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Why this Northern Ireland pilot and his wife invented an ingenious device they hope will persuade more mums to breastfeed

Ryan and Julie-Ann Phillips, from North Down, tell Stephanie Bell how they have already sold thousands of their new breast pumps

Blue sky thinking: pilot Ryan Phillips, wife Julie-Ann and daughters Autumn (7) and Florence (5)
Blue sky thinking: pilot Ryan Phillips, wife Julie-Ann and daughters Autumn (7) and Florence (5)

After becoming parents themselves, Ryan Phillips (40) and his wife Julie-Ann (35) set up their own company to sell useful goods for mum and baby.

And their very first product - a manual breast pump - is one they hope will have an impact on Northern Ireland's poor breastfeeding statistics which are among the worst in the world.

The couple from North Down aim to develop a portfolio of useful baby merchandise after discovering as new parents that many of the items they bought were not fit for purpose.

But it is our poor figures on breastfeeding which have made the couple passionate about their new venture.

Ryan says: "We are one of the worst countries in the world for low rates of breastfeeding and the worst in the UK - and we genuinely would like to try in some small way to change that.

"We believe we have found a product which will make it much easier for mums to breastfeed and also help free up time for them.

"The benefits of breastfeeding are enormous and we are passionate about wanting to try and help.

"Most mums are using electric breast pumps and Julie-Ann tried one too. The electric pump is very loud and it would be difficult to express milk with it on one side while feeding the baby on the other.

"Julie-Ann had to go into another room to use it so as not to disturb anyone else in the house.

"Time is critical for mums and the time she spent expressing milk was wasted when the manual pump would have allowed her to do it while she was feeding the baby."

The breast pump
The breast pump

Ryan says the hand pump they are offering has no wires and tubes - and makes no noise.

"It uses natural suction to draw out the milk so if you are feeding on one side you can attach it to the other side and do both at the same time," he says.

"We've worked with the manufacturer to tweak it and create a slight groove to make it easier to pour the milk straight into a bottle. It has been a lot of work getting it to market a year ago but since then we have sold thousands."

Current statistics show that just 37% of mums who leave NI hospitals are breastfeeding, one of the lowest rates in the world.

The World Health Organisation recommends that mums exclusively breastfeed for the first six months - however only 7% of mums here do this. That compares with 23% in Germany, 56% in Brazil and 98% in Sweden.

Concern about this low figure led last year to the Public Health Agency (PHA) launching a campaign highlighting the health benefits of breastfeeding.

Blue sky thinking: pilot Ryan Phillips, wife Julie-Ann and daughters Autumn (7) and Florence (5)
Blue sky thinking: pilot Ryan Phillips, wife Julie-Ann and daughters Autumn (7) and Florence (5)

Ryan and Julie-Ann's new company Blossoming Tots is just a year old but has already sold thousands of breast pumps across the UK.

But the sales figures reflect the statistics on breastfeeding here, with most sold to mums in England, Scotland and Wales.

Ryan says: "We have some sales here in Northern Ireland but not very much compared to the rest of the UK, which is why we have started a campaign to try and encourage more mums to consider breastfeeding.

"We've been approaching maternity units and local baby charities and found that most didn't even realise a pump like ours is available.

"We understand there are social barriers to breastfeeding but these are being knocked down and we really believe that our pump will be another tool in the mums' armoury to give them the confidence to make that decision to breastfeed and be able to do it for longer.

"The benefits are enormous. Not only does it increase a baby's immune system, but statistics show that mums who breastfeed for at least two months will halve the chance of cot death."

Ryan, who has been a pilot for 16 years, met Julie, who is an air stewardess, through work and the couple have now been together for 11 years.

They have two girls, Autumn (7) and Florence (5). The couple say they never dreamt they would be setting up a business and it is purely their experience as parents that led them to consider it.

Ryan explains: "Like all new parents we spent a fortune on baby things for our girls but we were surprised at how useless some of them were.

"We actually threw some of them in the bin. There were also some we found really useful.

"Instead of doing a blog which a lot of people do, we wanted to create a bit of a portfolio of products that people could easily find in the one place and save parents wasting their time and money.

"We did many months of research and we have products we will be adding, but we thought that because of the breastfeeding statistics the manual breast pump would be a good one to launch with."

Julie-Ann breastfed both of her babies using an electric breast pump.

The loud noise of the pump meant she couldn't express milk while her baby was feeding and had to go into a room alone to do it.

"It would have made my life a whole lot easier if I had the manual pump as I could have done the two at once," she says.

"Time is a real issue when you are breastfeeding a baby as you have to feed on demand. It is not a case of just feeding every four hours. Even getting to the dentist or the hairdressers is very hard.

"Being able to express the milk while feeding would mean you could leave a bottle for your husband or mum or whoever is minding the baby when you need to do something else.

"As a breastfeeding mum it is just great to have that freedom that someone else can step in and help out."

Julie Ann says the couple weren't even aware that the manual pump even existed because they couldn't find it in any of the shops.

"The electric one we bought was so hard to use it ended up in the bin. We just hope now to let other mums know there is an easier alternative available," she says.

"It latches on with suction and you can just leave it. The other benefit is that when you are breastfeeding, often milk is leaking out of the other breast and that is just wasted - and this means you are not wasting a drop."

Another huge benefit is the cost. The manual pump is selling at just £9.99 while electric pumps can cost over £100.

The couple say they have been amazed at the positive feedback from their many customers and are now getting ready to continue to build their portfolio of useful baby products with the addition of their next item early in 2019.

However, because they both work on the airlines they have had to run the gauntlet of cynics questioning their expertise on mother and baby products.

Ryan says: "I mainly fly domestic routes and into Europe and I love my job and didn't ever imagine I would be setting up a business like this, but we feel passionately about it.

"Because of our jobs, people have questioned our knowledge which is quite disappointing.

"Our jobs didn't come into the equation at all. What we are doing is - we've gone through it, we've experienced it and why wouldn't we help other mums?

"Not only as parents do we know first-hand what works, but we spend months researching each product.

"We believe so much in the breast pump that we have brought it to local maternity units. We were grilled for a substantial time about the pump at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Ulster Hospital and they cannot endorse products but they were delighted by the pump and asked if they could have one for their antenatal classes.

"The feedback we have had from our customers has been fantastic as well. We just want to make life a bit easier for mums.

"While it is going well in England, Scotland and Wales we really want to push it here in Northern Ireland and give people the confidence of knowing that we are a local company."

The couple are excited about the future and while they continue to fly local people across the world with their work, the rest of their time is spent with their two girls.

Ryan adds: "We have two fantastic kids. There have been lots of sleepless nights and it has been an interesting journey but being a parent is absolutely fantastic."

You can find out more at or find the pumps on

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