AUGUST 8, 2013, 2:43 PM
Breast-Feeding in the Airport? A New Lactation Station Solution
By HOPE REEVES
Many of us who have breast-fed a baby know quite keenly the obstacles involved in pulling off such an intimate task in public. Even with all the nifty tools meant to provide privacy — the nursing bras and tops, the capes, the scarves artfully draped over baby and breast — accomplishing a feed without exposing yourself to strangers can be a changing-into-your-bathing-suit-poolside-esque feat. Ta-da! Happy, drooly baby, and you didn’t see a thing!
Make that pumping in public, or more likely, in a public restroom, what with the heaving machine and the cups suctioned to your breasts and the milk flowing freely? Well, let’s just say it would take a supremely dedicated mother to put herself out there like that. (Literally.)
Enter Mamava, the first-of-its-kind breast-feeding and pumping station due to be installed this month (August is National Breastfeeding Feeding Month) in the Burlington International Airport in Vermont. The pod-like “Lactation Station” (it looks a bit like a little egg-shaped spaceship) is a freestanding kiosk with seating, a fold-down table and a power-supply to plug a pump or an entertainment device into — all this with additional space for luggage or a stroller.
Mamava (Get it? Mama means mother in Spanish and va means go, like on-the-go?) is the brainchild of Sascha Mayer. A working, breast-feeding mother at the time, Ms. Mayer was inspired by a 2006 New York Times piece by Jodi Kantor outlining the challenges certain mothers faced trying to continue breast-feeding after returning to work.
Ms. Kantor wrote:
As pressure to breast-feed increases, a two-class system is emerging for working mothers. For those with autonomy in their jobs — generally, well-paid professionals — breast-feeding, and the pumping it requires, is a matter of choice…. But for lower-income mothers — including many who work in restaurants, factories, call centers and the military — pumping at work is close to impossible, causing many women to decline to breast-feed at all, and others to quit after a short time.
And indeed, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card, while almost 77 percent of babies born in the United States in 2010 started out breast-feeding, the numbers dropped precipitously to 49 percent at 6 months and 27 percent at 12 months. This, while it remains widely known that the World Health Organization suggests two years of breast-feeding and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast-feeding exclusively for the first six months. After all, the science remains clear: Breast-fed babies have a fewer respiratory infections and lower risks of developing Type 2 diabetes, asthma or becoming obese, and mothers who breast-fed are less likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and heart disease, among many other benefits.
“I guess I was really motivated by the social justice angle,” said Ms. Mayer of Ms. Kantor’s article. “I was breast-feeding at the time, and while it was challenging when I traveled, I did have the support at work to take the time I needed. I was really thinking about all the women working at places like Walmart, or even teachers and nurses who didn’t — and many still don’t — have the same opportunity I did. How must it feel to be told over and over that it is the best thing for you and your baby, but have it be logistically completely unrealistic?”
Mamava’s Lactation Station will be placed in the airport’s second-floor terminal, past security, providing, in Ms. Mayer’s words, her vision of the “clean, comfortable, secure place for women who need to use a breast pump or want to nurse in privacy.”
“Women who work away from their babies need to use a breast pump every few hours and, until now, the only private place to do that while traveling was in a restroom or car,” Ms. Mayer said. “Neither of (these options) are particularly private or sanitary. We believe women deserve better.”
By “we,” Ms. Mayer means herself and the director of the airport, Gene Richards, who, upon hearing her idea, “immediately saw the need to provide better accommodations for nursing mothers” — both passengers and airport employees — and was “instrumental in moving the initiative forward.”
The installation coincides with other major efforts to promote breast-feeding, including implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers with more than 50 employees to allow for breaks and provide a private room other than a bathroom for pumping or nursing, and the Surgeon General’s 2011 “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding,” which makes support for breast-feeding a priority and outlines steps to remove obstacles faced by breast-feeding mothers. Additionally, starting this year, insurance plans are required to provide equipment (pumps, etc.) and services (education, consultants, etc.) to promote breast-feeding.
Burlington International Airport’s unit is the first but hopefully not the last Lactation Station. Mamava’s goal is to expand the concept “anywhere a woman might need a privacy solution,” including retail outlets, workplace settings, restaurants, hospitals, other transportation hubs, etc. Once they finalize the design and business model, let’s hope this Mama will va!