EdiItor's note: This article was written in 2015, and updated for 2017, when news of Sea-Tac Airport's new Mamava pods was released.
If you’re a nursing mother, you know how challenging it can be to find a place to nurse in comfort when out in public. But what if you are a nursing mother, away from your child, and you need to pump? Where do mothers on the go pump in public?
You certainly can’t do it just anywhere. (Starbucks armchair, anyone?)
Expressing milk can be a stressful task, and the lack of available, comfortable locations to hook up that machine make it even more challenging. Even when there are facilities available to nursing moms, they may not be adequately advertised and are too few in number.
More than conveniences, public pumping stations support the health of babies, mothers and the whole family, experts say. “A mother who is pumping needs a private space because there’s so much more exposure while she’s setting up. She needs a sink to be able to wash her hands and pump parts, and an outlet,” says Emily Pease, RN, the charge nurse for lactation services at Swedish Medical Center’s Lytle Center for Pregnancy and Newborns.
Pease says there’s a noticeable lack of these public facilities for nursing mothers in the Seattle area. “There is an international sign for breastfeeding that would be great to have any business post to indicate that nursing mothers are welcome,” she says.
Despite the lack of support for moms who need to pump in public, more options are starting to, um, flow.
Mamava, a mother-owned company out of Burlington, Vermont, grew out of this vacuum. The company produces freestanding nursing pods that contain seats, a table, outlets and a locking door. (Mamava means “mama, go” in Spanish.) Pods have been installed in airports and malls across the U.S., including one at North Seattle College that was the first site in the Puget Sound region to host a pod. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport also recently added two Mamava pods to locations within the central terminal, bringing the total number of pumping sites to three.
It's not a huge surprise that other mothers were responsible for this tripling of lactation stations at Sea-Tac: The customer service team regularly surveys passengers as to what amenities are needed, and responded to the demand.
Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire played a key role in the push for the pods. "As a mother of two children, it is personally important to me that Sea-Tac is a welcoming place for moms and their families,” she says. SeaTac's goal is to install two more pods by the end of 2017, according to Port of Seattle spokesperson Brian DeRoy.
Other Mamava pods exist around the state as well, according to Sascha Mayer, Mamava CEO and cofounder. Spokane International Airport hosts one, as does Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, which has three "nursing nooks" around their campus.
Awareness about the benefits of breastmilk is well-known: The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) recommends human milk as a baby’s optimal source of nutrition and immune protection. So a nursing mother is motivated to keep up her milk supply and bank as much expressed milk as she can, for good reason. The AAP recommends a quiet place to pump and says any stress could delay a mother’s letdown reflex or reduce her milk supply.
But calm, private areas in public spaces are a tall order in a hurried world that still sometimes scorns mothers for breastfeeding outside the home. “One of our challenges is that we have a user audience — nursing moms — who tends to be very different from our actual customer — facilities operators, who are often older and male, but control the purchase. So we are constantly having to educate people on the logistics of breastfeeding on the go,” says Mamava's Mayer.
Pease of Swedish supports Mayer’s mission. “Nursing is normal, and the more public nursing that is done reinforces that this is a normal way to feed a baby.”
What makes a good space
According to the Moms Pump Here website, which also provides a helpful lactation room locator app for North America, a public lactation room should provide the following:
- Comfortable seating
- Outlet to connect an electric breast pump
- Sink for cleaning nursing equipment
- Lockable door
Chilan Ta, manager of the Women’s Center at North Seattle College, was instrumental in the procurement of the Mamava unit there. “The cost of the suite is much less than designating a room on campus and remodeling. The suite is portable, which allows our institution to relocate to optimal locations if areas are remodeled or the flow of student traffic changes,” she says. The college has plans to purchase two more Mamava units in the future for placement on campus.
How to find a public lactation room; there's an app for that
'Family restroom' fail. Despite these improvements, there is a long way to go before basic lactation rooms are as common and standardized as changing tables in restrooms. Do not be fooled by the term “family restroom,” for instance. The family restroom provides ample space but no guarantee of a place to sit, a table or even outlets for pumping. A family restroom often means simply a large, locking stall or freestanding room with a drain.
Some libraries, educational institutions, sports facilities, transportation hubs and shopping malls provide spaces for mothers needing to nurse or pump.
Some apps, such as the Mamava app and Moms Pump Here nursing room finders, help moms locate nursing rooms around the country. (These apps are user driven, so may not list every room that is out there.)
Many facilities now provide space as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but others developed these spaces as a result of visitor or user input. Over and over, Ta heard from North Seattle College students about the need for a place to pump, and she describes what amounted to efforts that resembled a game of musical chairs to find space prior to the Mamava purchase. “This often involved disrupting people’s work days to arrange space … [for instance] a student would use someone’s office while that person would go to lunch.”
