Anna Sadovnikova

Anna Sadovnikova
Researching and promoting the benefits of breast massage for a better breastfeeding experience

Note: This profile was published in April 2016 when Anna Sadovnikova was a 2015/16 Keller Pathway Fellow. 

Anna Sadovnikova is a first-year MD/Ph.D./IBCLC student at UC Davis and the CEO and co-founder of LiquidGoldConcept, a breastfeeding education company.

Sadovnikova spent the last two years developing a lactation simulation model, categorizing  breast massage techniques during lactation, and analyzing human donor milk banking practices and policies. During her doctoral work, she will design experiments to understand when and how to use breast massage as well as the effect of different breast massage techniques at the molecular level.

In 2015 Sadovnikova received an MPH in human nutrition and an MA in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She completed her undergraduate education in molecular biology and comparative literature at UC Berkeley.

About LiquidGoldConcept

In March 2014, LiquidGoldConcept won the University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Innovation in Actioncompetition in the Empowering the Underserved category for a breast pump design that combined suction and massage. Two months later, Anna Sadovnikova co-founded LiquidGoldConcept  LLC  (LGC). Liquid gold is what the breastfeeding community calls colostrum—the first milk that mothers produce—because it is yellow in color and packed with nutrients that are essential for an infant’s health.

Soon after, Sadovnikova made a surprising discovery: a breast pump is not the best solution for the most common breastfeeding problems. While working in Brazil, she learned that mothers and health providers use various breast massage techniques to alleviate these problems. Click here to hear the podcast “Reply All” about her time in Brazil. Unfortunately, hand expression and breast massage are not commonly practiced in the U.S.

Today, LiquidGoldConcept seeks to improve the breastfeeding experience by discovering, testing and teaching evidence-based breast massage techniques to parents and health providers. “We believe that mothers and health professionals in the United States deserve to know that breast massage can alleviate pain, increase milk supply, prevent engorgement and help infants latch,” Sadovnikova says.

Anna Sadovikova shared news of LiquidGoldConcept, her research and entrepreneurial passion—and how she will make a difference in the world.

In a nutshell, describe your venture.

The mission of LiquidGoldConcept is to make breastfeeding easier. Breast massage can improve, prevent or alleviate the most common breastfeeding problems and prolong breastfeeding duration. If 90 percent of mothers breastfed for the recommended six months, the U.S. would save $13 billion each year.

It is important to educate both parents and health providers about breast massage. To train medical and nursing students in the basics of breastfeeding management, LiquidGoldConcept has developed a lactation simulation model. For mothers, LiquidGoldConcept is developing the Breast Massage Knowledge Bank, an online platform for crowd-sourcing and analyzing breast massage techniques. This project will identify novel breast massage techniques; match techniques to each user’s profile; collect and analyze user feedback; and create evidence-based breast massage education tools like smartphone applications and employee wellness programs.

What’s important about your project—and where do you hope to take it?

Learning the appropriate breast massage technique:

  • Helps mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants through the first six months of life;
  • Reduces the risk of breast infections for the mother and gastrointestinal infections for her baby;
  • Displaces the costs associated with infant formula production, purchasing and disposal;
  • Doubles the amount of milk expressed per pumping session to improve workplace productivity and decrease stress and guilt;
  • Reduces environmental pollution because women who breastfeed exclusively do not menstruate (and thus do not need to purchase female sanitary products) and do not need to purchase or dispose of infant formula containers.

After the successful integration of breast massage education into medical training and the breastfeeding community,  LiquidGoldConcept will identify new needs in the breastfeeding community and design studies to develop evidence-based tools, programs, services and products.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

Education and empowerment!

I am on track to become an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and frequently work with mothers, fathers and newborns. My mentor for the IBCLC program is Debbie Albert, a nurse and IBCLC at UC Davis. During every patient encounter, I witness how important education and support are to ensure that breastfeeding is successfully initiated and maintained. I recently ran into one of the mothers I worked with. She told me that the breast massage techniques I taught her are the reason she is breastfeeding today.

