SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. — A Burlington company has opened its first breast-feeding and pumping station at Burlington International Airport, hoping to replicate the experience at airports and workplaces across the country.
Mamava co-founders Sascha Mayer and Christine Dodson have dealt with the difficulties of trying to breast-feed their babies and travel, both for work and recreation. Mayer remembers trying to use a breast pump in an airport bathroom, not a pleasant experience.
"A lot of people breast-feed in the public. We totally welcome that if you have that comfort level," said Gene Richards, Burlington International Airport's director of aviation who paved the way for the lactation station here. "But for people who want privacy, we want to make sure they have a place to do it."
The Mamava, Spanish for "Mama goes," offers security, privacy and a clean, well-lit space outfitted in Corian, the same solid surface used for countertops and food preparation. And it is located after the security lines, on the second floor near Gates 1 to 8 in a spot that used to have pay phones.
The colors are bright and cheerful with two facing benches in white Corian and a fold-down table between them. An outlet to power breast pumps is below the table. The curved ceiling and recessed lighting give a sense of spaciousness, even though the enclosed area takes up only about 20 square feet, Richards said.
"Everything in there is meant to be used and cleaned," said John Abrahamsen, a designer and project manager for G3K in Springfield, Vt., which is manufacturing the Mamava.
Use of the pod is free. At the Burlington airport, Zutano, a children's clothing manufacturer in Cabot, Vt., is sponsoring the location.
"We feel like this is such an important piece to acknowledge the needs of working mothers, and address the balance between taking care of their babies and going back to work," said Michael Belenky, co-founder of Zutano. "It's not an easy transition."
More than three-quarters of babies begin life being breast-fed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But by 6 months of age, the number declines to less than half. By 12 months, a little more than a quarter of babies are breast-feeding.
Now that support for breast-feeding is written into federal law, Mayer said she felt this was a good time to launch Mamava.
"The Affordable Care Act makes it a legal mandate if you have more than 50 hourly employees, which is a lot of places, to provide a space other than a bathroom for breast-feeding, and there's legislation in the works that goes across all worker classes," Mayer said.
The Mamava unit at the Burlington airport would sell for about $3,500, she said. The company is also developing "pop-up" portable units that would sell for around $1,200 for use by companies and others who have an intermittent need.
"A school, for example, might not have a breast-feeding mom every year but when they do they can install a Mamava," Mayer said of the portable units.
Mayer said her motivation for starting the company was not so much profit as fairness. She read a New York Times article in 2006 that detailed how executives at Starbucks were treated much differently than baristas with access to private space for breast-feeding on the job.
"The idea that I had the privilege, but a teacher, a nurse, a woman at Walmart wouldn't have the same privilege is a social-justice issue," Mayer said. "That's what we're trying to solve."
Michael Jager, founder and chief creative officer of JDK Design where Mayer and Dodson also work, is a partner in Mamava along with G3K. He said the company is talking to Starbucks about the Mamava, along with other corporations such as Marriott hotels and even Chinese government officials.
Mamava does not plan to stop with the breast-feeding and pumping station, which Jager said could wind up in locations across the USA and around the world.
"Once you solve a problem like this we can solve other design problems," Jager said. "We have the right and the responsibility to keep the movement going, and make it as clean and smart for women as possible."
Dan D'Ambrosio also writes for The Burlington (Vt.) Free Press.