The Stella Women Series with Etta Watts-Russell, Founder of Lactamo

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Breastfeeding is seemingly synonymous with motherhood. But the reality is that the vast majority of women face stacks of challenges during their breastfeeding journey, from blocked ducts to supply issues and even painful inflammation through conditions like mastitis.  

One woman who knows these struggles first-hand is corporate lawyer turned FemTech entrepreneur, Etta Watts-Russell. Etta is the founder of Lactamo, a game-changing tool designed to be a helping hand during breastfeeding. 

Lactamo is making waves in the medical world and beyond, named the Winner of Australia’s “Best New Business Idea 2020” (TEDxSydney, St.George), the winner of the Business NSW Award for “Outstanding Startup” in 2021 as well as taking out the MedTech Actuator Award in 2019 (Australia and India).

More recently, Etta was selected as the Global Co-Chair of the Inclusion Taskforce at the G20 Startup20 Summit in Gurugram, India. 

We had the pleasure of chatting with Etta about what it’s like to make the shift from lawyer to business owner, her personal struggles with breastfeeding and how she juggles motherhood and entrepreneurship.

To kick off, can you give me a quick intro to yourself and what you do?

“I’m Etta, the Founder of Lactamo. Lactamo is an innovation for breastfeeding. It’s a small ball, specifically designed for the elasticity of lactating breast tissue. It combines temperature, movement and compression, which together have the ability to address the common breastfeeding problems experienced by 92% of women.

Lactamo’s goal is to give women the best success and the best experience in breastfeeding – if they choose to breastfeed.”

Lactamo is inspired by your own personal struggles with breastfeeding. Why do you believe so many women have suffered in silence for so long?

“I’m a mum of four and I struggled with breastfeeding all of my children. Something that I had assumed would be easy (since it’s ‘natural’, right?) was so difficult, at a time when I was juggling a new baby and everything else that that entails. 

I knew that breastfeeding has health and nutritional benefits, and I assumed I would be able to make it to certain milestones. I struggled and felt like a failure. There was a lack of solutions and support and I assumed that the problem was unique to me.

It was with my third child that I heard other people talking about how they were struggling too, and I realised the extent of the problem. In fact, UNICEF reports that “no country in the world meets the recommended standards for breastfeeding”, and acknowledges the lack of solutions and support too: “babies and mothers are being failed by a lack of investment in breastfeeding”. 

In understanding the extent of the problem and the lack of solutions and support, I resolved to do something about it and put together a team of experts.

My journey with Lactamo has come at the same time that FemTech was getting a much needed spotlight: governments and investors are realising that addressing women’s health is investing not just in women, but in society as a whole. The WHO reports that “every $1 invested in breastfeeding generates $35 in economic returns”.

It’s an exciting time for FemTech and there is so much more room for innovation.”

As an entrepreneur and mother, how do you navigate the juggle of work and family life? 

“The juggle! Before Lactamo, I was a corporate lawyer and I faced my share of long working hours, working through the night. 

I think having children also tests your juggling abilities, making you realise what you are capable of doing and juggling. I certainly run a tight ship, and from time to time the wheels do fall off, often when I’m most stretched. 

I remember I did a TV interview last year where I hadn’t slept all night as one of my children wasn’t well – I felt like death! But I think when you believe in something so much – when you have the passion, determination and grit, you make it work. I have a very supportive husband and close friends, which definitely helps, too.”

What strategies do you put in place to set boundaries and take care of yourself as a parent and business owner? 

“Going from being an employee in a large business to running your own business is a big change in so many ways – the security, the predictable routine, the comfort of a hierarchy of accountabilities, and the balance that being an employee affords all disappeared for me when I started Lactamo. 

I knew this, and I wanted it – I wanted to ‘drive’ and steer the way that I wanted my business to go. But it’s still a big change.  As a small business owner, you are always ‘on’: decisions need to be made non-stop and I make lists in my head as I sleep. Whilst the highs are really high, the lows are also experienced differently.

I try – but often fail – to set boundaries. I try to run twice a week (although often end up counting running around the house after my children as at least one of these runs). I make sure I spend quality time with each of my children and my husband and friends. I am quite strict with protecting my weekends from work. This allows me to switch off from work (to the extent possible as a business owner) and focus on other things like myself, family and friends.”

What is one piece of advice you would share with our community of women? 

“Celebrate your wins and be generous to yourself. I’m not good at this, but it’s important and I’m trying to learn. My husband is good at this – every win, he is the first to pop the champagne cork and encourage me. Life is busy and has its ups and downs, and we need to celebrate what’s big, little and everything in between.”

Find out more about Lactamo on their website and Instagram and keep in touch with Etta on LinkedIn.

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