As travelers make their way through O’Hare International Airport this summer, they might notice a new convenience dotted among newsstands, coffee shops and popcorn stands: portable lactation pods.
The Chicago Department of Aviation is installing 11 self-contained lactation pods at O’Hare and Midway airports, providing a private oasis for nursing mothers to use for free. Eight of the 10 modules designated for O’Hare are operational, while Midway’s only unit is in place.
“CDA is continually working to improve the customer experience for everyone passing through Chicago airports,” Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said in an emailed statement. “These lactation pods provide accessible convenience to our family travelers in addition to the mothers’ rooms already available in our terminals.”
The cozy 50 square foot lactation pods, built by Mamava based in Burlington, Vermont, feature a table, two benches, mirror, motion-activated lighting and ceiling vent, and dual outlets to power breast pumps. An app locates the capsule and unlocks the door, providing a dedicated space for breastfeeding mothers on the fly.
Launched in 2015, Mamava has installed more than 2,000 lactation pods across the United States in offices, airports, shopping malls, hospitals, military bases, universities and sports arenas. In Chicago, Mamava has pods at Soldier Field, McCormick Place, and Navy Pier, among other facilities.
“Our mission is to help support breastfeeding parents,” said Sascha Mayer, 51, CEO and co-founder of Mamava. “It’s just a nice confined environment when you really need to sit down and use a breast pump or breastfeed a baby.”
Mamava builds three modules of different sizes at its Vermont factory, which range in price from $10,000 to $25,000 each. The city paid about $220,000 in total for its order of 11 extra-large modules from O’Hare and Midway, an Aviation Department spokesperson said Tuesday.
Most Mamava lactation pods are sold to private companies, but airports are a growing category, in part due to legislation to accommodate nursing mothers, Mayer said. For many travelers, pods are a welcome alternative to restrooms, which often serve as breast milk pumping stations, she said.
There are 176 Mamava lactation modules at 69 airports across the country. When the two remaining O’Hare pods are installed in Terminal 1 this summer, the airport will rank second in portable lactation accommodations, after Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
In Chicago, the modules complement five nursing wards at O’Hare and one at Midway, and help both facilities comply with the Mother-Friendly Airport Improvement Act, which was drafted by U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth and promulgated in November 2020.
Building on Illinois Democrat’s 2018 Mother-Friendly Airports Act, or FAM Act, the legislation requires all airports to provide private spaces in every terminal for mothers to express breast milk.
“Expanding lactation spaces is critical to helping working moms across the country and making travel more family-friendly,” Duckworth said in an emailed statement. “I’m happy to see our Chicago airports leading the way in providing even more accessible and convenient options for breastfeeding mothers. »
Mayer said the FAM law has helped increase pod sales at airports. She also cited the pending Provision of Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, or PUMP Act, as potentially crucial federal legislation to get lactation pods in more places.
The PUMP Act, which was approved by the House in October but stalled in the Senate, would require employers to provide enough break time and space for nursing mothers to express milk for up to two years after giving birth or the start of breastfeeding.
Beyond legislation, the challenge of attracting employees to the office has raised the stakes for companies to accommodate breastfeeding mothers in the post-pandemic landscape, Mayer said.
“Employment is such a challenge in terms of recruiting, finding and retaining people,” Mayer said. “So now there’s an expectation around every facility or business, to have a lactation space. It’s almost a given, so it really drives us.
Mamava drove 30% year-over-year revenue growth until sales stagnated during the pandemic as many people worked remotely, public spaces remained sparse and potential customers suspended orders of lactation capsules. Orders from the Chicago Department of Aviation, for example, took “two years to prepare,” Mayer said.
But as the world emerges from pandemic stasis, growth is picking up and pod sales are expected to double this year, Mayer said.
Another factor likely to stimulate demand is the shortage of formulawhich has forced many young families to scour distant retailers and look for alternatives to feed their babies.
Mayer said improved infrastructure and institutional support – including the installation of lactation pods at airports – will make breastfeeding a more viable option for many families, thereby reducing broader dependence on formula. .
“There’s no shameful formula or anything,” Mayer said. “But obviously if more families had support to breastfeed… the issue of formula would be less so because there would be fewer people depending on it.”
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