Alumni Profile: Elizabeth Myer (GAL ’09) and Betsy Riley (STEINHARDT ’09)
July 15, 2023
Trust your gut. No shame games. We’re here for you. Better together. This is the culture and community that co-founders Elizabeth Myer (GAL ’09) (she/her) and Betsy Riley (STEINHARDT ’09) (she/her) have built around Swehl. Read about how and why together they created a next generation breastfeeding experience for today’s parents.
“Parenthood is the greatest connector,” says Elizabeth Myer (GAL ’09) (she/her) when asked how she met her friend and business partner Betsy Riley (STEINHARDT ’09) (she/her). They met through a mom group during the thick of COVID, not long after becoming new parents themselves.
“We like to think that there are many occasions on which we could or should have met—most notably because we both graduated from NYU and have overlapping friend groups, but also because I lived next door to Betsy’s brother when I first moved to Los Angeles.”
It’s a small world for Elizabeth and Betsy who teamed up to try and create a bigger world for new breastfeeding parents with indispensable products, accessible education, and real community; together they co-founded Swehl, a next generation breastfeeding experience.
Read about how Elizabeth and Betsy’s education and connections made at NYU helped their trajectory towards becoming community-builders for this new generation of parents, and much more.
Tell us about Swehl, what is the mission behind it and what inspired you both to start this platform and community space for new parents?
When we became new parents, we were each shocked to learn how fragmented, confusing and dated the breastfeeding landscape had become. As we peeled back the layers, we realized that the approach to breastfeeding has remained largely the same for decades, despite the fact that we no longer raise our babies in the proverbial “village.” Also, breastfeeding has become an increasingly polarizing topic, further exacerbated by systemic inequities and lack of structured postpartum support programs.
Our mission is to modernize the entire feeding journey by creating more realistic experiences for new parents. This part is crucial; we knew that we wouldn’t be able to transform a category without offering interconnected and varied modes of support. It wasn’t enough for us to create products to address the physical aspects of breastfeeding—we also needed to build a platform that offers open access education and authentic community support.
Swehl is created by parents and backed by experts. How were you able to get this network of experts on board and what was the importance of doing so?
Our goal is to help parents find their intuition (trusting your gut is always best, but, like breastfeeding, can take practice). Breastfeeding is one of those interesting categories where you can get a lot of conflicting advice; a lactation consultant will come at an issue with a different approach than an OBGYN. We decided to bring together our Motherboard (team of experts) with the goal of providing a range of expert viewpoints to ultimately empower parents to choose what works best for their family.
Some of our experts joined based on a previous relationship, but real talk? We did a lot of cold, hard outreach. These incredible women came on board before Swehl even had a logo, and we are very grateful to have some of the freshest voices in the space as part of the company from day one.
As new parents, what were you most surprised or shocked to learn about parenthood?
Betsy: You know you are going to be tired in the beginning, but what we don’t talk about enough is the fact that it’s largely because you’re up feeding every two to three hours.
Elizabeth: We hear a lot about losing our identities in parenthood, but I actually feel like I’ve made a full circle back to my truest self. When you lose time, you’re sort of forced to pare everything back, and that has helped me to refocus my values.
How did your education at NYU help you on this trajectory?
Betsy: NYU taught me to be curious and to make anything a learning opportunity. With Swehl, we value the journey (versus the end goal) and stay interested throughout it. It would be a miss not to include learning from our peers as part of that education. In fact, one of our earliest calls at Swehl was to Todd Wiseman (TSOA ’09) and Milos Silber (TSOA ’09) who started a video production company (Hayden5; can you guess which NYU residence inspired the name?) and were vital to launching our education hub.
Elizabeth: Creating my own interdisciplinary program at Gallatin set the foundation for how I’ve approached my career and life—I’ve never felt bound to a specific path; in fact, combining different perspectives, fields, skills, etc. that might not align in the traditional sense is what excites me the most. I feel as though all of the work I’ve done leading up to this has paved the way for Swehl to exist—and I don’t think it’s an accident that the universe presented me with a fellow alumna to build it all with!
What is your advice to those reading who are thinking about starting their journey to parenthood, are about to become new parents, or are in the throes of feedings and diaper changes?
Well, the reality is we are right there with you, and man, parenthood (and the path to getting there) can be humbling. We like to remind ourselves that it is all a season—and ultimately, a short one—so try to enjoy it (or alternatively, don’t beat yourself up if there’s a stage that you don’t love!). Also, community during this phase is essential, so find your circle.
Can you tell us a story of connections that were made possible because of Swehl?
As a business that centers around its community, it’s not lost on us that much of our special sauce lies in our ability to foster meaningful relationships. So while we’ve been fortunate to have made many connections possible, one of our favorite stories comes from the Founding Families beta we ran in partnership with Cedars-Sinai. For this study, we brought together a group of pregnant women, all strangers to one another. At some point during our (digital) program, they started meeting one another in parks across LA with their babies, and have continued this tradition for over a year. We’ve watched their babies grow into toddlers and their breastfeeding journeys come to an end, yet their connections are only beginning. As a fun full circle moment, the meet-up is spearheaded by fellow NYU grad Sarah Zimmerman (GSAS ’92).
How has creating Swehl impacted and benefited both of you as parents?
Betsy: Part of our job is hearing stories about parenthood all day, so for me, I have more empathy for the difficult choices parents make daily.
Elizabeth: Largely thanks to Betsy and our Swehl community, I’ve really learned to give myself grace, which is something that I was never really able to do before I became a parent. I don’t always show up exactly the way that I want to (start-ups and toddlers are both unpredictable!), but I’m constantly learning and growing and really trying to do better. I think that’s what matters most in the grand scheme of things.
What do you want the NYU community and beyond to know about what Swehl is all about and why should folks care about the ways babies are fed?
We have the honor of supporting parents through one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives, but in full candor, we believe that others should care a whole lot less about how folks decide to feed their babies. Feeding and raising children are deeply personal experiences, informed by many unique variables. Swehl is ultimately about giving parents better resources so that they can feel confident and empowered in their choices.
If you had to sum Swehl up into three words what would they be?
Empowering, optimistic—and, just gonna say it—cool.
Did you have any NYU classes or instructors who inspired or impacted you?
Betsy: Absolutely. The list is long: an intensive study around South African theater followed by a cultural exchange there was particularly memorable and fostered life-long friendships. I still use skills from Steinhardt Professor Karen White’s class, Interviewing Strategies, in my daily life.
Elizabeth: So so many, but if I had to boil it down to one, it would be Cheryl Sterling. I took an elective African Studies class with her my freshman year that turned my world upside down and quickly became the reason that I studied the African Diaspora. Cheryl had spent a lot of time researching Yoruba traditions in the Northeast of Brazil, and convinced me that I might do the same. I studied abroad in Salvador da Bahia and met my husband there!
What was your favorite local NYU/NYC hangout spot?
Betsy: It's iconic for a reason: Washington Square Park. And a lot of good nights were spent at Pianos in the early aughts.
Elizabeth: 7A (RIP!)