The more that mothers and advocates request and expect nursing and pumping rooms in high-traffic public areas, the more commonplace these facilities will likely become.
The following are a sample of public spaces in the Puget Sound area that provide a range of accommodations for a lactating mom on the go and meet the majority criteria for an ideal pumping room (eg, have outlets and locks on the door and function as public spaces that any nursing mother can use). These spaces are listed from most ideal to just “so-so,” and all welcome any mother needing a private place to nurse or pump.
The Mamava Pod at North Seattle College (9600 College Way North, Seattle) is accessible to any student, staff or visitor to the college. The pod sits inside the north, second-floor entrance of the Health Sciences and Student Resources (HSSR) Building. The unit is safe, secure, attractive and lockable from the inside. The pod contains several outlets, seating for two adults and a table.
Everett Community College’s North Everett campus (2000 Tower St., Everett) offers staff and students a private nursing and pumping lounge on the second floor of Rainier Hall. The lounge is accessed through the women’s restroom, but is separate and lockable from the inside. Visiting mothers can obtain access via Security by calling 425-388-9990 or going to the Security office in EvCC’s Parks Student Union, Room 224.
The Westfield Group operates several malls in Washington state, and for years has promoted a family-friendly public space with amenities such as complimentary strollers, covered parking for families and generously appointed family lounges. Information about these perks is easy to find on Westfield mall websites as well.
- Family lounge, Southcenter Mall, Tukwila (2800 Southcenter Mall, Tukwila). Two family lounges, one on Level 1 near Starbucks and Crazy 8, and the other on Level 2 at the Dining Terrace. Each lounge includes toys, kid-friendly TV programs, private nursing areas and baby changing stations, as well as comfortable seating and access to restrooms.
- Family lounge, Capital Mall, Olympia (625 Black Lake Blvd., Olympia). The Capital Mall’s family lounge features private nursing areas, baby changing stations and a large family restroom. Located near the Food Court between Subway and Panda Express.
Southcenter Toys and Baby R Us (17501 South Center Parkway, Tukwila). The Toys R Us located in the Park Place Shopping Center southwest of Westfield's Southcenter Mall has a spacious, private mother's room with three couches, outlets, changing table and pleasant lighting. It's located next to the spotlessly clean restrooms, and, most importantly, has a sign posted asking all users to knock before entry.
Sea-Tac Airport (17801 International Blvd., Seattle). Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s central moms’ room is located across from Seattle Taproom between the Central Terminal and Concourse A gates. The room has adjustable lighting, rocking chairs, footstools, electrical outlets and side tables. The two Mamava pods are located at either end of the central terminal; one along the A concourse and the other near the Satellite Train System outside terminal D. (Military families can also access another moms’ room at the USO, located on the mezzanine of the Main Terminal.)
Seattle Central Public Library (1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle). Seattle’s flagship library’s children’s department hosts two large, comfortable and quiet seating areas as well as a respectably comfortable place to nurse or pump. The family restroom within the children’s department contains chairs, outlets and a shelf. The key must be obtained from the family librarian, so use of the room is monitored to ensure privacy.
Nordstrom women’s lounges (multiple Puget Sound–area locations). Nordstrom has had the right idea for years, providing a gracious “living room” feel to the restrooms it provides for its female shoppers. Originally intended as a resting spot between retail flurries, the Nordstrom lounge has quietly become the best public space in which to nurse. While the lounges are not totally private for pumping, they include outlets and side tables. Nordstrom lounges are often superior to other mall facilities.
The Bellevue Collection’s women’s lounge (575 Bellevue Square, Bellevue). The women’s lounge located on the west side of the second level of The Bellevue Collection mall gives the nearby Nordstrom lounge a serious run for comfort, elegance and quiet. Comfortable seating, outlets and tables are near the restroom for washing up. Like the Nordstrom lounges, The Bellevue Collection women’s lounge is not designed for pumping, but can accommodate a mother willing to try.
University Village women’s lounge (25th Ave. N.E. and N.E. 45th St., Seattle). Like The Bellevue Collection and Nordstrom, the lounge at U Village is not designed specifically for pumping, but has most amenities needed. It’s located in the South building women’s restroom, next to Kumon, near the elevators at Starbucks South. It has a couch, chairs, table, changing station, outlets and hand-washing, but no lockable private area.
Safeco Field (1250 First Ave. South, Seattle). According to the Seattle Mariners website, the nursing mothers’ lounge is adjacent to the Guest Services Center in Section 128. The mothers’ lounge is only open during game times.