For years the medical industry has been claiming that breast milk is the healthiest food for a newborn baby, that breastfeeding has multiple benefits beyond just the nutrients, and that society needs to do more to support mothers to help them continue providing breast milk for up to a year after birth. With meager paid maternity leave policies and even less protections when it comes to ensuring working mothers have adequate space and time to pump breast milk when they are away from their children, however, there have been few tangible steps to make this happen.
Now, there a pilot program to change that, one vending machine at a time.
At Johns Hopkins, a new machine has been installed on campus, a vending machine full of miscellaneous parts needed in order to breast feed and pump milk. The vending machine is there to supplement the hospital grade breast pumps already in place, so that employees have access to the rooms, equipment and time that is needed to ensure that they can feed their children, even when they aren’t with them.
For the working mothers, it’s been a lifesaver. “There are multiple days when I rush out of the house and I forget to bring my breast pump parts,” Nurse Manager Modupe Savage told ABC News. “A lot of times in the past I would have to go back home to get it.”
The concept is different, but not by any means novel. Vending machines have gone far beyond the basics of soda, candy and chips over the last decade. Machines in malls or airports offer anything from phones to iPods, e-readers and other electrics. Anyone who has ever checked out a vending machine in a hotel will see them often stacked will all of the necessities a person may have forgotten to pack, such as toothbrushes, shoe polish and other toiletries. As a parent will probably tell you, baby supplies are stuffed inside as well, like spare diapers, wipes and pacifiers.
Adding a machine with pumping supplies makes sense, especially in a building that is already dedicating itself to offering high grade hospital style pumping equipment for use. Although the pump itself can be used by anyone, valves, tubing, falanges (the part that goes over the breast) and containers shouldn’t be shared, and without those additional pieces a pumping session can’t happen.
Even better for those who find themselves turning to the machine for supplies, the equipment inside is all offered at a discount, with the campus supplementing the cost.
As a society, we send massively conflicting messages on mothering. We refuse to offer adequate paid leave in order to allow a new mother to better establish breast feeding, yet harangue her over the idea that breast milk is the ideal food for her new child. In recent years we have done little to work on leave issues, or even affordable child care for parents who must (or want to) return to work quickly. But we have made small, incremental changes to the support of breast feeding itself. As a part of the Affordable Care Act, breastfeeding support was specifically added to coverage, with the administration mandating both the availability of outside help for those having issues breastfeeding as well as requiring insurance policies to pay for the pumping equipment required for those who want to continue feeding when they are away from their children.
A vending machine, especially with a subsidy for supplies, is a logical continuation of that policy. Even better, it doesn’t just support new mothers in the quest to breastfeed, it also changes our perception about breastfeeding itself. It forces us as a society to look more closely at how we claim “breast is best” but refuse to help ensure that women can continue to feed by placing hurdles in front of them. It draws attention to the fact that pumping rooms and pumping breaks aren’t a given in a work space, but something a parent has to fight for. It reminds us that we say children should have breastmilk, but act shocked when a mother feeds her child from the breast in a public space. Overall, it makes us reevaluate how our policies are isolating women from the rest of society simply because she has a new child, and then calls that isolation the gold standard of good motherhood.
There is only one machine at Johns Hopkins, but the campus says based on response they may add more to the other nursing parent spaces across the campus. Hopefully, this innovation will spread beyond Johns Hopkins and into the general public, too.
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