What to Expect From the World’s First Flushable Pregnancy Test
Lia, the world’s first flushable pregnancy test, is set to hit the market in mid-2018. Replacing traditional pregnancy tests’ hard plastic shell with a thin plant-fiber design, Lia promises to be more environmentally friendly and to better protect the privacy of its users. “Lia is great for women who want the choice to share their pregnancy news on their own terms,” says Bethany Edwards, co-founder and CEO of Lia Diagnostics, who invented the test with co-founder Anna Couturier Simpson.
Like some existing products, the test detects pregnancy by reacting to the presence of hCG, a hormone, in urine. But unlike those other tests, explains Couturier Simpson, “Lia is thin enough to be hidden in a wallet before use, and also flushable, as it breaks down like three-ply toilet paper in water. If a woman wants to conceal her results, she can easily dispose of it in the toilet.”
In developing the product, “we spoke with hundreds of women. And we listened, without judgement, to their stories and experiences,” says Edwards. She recounts stories of women hiding pregnancy tests, or taking them to public or workplace restrooms to avoid someone at home. Because pregnancy and pregnancy testing happen in so many different contexts, surrounded by a such a wide range of emotions—excitement, joy, dread, fear, shame—there should be a test “that considers the intricacies of such a life-altering, private, and personal experience,” says Edwards.
For instance, “Lia is helpful in preventing a controlling partner from finding out about the pregnancy,” says Couturier Simpson. “If a woman finds out she is pregnant and wants to get away from the partner, she can make safer choices” and independently decide what to next. Women in abusive relationships may face “reproductive coercion,” being pressured to get pregnant, continue with an unwanted pregnancy, or have an abortion. Abusive partners may sabotage a woman’s birth control regimen, or coerce her into unprotected sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 percent of U.S. women report having an intimate partner who tried to get them pregnant against their will. A discreet test like Lia can give women back some element of control over their bodies.
Edwards also points out that Lia could be helpful for women struggling with fertility, so “they don’t have to experience the emotional reminder of seeing a trash bin filled with pregnancy tests.” For women on birth control methods that halt their monthly period, frequent pregnancy tests may be one way to gain peace of mind, and storing and disposing of Lia takes up much less space than other products on the market.
Originally though, Lia’s founders were primarily driven by the product’s environmental sustainability potential. In the U.S. alone, according to Edwards, pregnancy tests generate two million pounds of plastic and battery waste every year. Edwards and Couturier Simpson realized the plastic pregnancy test design hadn’t really changed much in about 30 years. Lia, by comparison, is biodegradable and weighs no more than a wad of toilet paper. It incorporates a coating that’s water-repellent enough for users to take the test, but absorbent enough for it to be flushed.
Edwards says she’s always been passionate about women’s rights and environmental sustainability. She and Couturier Simpson both studied integrated product design at the University of Pennsylvania, and both were looking for entrepreneurial opportunities that would allow them to use their engineering skills and make a social impact.
Raising enough funding to develop and launch the product was a challenge, and it took the founders two years, from 2015 to 2017. Early on, they won Temple University’s Innovative Idea Competition which awards up to $2,500 to teams of Temple students and alumni for practical, innovative businesses and nonprofit projects. They also received a stipend from DreamIt Ventures, a digital health and urban tech accelerator. “Throughout 2015, we entered every business plan competition, pitch, and grant we could find,” Edwards says. They finally cobbled together the means to build a prototype that year.
“Fundraising is never an easy process,” reflects Edwards. “It's inherently filled with ups and downs and unpredictability.” But once Lia’s founders had a prototype and began to hit their business targets, attracting follow-up funding was less of a struggle. From there, Lia began picking up momentum, leading up to the product’s FDA approval in December of last year and its upcoming launch. (The test is already available for preorder on Lia’s site.)
Despite the challenges, Couturier Simpson says “it’s absolutely worth the time, effort, and sacrifice to create something that will leave the world a better place than when you started.”
Lia is part of a wider movement towards inclusive innovation in an age when investors and product development teams often fail to consider the needs of women. Alongside Lia, there are several new companies working to reconsider the feminine hygiene sector. Menstrual cups, reusable pads, and absorbent underwear, for example, have been gaining ground as affordable and eco-friendly alternatives to tampons and pads, with special meaning for women in communities where menstruation is still stigmatized.
“Don’t be afraid to rethink the status quo,” says Couturier Simpson, offering some advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. “Just because things are traditionally one way, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way.”