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North Dakota airports, businesses install breastfeeding pods for moms on-the-go

At Hector International Airport in Fargo, this Mamava pod is located about 20 feet away from security, near departure gates. April Knutson / Forum News Service

FARGO — For new moms, public spaces don't always provide safe and secure breastfeeding or pumping areas. Most learn to improvise with visits to family restrooms or their car so they can privately care for their babies. This fall, the North Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition (NDBC) partnered with businesses to install private lactation suites to support moms in their breastfeeding goals.

"North Dakota is the first state in the nation to have all of the major airports and zoos provide private and secure space for breastfeeding and pumping moms," says BriAnna Wanner, executive director at the NDBC.

Six lactation suites were installed in September at the Fargodome and all North Dakota airports. This summer, NDBC received a grant from the North Dakota Department of Health to complete their breastfeeding secure spaces initiative.

"This grant opportunity came along when we had already put a lot of work into partnering with businesses to create or install lactation spaces in public areas," Wanner says.

Earlier this year, the coalition — which has more than 80 members — started reaching out to airports about the lack of private areas for new mothers.

Shawn Dobberstein, executive director at Hector International Airport, says he initially reacted with interest when Wanner contacted him in April.

"We know that we have lacked in this area in terms of privacy," Dobberstein says. "What we have utilized in the past if someone has asked for a private breastfeeding or pumping space is the first aid room that we have on the first floor."

Dobberstein says the first aid area is secure and quiet, but the room didn't work for all situations.

"Once passengers went through the security checkpoint, we didn't have another private location other than a family restroom down in the west part of our concourse," he says.

Wanner — who traveled often for work while breastfeeding — remembers the struggle to find a comfortable space.

"When I boarded planes in Fargo, I usually had connecting flights," she says. "Often the layover between flights was a 30-minute window, which isn't enough time to pump."

Many moms look for a space to breastfeed or pump before boarding because of the routes that planes often take when departing Fargo, Wanner says.

Because of this, Dobberstein says he was eager to make air travel more convenient for moms.

"More than two million people fly through North Dakota airports on an annual basis," Wanner says. "Many of these people are breastfeeding moms, so the reach in this project is amazing."

This holiday travel season will be the first time new moms can try out the breastfeeding pods, called "Mamavas" (a combination of the latin words for "mama" and "travel").

Ultimately, the NDBC and the airports opted for these lactation suites because they are spacious — more than 7 feet wide and about 4 feet deep — and can be easily moved as facilities expand and the demand for a space changes.

"All five of North Dakota's airports can now provide an option for women who need a private, comfortably equipped place to pump while traveling or prefer more privacy while breastfeeding," Dobberstein says.

Both Dobberstein and Wanner say the Mamava suites are unique. Each suite is spacious and includes features like a USB outlet, air conditioning, fan, motion-sensored light, mirrors and retractable table. The Mamava pods were designed so a mom could fit her luggage and still have space for her child or children. The pod is secure with a special keypad so moms have to punch a code to access the lactation suites. Wanner says this feature was especially important because new moms often experience unintentional interruption from others.

"When I pumped at work, I always had to find a corner and my coworkers would sometimes walk in on me because they didn't know what I was doing," Wanner says.

Because of this common experience, women will often resort to sitting on a toilet in a small stall to feed or pump.

"Once we shared the news about these pods we had many Facebook comments, especially from those in Fargo area who said 'No more toilet pumping!' " Wanner says.

Other businesses are following the airports' lead, including the Red River Zoo, which decided to build or renovate their own secure breastfeeding or pumping spaces.

"It would've been really nice when I was breastfeeding to have these places to go," Wanner says.

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues, and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as a digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew up on a farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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