03/29/2012 07:08 pm ET

Breastfeeding Avatar: Computerized Lactaction Consultants Encourage Moms To Breastfeed

Though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding infants exclusively for six months, nursing doesn't come easily to every mom -– Yahoo! Shine recently uncovered six rarely discussed breastfeeding challenges.

There are books, there are classes, there are nurses and lactation consultants, but they're not available at "4 a.m. in your first nights home with your infant"” -– that all too familiar middle-of-the-night struggle highlighted by NY Times columnist, KJ Dell’Antonia. Offering lactation help sessions via Skype is one technological solution to that problem.

Now, a pair of Northeastern professors have gone a step further towards the future of parenthood. Together, Roger Edwards of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences and Tim Bickmore, of the College of Computer and Information Science, created a lactation avatar to help and support new moms.

The professors spent four months working on the avatar that's meant to demonstrate technique and answer questions. Fifteen moms got to test the system and researchers found that the strategy "significantly increased both breastfeeding knowledge and the intent to breastfeed."

According to a Northeastern press release, the avatar technology is about to get even more realistic: "The team also hopes to upgrade the system by designing a 3-D version of the computerized consultant and building a training system in which mothers-to-be would receive feedback on holding a baby doll that contains embedded sensors."

The Stir's Nicole Fabian-Weber calls out research that suggests women will be enthusiastic about the avatars -- 74 percent of participants in a 500-person study (on a system unrelated to breastfeeding) said they'd prefer to hear information from a computer than a live nurse. But when it comes to nursing, Fabian-Weber calls electronic tutorials "silly and weird". In her opinion, learning to breastfeed is a "personal and intimate thing… the kind of skill you'd want to learn from another person".

Dell'Antonia highlights other obvious avatar benefits: "She's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and doesn't charge by the hour."