• Dharma Nemani

Meet Lauren Stuart: Co-founder, bökee

Can you share a little bit about your background?

I grew up in Kingwood, TX and went to the University of Texas (Hook ‘em!). About a year and a half after graduating I moved to Los Angeles to live closer to my brother, who had recently lost his best friend. I planned to stay about two years and wound up meeting my husband, Brandon, about a month after moving. He’s an LA native from a big family so I couldn’t convince him to move to TX! We’ve been married seven years and have twins that will be four in August. We also have an almost ten-year-old Golden Retriever, Fisher. He’s the son of my parents golden, which makes him even more special to us.

I know your twins were in the NICU. Can you share a little more about your journey in the early days?

It was identified around 22 weeks that my son was not growing at the rate he should. After the gap between gestational age and his size grew larger, I was placed on bed rest at home, then ultimately at the hospital when blood flow to his umbilical cord was intermittently stopped or would flow backward. That was around 28 weeks. My twins were delivered at 32 weeks, when my perinatologist determined it was critical to remove them. My son was just under 2 lbs and my daughter just under 4. My daughter stayed in the NICU for five weeks and my son for eight weeks. He came home the day before my due date! The NICU is both an isolating and sad place, but also filled with so much hope and support from nurses.

We spoke about how you’ve fed your children in every way. Can you please share your experience?

With their prematurity I wasn’t allowed to even try nursing until they were close to coming home. They required tube feeding, then bottles with additional calories and vitamins added to boost growth. This was both from pumped milk and formula when I couldn’t pump enough. Once home, I was able to exclusively breastfeed my daughter for 20 months, but I could barely nurse my son. I had to use a shield with him, which I hated since it always got knocked off, but after nursing I always had to supplement with formula. My body didn’t respond well at the pump, but I tried. When it was physically and emotionally too much I decided it wasn’t worth it. It was very freeing to know I did my best and that it was healthier for my family to surrender and stop. I was lucky to receive some donor milk in the critical window for a preemie to help establish the immune system though. I felt conflicted using donor milk, but it was screened and I needed to remove any ego or unsettling feeling about it. I am forever grateful for that gift.

My son had many GI issues which led to undiagnosed disorders for about a year and a half so there was a lot of puking and tears (from all of us). Between that and sensory challenges he struggled to transition to solid foods. Even after more than a year of weekly feeding therapy we ultimately had to get a feeding tube. The feeding tube allowed him to get the nutrition he needed without the pressure of drinking bottles (which he was rejecting). I’m really proud to say that we removed his tube this past March and he’s eating everything in the house!

What led to the creation of your company, bökee?

My husband was so frustrated that he had to set down a screaming hungry baby or juggle the baby in his arms to screw on a bottle top. There were also many knocked over breast milk bottles post-pumping. That is heartbreaking even if you have an oversupply! He was discussing this struggle with a friend, who had a son born the same day as our twins, and he agreed with the pain points. The bökee was born out of our shared experiences and we knew others must feel the same way!

bökee allows parents and caregivers to open, fill and close bottles or sippy cups with one hand so the other hand is free to console a child or take a phone call. It keeps bottles upright during breast milk transfer from bag to bottle and protects manual silicone pumps from tipping over when full.

As a user of the bökee in various prototype forms and as a final product I was in love! My background in advertising and marketing, mixed with my passion from use of the product in all feeding forms led me to be part of the founding team.

I know bökee is not only for bottle feeding moms - can you share how else bökee can be used?

It’s been really fun to see other use cases arise! bökee can aid in opening medicine bottles, jars, water bottles, adult beverages, and also be used as a snack cup since the suction is so strong!

We quickly identified the additional uses and when our first production run had some cosmetic flaws, but still worked perfectly, we made a large donation of the product to the Amputee Coalition. We’ve had several occupational therapists reach out and share their enthusiasm in how this can help aid people with impaired motor function.

Do you have any self-care rituals you use with the twins?

Getting their energy out during and post-bath is key for us. They have a whole routine, which includes running around our kitchen island (they’ve been doing this since they could crawl). Then we do books, each gets to pick one, which really satisfies them. We do bedtime prayers and then music. Some nights my husband plays the guitar for them, but I always sing the same two songs to each. We lay in their beds together and singing always includes head stroking to calm them.

Being a mom to twins is a lot to manage as is, I’m sure life in lockdown isn’t making it any easier. How are you unwinding at the end of the day?

Time management has certainly been a challenge overall, but quarantine has brought it to a whole new level. It’s caused a lot of stress but also some really amazing moments. It’s forced a new way to manage the day, and that has primarily meant leaving work for nap time (I reinstated naps during quarantine!) and after bed. I was trying to do it all during the day and it was too emotionally taxing on all of us.

To unwind I seek silence or mindless TV. I stay up late so I can have that time. I was better at “me” time when the twins were able to go to preschool and would go to a yoga class and Bible study weekly.

What’s one advice you would like to share with new moms of twins?

Try to laugh at the chaos, it’s better than crying! Getting them on the same schedule as quickly as possible is critical for your sanity. If they don’t nap at the same time you’ll never have a moment to breathe. Twins scared me, and it is hard, especially in the early days, but having twins has been such a blessing. To witness their bond and observe them play has been amazing. They have a built-in best friend for life and playmate from day one.

My tried and true twin product recommendation is the Twin Z Nursing Pillow. Even if you aren’t tandem nursing it’s worth the investment. It doubles as a lounger and is great to use for tummy time. I would also put it on the couch and bottle feed by son while I nursed my daughter.

What’s one advice you would like to share with moms who are struggling with their feeding journey?

Early intervention is key. If you recognize a problem, meet with a lactation consultant, pediatric occupational therapist or a GI depending on what’s happening. Talk to other moms who have or had similar challenges. I found private Facebook groups incredibly helpful too. Your gut is usually never wrong, keep pressing specialists if things aren’t improving.

Give yourself some grace, but permission to feel all that comes with feeding challenges; anger, sadness, jealousy, etc. It’s all so complicated, but the challenges are not your fault. They are yours to manage though and that is an emotionally demanding place to be.

Where can we buy bökee?

You can purchase bökee for 10% off at www.thebökee.com with the code LOVEM10.

We are also available on Babylist, Buy Buy Baby, Amazon, Macy’s, Milk Stork Mother Shop and Motherly Shop.

I’m so happy to be in this community of supportive women. I’m an open book about our journey and feel what we’ve been through could help others. Feel free to reach out!

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