practice?

I want to be part of a team that moves the needle in the right direction - up - increasing breastfeeding globally. My goal is to see breastfeeding rates hit 90% for the bulk of the world's 130 million babies born each year.