Embrace co-founder Jane Chen tells Yahoo Parenting about the technology she helped create to reduce infant mortality in the developing world — and the new Little Lotus consumer line that helps babies sleep in the perfect temperature right here at home. (Photo: Embrace)
Almost 2 million babies per year die the same day they’re born. For those pre-term babies who struggle to stay warm, incubators can be lifesaving. But the pricey technology and medical assistance are out of reach for many mothers of children at risk in the developing world. That’s why the Miracle Blanket-esque portable Embrace Warmer that Jane Chen created with her classmates at Stanford University’s MBA program is such a game changer.
Since the product — which costs 1 percent of an incubator’s U.S. price tag and keeps infants warm without electricity — was introduced in 2008, Chen says more than 150,000 babies worldwide have been saved from becoming another statistic.
STORY: Does One Doctor Have the Cure for SIDS?
The innovator, who moved to India after graduation and worked there for four years to further develop and distribute Embrace Warmers, tells Yahoo Parenting about the “tremendous experience” of seeing the impact of her product first-hand — and bringing the benefits home to parents in the U.S.
“India has 40 percent of all the world’s premature babies, due to factors including maternal nutrition and women giving birth at very young ages,” says the co-founder, now based in San Francisco. “I would travel village to village, and meet mothers who’d lost their babies, and it was the same story every time. They didn’t have the resources to get to the hospital and needed something that they could use in their village.”
With an Embrace Warmer, the tiny tots get the benefit of incubator warmth and a chance. “No matter how many times you see a baby in our device it never gets old,” says Chen. “It’s so miraculous to know you’re helping this life.” Working with an orphanage in Bejing at one point, she says, a 2-week-old baby found abandoned in the street was warmed in an Embrace for 30 days. “Then seven months later I visited him and he was healthy.”
But even when Chen returned home to the U.S., she heard friends of hers who’d become new parents worrying about whether their child was warm enough. “I thought, I have years of experience and knowledge about this,” she says. So about a year ago, the Little Lotus consumer line was born.
A collection of swaddles, sleep sacks, and blankets (from the for-profit offshoot of Embrace, Embrace Innovations), Little Lotus products are engineered to keep kids’ skin temp at an ideal temperature — between 89 and 95 degrees — using specially engineered fabric embedded with the same technology in NASA spacesuits.
(Photo: Little Lotus)
“It’s soft,” says Chen. “And if you put a hand on the fabric for a minute or two, you can feel it start to warm up. It’s absorbing or releasing heat to keep you at an ideal temperature — which is important because Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is linked to babies being too hot or too cold. Also, parents tell us that their babies sleep better and longer when they’re wearing the line because they’re at a comfortable temperature.”
The Little Lotus line, featuring “Touch our Future” artwork including handprints of mothers and babies saved with Embrace Warmers, rolled out in the U.S. in a Kickstarter campaign accepting pre-orders until May 29. For every $125 package order of 2 swaddles or 2 sleep sacks, $25 goes to donate an Embrace Warmer to a baby in the developing world.
Her company’s goals going forward, says Chen, are to get an Embrace Warmer to every infant who needs one. “Reducing the rate of infant mortality is the United Nation’s Millennium Goal that we have made the least advances on in the past few years,” she adds. “We really need to look at how we can sit here, surrounded by technology and there are still so many babies dying every day.”
Chen’s hope with the Little Lotus line, naturally, is to help babies sleep comfortably, she says, and “to make parents think about helping babies around the world as well.”