A place to breastfeed in busy Newark Airport
Corinne McDermott’s’ only choice was to expose herself in public. Luckily she was okay with that, but other moms might not be.
The busy mom was still breastfeeding when she returned to work after a short maternity leave, and found herself looking around the airport. Where was she supposed to find a proper place to either pump or breastfeed her child?
The toilet? A waiting room seat? In a restaurant?
Each “solution” was fraught with impatient and affronted passengers, as well as discomfort for McDermott and her baby. Although McDermott had the law on her side, she still felt hurried and uncomfortable.
Under New Jersey law, (N.J.S.A. 26:4B-4) ”Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, a mother shall be entitled to breast feed her baby in any location of a place of public accommodation, resort or amusement wherein the mother is otherwise permitted.”
But, to McDermott, that wasn’t the point.
McDermott is not the only woman who has faced this problem. Thousands of women every year struggle with breastfeeding in airports, offices and public buildings of all kinds.
“As a mom, your biggest challenge is finding a comfortable place to nurse,” McDermott said in a recent interview. “Distraction for the baby is huge, and finding a quiet place to nurse a baby in an airport can be a bit of a challenge.”
The people who operate Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) are taking action. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has recently installed two free private areas available for nursing needs, located in Terminal B beyond the security checkpoints: one in the B2 concourse near gates 50-57 and another in the B3 concourse near gates 60-68.
At this time, both suites are installed and complete. They are a part of a plan to install 12 suites across all of the airports under the Port Authority’s jurisdiction.
One key point, according to a Port Authority spokesman, is the location of the breastfeeding stations — beyond security checkpoints. This allows mothers to use the breastfeeding stations, and, if necessary, collect the milk in a bottle and not worry about having to pass an unknown liquid through security.
The Port Authority was prompted to install the suites after receiving feedback from travelers through their Customer Care Connection portal.
“The Port Authority regularly surveys our customers to learn how we can better serve their needs, and we’ve received multiple requests for an area specifically for nursing mothers,” said Port Authority Aviation Director Thomas Bosco.
For many traveling mothers who are often stuck using restrooms or open public space as a substitute, this is good news. Concerns like sanitation, privacy and distraction of the child are alleviated by a lactation suite.
“No matter how clean a bathroom is, I wouldn’t breastfeed or pump in there,” said Cass DiBenedetto, 32, and mother of a 5-month-old daughter. “If they were available to me, I would rather use one than nurse in public. If you’re in a stressful mindset when trying to breastfeed, it’s very possible that nothing will come out. You have to be in a cool head, and that’s difficult in public.”
The Cumberland County, New Jersey, mom was concerned about comfort, citing the need for “comfortable expression,” a popular term used to describe the need for both mother and child to be relaxed while breastfeeding to ensure a successful session.
The freestanding lactation suites installed in EWR are manufactured by Mamava, Spanish for mother-on-the-go, and aim to provide this comfort. More resources for nursing mothers are found on Mamava’s website.
After receiving feedback from travelers, the Port Authority customer service team looked into a solution, and that’s where they found Sascha Mayer, co-founder and designer of the lactation suites for Mamava.
“A high percentage of women go back to work only two weeks after childbirth,” Mayer said. “Based on our own experiences, we wanted to create a product that was empathetic to all women, and serve breastfeeding needs and the wider populations.”
Originally, Mamava pods were meant for pumping, but grew to fill a need in supporting breastfeeding mothers as well.
The units were created with a designer’s eye, as well as with functionality in mind. They can hold four people at a time, although they are often only used by one, leaving plenty of room for luggage or a stroller.
The units are 32 square feet in size and are made of fiberglass, corian, eco-certified composite panel and aluminum. Before using one of the pods, travelers should check with their doctors to make sure they will not suffer any adverse affects from exposure to fiberglass.
The pods are round in shape, and kind of look like breasts. According to Meyers, this was done on purpose.
“The inside of the pod gives you a womb-like, feminine feel,” Mayers said. “This was deliberate. We also made sure it distinctly did not have the feel of a bathroom, and purposefully left out a changing table and sink.”
LED lights and a clean, simple texture make the pods easy for facilities to maintain and clean. A traditional outlet, a USB outlet and a table intended to support a pumping machine are available inside.
The Mamava pods serve airports and buildings that need a fast solution. They’re on wheels and lock from the inside, triggering an “occupied” light on the outside.
“Mamava is kind of the only game in town at the moment,” Mayer said. “We’re the only units that can be delivered quickly and require so little maintenance and downtime. All you have to do is plug them in.”
These lactation pods fill a real need, and moms are getting more vocal. When expected to go back to work so quickly, women need a place to pump or feed their children.
In fact, in the state of New Jersey, it’s illegal to not provide a woman with a place to do so, or to tell her she cannot breastfeed in public.
Without proper accommodation to breast pump, women are often asked to leave or “cover up,” when attempting to breastfeed in public areas. According to Mamava, these incidents have been followed by spouts of activism including “nurse-ins,” that can result in bad publicity for the facilities.
The New Jersey Department of Health offers some helpful information for breastfeeding mothers and how to apply the law.
In some cases, areas intended to provide privacy may instead provide a reason to shame a mother into breastfeeding out of the public eye.
“My only concern about the lactation pods is that women would feel required to use them,” McDermott, Founder of Have Baby Will Travel agency, said, “If they are being expected to do so or are asked to use a pod, that’s not right. But in general I think they’re a great idea. Anything that helps women to breastfeed is a good thing.”
Providing a choice for breastfeeding women has become a more pressing issue as the number of new moms returning to the workforce is growing, and in turn, increasing the number of women traveling with babies.
According to a recent report by Breastfeeding Medicine, of women with a child under a year, 55.8 percent are in the workforce. Upon the report’s completion in December 2014, only eight percent of the 100 top airports in the U.S. provided the minimum requirements for a lactation room — a private space other than a bathroom with an electrical outlet, table and a chair.
The report was published before the recent addition of lactation pods instituted by the Port Authority.
Although only eight percent of these airports met these requirements, 62 percent answered “yes” to the question, “Are you breastfeeding friendly?” The reply meant either that public breastfeeding was acceptable or that the airport had a family bathroom setting for women to use.
Twenty-five percent of respondents considered the bathroom an acceptable place for mothers to breastfeed or pump.
Jennifer Pacitti, a 31-year-old mother of two from West Berlin, New Jersey, would be concerned about the sanitation of a public restroom for breastfeeding her 30-month-old daughter.
“A lot of places have a family room, but it’s a bathroom,” Pacitti said. “In public places, I’m trying to keep my eye on one kid while propping up the other one that’s breastfeeding on my purse. In a bathroom, it’s a disaster and it’s just gross.”
The addition of the Mamava lactation suites is designed to alleviate these concerns for traveling moms in EWR. That was Seventh Generation’s goal when they chose to sponsor their installation.
Seventh Generation is a consumer company that sells plant-based soaps and laundry products, recycled paper and trash bags, as well as baby products, recipes for vegan foods and organic tampons.
“We are always looking for ways to support moms, whether through the development of safe and eco-friendly household and baby care items or brand partnerships that share our mission of nurturing the health of the next seven generations,” said John Moorhead, the associate brand manager at Seventh Generation. “Traveling as a pumping mother or trying to find a quiet place to nurse are both real, everyday challenges and Mamava provides an exciting solution.”
For moms like McDermott, this means a choice on where to breastfeed at the airport.
“If women prefer the privacy, this is great,” McDermott said. “The most important thing is that they are provided with a clean, quiet and comfortable place to nurse.”