Mar 21, 2014
09:52 AMHealth & Science
A Sleepless Baby Becomes Million-Dollar Business for Connecticut Mom
Sleepless babies are a problem for nearly all new parents. Nights of rousing yourself to comfort your crying child can pile up, eventually putting you into a daze of fatigue that no number of 20-minute naps you squeeze in can dent.
One Connecticut mother turned her sleepless nights into a million-dollar idea, one that all parents can appreciate. The Woombie, a custom swaddle that gently hugs the baby’s shoulders and stomach but allows room for natural movement in the arms, legs and hips, is now used by more than half a million families worldwide.
It’s a venture and level of success that Trumbull mother of five Karen Barski (right) never foresaw when she sewed the first prototype for her baby, Bella. She was just looking for a solution.
In the hospital, parents are taught the benefits of swaddling to prevent the startle reflex, or the feeling that the baby is unsupported and falling. The sensation is caused by an immature nervous system. Wrapping babies gives them more support, reminding them of the womb, and can allow for more sound sleep.
But like everything with newborns, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Barski’s third child, Bella, was graced with impressive strength and a severe startle reflex. Unfortunately for her parents, she wouldn’t sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time and would often wriggle free of her swaddle, pushing it up over her face.
Here's how Barski describes the experience on the Woombie website:
“My little Bella was a strong baby, with a strong startle reflex and a hunger like you would not believe. She came 5 weeks early—looking for food as soon as she made eye contact with me, the "mommy cow." She wanted to sleep at night, and boy did Stash and I want that too ... but due to her super startle paired with mighty-mouse strength, she unraveled herself within 15 minutes ... ALL NIGHT LONG. After unraveling herself, her Rooting reflex initiated and she then brought her swaddle wrap right up over her face and mouth, trying to eat it. Time and time again, I found her red and sweaty with the swaddle wrap up and over her face. Scary ... Not good for the air flow to say the least. I tried every baby swaddle available, every name brand in every major store .. .and nothing worked for her. What frustration .... .”
So Barski, a registered nurse and certified infant care specialist, decided to take matters into her own hands. She took out her grandmother’s Singer sewing machine and created a swaddle that would meet her baby’s needs.
“I needed something that would stay intact and snug, (left) but at the same time allow the baby to stretch out if she needed to, where the fabric would then automatically re-conform to a snug cocoon-like or peanut shape afterwards,” Barski writes in the bio of her website.
The Woombie (the original is priced online at $26) is tight in the middle but loose at the top and bottom. While in the swaddle, Bella was supported but not restricted, and would drift right off to sleep. Barski started to think that if this worked for her baby, why couldn’t it work for others?
See how the Woombie works in video below.
While she had the idea, she didn’t know how to start a business.
“I started becoming Google’s best friend,” she says by phone. “I looked up how to start a business, how to manufacture, and one thing led to another.”
The Woombie was launched nationally in 2007 and went worldwide in 2008.
Six years later, Barski has expanded her Bridgeport-based business to include a host of other products geared toward babies from birth to age 2. There are more than 400 different products now, and the company, KB Designs, holds six different patents.
The manufacturing of the products is done in China. All of Woombie’s products, which include blankets, mats, sleepers and multiple versions of the original swaddle, are branded with the tagline “Swaddle, Snuggle, Sleep.”
Barski is also the inventor of ModSwad, a more fashion-conscious Woombie brand launched in 2011. (Above, the Bamboo Mod Flower Hat.)
“We listened to feedback,” says Barski. “Obviously babies aren’t just swaddled during the first two weeks. They can be swaddled up to six to eight months, so we made three sizes. Then we needed boy and girl and unisex colors. Over the past few years we’ve been listening to feedback and evolving the products into something that won’t overheat.”
The company is launching its two latest products, a convertible summer Woombie made of a breathable mesh fabric (below) and knit sweaters and gowns, this spring and in fall 2014, respectively.
The Woombie has won 16 awards, including the 2014 Family Choice Award, the 2008 Preferred Choice Award by Creative Child Magazine and the Top Product for Colic by thefussybabysite.com. The customized swaddle is praised by infant care experts for instituting successful sleep patterns.
However, the mother of five (she has children 19, 12 and 7 at home, along with twin 5-year-olds) isn’t stopping here.
In the fall, the company will begin licensing with the children's retailer, Kids II, which works with other popular baby brands like Baby Einstein, Bright Stars and Disney Baby. Kids II will take over Woombie’s mass-retail market, including stores like Walmart and Target, leaving Barski and her team to continue working with small boutiques and retailers.
“We want to maintain our small family business,” says Barski. “I’m really happy … . I thought we would sell here and there to boutiques, but now we have awareness for our great product.”
Check out everything Woombie has to offer on the website.