I am the pipeline mentorship officer in the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) at UC Davis. Last November I participated in a medical student panel attended by more than 25 undergraduate women, all members of the Pre-Medical AMWA Club at UC Davis. I discussed my pathway to the physician-scientist-entrepreneur career. One student asked: “Do I have to do research to get into medical school?” Many others expressed dissatisfaction with their previous or current research endeavors, describing the experience as “boring,” “repetitive” or “unnecessary.” Until my graduate work at the University of Michigan, I didn’t think that research could be stimulating, creative or exciting. In fact, “research” is a terrible, unappetizing word that literally means the act of searching again. Through LiquidGoldConcept, I realized that a better word for research is innovation.

I was inspired by the discussion at the AMWA event. In December 2015, LiquidGoldConcept launched a breastfeeding research internship, which seeks to inspire young women to pursue research and entrepreneurial careers in the health sciences. I am now working with four female undergraduate students (sophomores/juniors) at UC Davis. Each intern will develop an educational, evidence-based product that fills a need in the breastfeeding research field.

What was the most important thing you learned at the UC Entrepreneurship Academy?

I really enjoyed the variety of mentorship opportunities—especially the speed-mentorship session on the second day. At the time, our main product was the lactation simulation model. At the beginning of the academy, I struggled to condense the description of our work to under 140 characters, but…practice makes perfect! By the end of the academy, my elevator pitch was something I was proud of. Throughout the event, I made important connections—Larry Udell is a wonderful mentor with whom I continue to meet on a regular basis.

What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?

Marc Thomas, the mentor assigned to us as part of the Big Bang! Business Competition, asked me during our first meeting, “Which project—the simulation model or knowledge bank—will make the biggest impact in the fastest way possible?” At the time, we were focusing on moving the simulation model forward as quickly as possible; however, after speaking with Marc, I realized that through the Knowledge Bank we can make a huge impact on the breastfeeding community, not just in the United States, but around the world. I’m really grateful to him for guiding us and focusing our efforts in order to develop a viable business and revenue model for the Knowledge Bank.

How has participation in the Big Bang! helped you as an early-stage entrepreneur?

We’ve applied to a dozen competitions over the last year—we were regional finalists in the InnovateHER competition and are currently finalists in the Big Ideas Berkeley competition and semifinalists in the Big Bang! Each time, the business proposal writing process forces us to rethink our revenue model, grow our network and hone the user profile. It’s a very—very!—valuable process, and we are grateful for the resources, support and mentorship we are receiving. I just wish I could attend every Big Bang! presentation—every time I go, I meet incredible aspiring and senior entrepreneurs (Brianna McGuire from, Lonnie Bookbinder and others). 

The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?

I’m an entrepreneur in the breastfeeding field, where 99 per cent of the advocates are women. That’s why I love talking to men about LiquidGoldConcept. Fathers play a huge role in promoting and supporting breastfeeding.

As a full-time MD/Ph.D. student, I have to manage my time well. At the UC Davis Biomedical + Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy last July, one of the mentors during the speed-mentoring session got up and walked away from me when I said that I was starting an MD/Ph.D. program in the fall. He said it was impossible to do both—be a medical student and run a company. It can be overwhelming at times, and that’s why it is so important to have a great team. The LiquidGoldConcept team is a phenomenal, multidisciplinary group of graduate students and young professionals, and I am very lucky to be working with them. We are also very fortunate to have a group of advisors who meet with us on a weekly basis to discuss breastfeeding medicine, entrepreneurship, business/revenue models, and legal issues.

I am grateful to Barry Keller for his mentorship. He has supported the LiquidGoldConcept mission and vision since he first learned about our work at the entrepreneurship academy last July. Earlier this year, I asked him to meet with me so that I could get his feedback on LiquidGoldConcept’s projects. We talked for over two hours! I greatly appreciate his honesty about the entrepreneurial environment and the wealth and breadth of his expertise. 

How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?

I’m learning a lot through the program—including how fluid and fast-moving it is to run a social enterprise. We launched a crowdfunding campaign to build a high-fidelity prototype of the Breast Massage Knowledge Bank. I’m excited for the next seven to nine years (the length of a MD/Ph.D. program). I have a lot to learn, discoveries to make, people to meet and products to develop. As the first year of medical school comes to a close, I am more certain now, than ever before, that my future entails a combination of clinical work, research, teaching and entrepreneurship.