By Melissa Gray
(CNN) — It’s a pod-like structure a bit larger than a photo booth, and a Vermont company is hoping it will make life a little easier for nursing mothers who are away from home.
The modular lactation station allows a mother to breast-feed her baby or use a breast pump in a private spot designed with her in mind, with Corian surfaces, soft lighting, a fold-down table and even a power supply for a pumping machine.
The first one was unveiled Thursday at Burlington International Airport in Vermont and the company behind it, Burlington-based Mamava, is hoping many more will follow.
“We definitely see it for any public space where a mom might need some privacy or might want to use a breast pump,” company co-founder Sascha Mayer said.
Nursing mothers know well the challenges of trying to feed their babies while away from home. Discreet nursing covers or shawls allow a degree of privacy when breast-feeding in public, though some mothers who are still shy about it may do it in a corner or even in a bathroom stall.
Mothers who must pump their milk have an even tougher time finding a place to do it in public. A bathroom stall is often the only option, but it’s less than desirable — imagine sitting on a public toilet while balancing a pump (or baby), listening to the sound of flushing toilets all around and knowing other women can hear the kshhh-kshhh of the pump every few seconds.
Those realities became clear to Mayer after the birth of her daughter seven years ago, when she had to travel for work. She had to find ways of pumping while at trade shows, airports, corporate retreats, baseball games and rafting trips, so she began thinking of a product that would make things easier for other mothers facing the same challenges.
“We wanted it to be comfortable,” she said, but at the same time, “we’re not about hiding moms away. We’re about giving them an alternative to pumping in public, and an alternative to using a bathroom.”
They started working with designers and developed the first prototype earlier this year. The director of Burlington’s airport, Gene Richards, liked the idea and the free-standing pod is now installed in the second floor of the terminal, airside, after the security checkpoints.
“Breast-feeding is welcome anywhere at the airport, but the Mamava unit will provide a comfortable place for nursing mothers who might want more privacy (or for babies who might need fewer distractions),” the company said.
There is no fee to use the lactation station. A lock on the door turns red when it’s occupied.
Mamava hopes to put pods in other airports or public places like conference centers and malls, Mayer says. They’re also working on a foldable design that could be used in small workplaces and then put away when not in use.
“What’s been really, really fun for us is the cultural challenge,” Mayer said.
As the public becomes more aware of the benefits of breast-feeding, she said she hopes they also become aware of the logistics of it.
Mayer said she doesn’t want women to choose against breast-feeding just because it’s too difficult.
“We really just want to make it a legitimate choice for women, because really in a lot of cases it just isn’t,” Mayer said. “There are so many challenges, so why not make it as positive and optimistic and comforting as possible?”
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