Breastfeeding is a struggle for many mothers. But one small company is working hard to make breastfeeding (and pumping!) easier and more equitable for all. Mamava—the creator of freestanding lactation pods and a free locator app—is on a mission to change the culture of breastfeeding by providing the structural and emotional support mothers need.
Here Mamava’s co-founder and CEO, Sascha Mayer, reflects on why breastfeeding should be a choice for all mothers, not a privilege for a few and how her company is helping to make that happen.
It’s 2020. Why are we still talking about the structural and societal support mothers need?
Because some of these challenges have been largely invisible and thus easier to ignore. In the age of COVID, mothers (many of whom are essential workers) are bearing the brunt. But in reality, mothers have always had this burden, it’s just been hidden. The pandemic has made visible the realities of modern motherhood in America for the first time, and the fact that without affordable quality childcare for all families, the country can’t get back to work.
What kind of support do breastfeeding mothers need?
Breastfeeding can be really difficult and requires the support of family, friends, and employers. Thanks to the 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are required to provide non-exempt (i.e. hourly) breastfeeding employees with reasonable break time and a private lactation space that is not a bathroom. This law protects a woman’s right to express milk at work for one year after her child’s birth. Many states have even stricter laws. I’m proud of the advocacy work Mamava has done on breastfeeding laws to help moms understand their rights, inequalities in breastfeeding and maternal health, and how to take action to increase breastfeeding accommodations in their communities.
What inspired you to create Mamava?
In 2006 I read a New York Times article describing the two-class system of breastfeeding. Women who could afford to stay home with their infants—or who had the autonomy to pump at work—were able to meet the recommendations to breastfeed for at least six months (and longer when possible). But the vast majority of mothers who worked outside the home—often in positions without power or autonomy—were ending their breastfeeding journey earlier than they wanted. Which meant that breastfeeding—this fundamental human function that sustains life—wasn’t actually an authentic choice for many women because they lacked the space, time, and support to do so.
What’s one thing you wish people understood about breastfeeding?
There are as many feelings and ideas about breastfeeding as there are breastfeeding people. Breasts are beautiful and amazing—as is breastfeeding!—but it’s an individual’s choice what they do with them. We just want to make sure all the choices are available, and that there are clean, private spaces to support those choices.
What mantra or saying has guided you as a mother? As a CEO?
Progress over perfection (works for motherhood and CEOhood)!
What’s your best advice for someone having a baby?
You are not having a baby, you are having a human. The baby phase only lasts a couple of years, but parenthood lasts a lifetime and just gets even more interesting and rewarding. You’re in this for the long haul.