Walmart testing privacy pods for breastfeeding moms

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 1,206 views 

A breastfeeding pod being tested at a Walmart store in Bentonville.

Walmart Store #100 in Bentonville is one of three sites Walmart is testing lactation suites that offer moms privacy for breastfeeding. They are self-contained pods that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and offer moms the ability to choose lighting, fan speed and music while using the pod.

Walmart is the first retailer to pilot the pods offered by Vermont-based Mamava. The idea came from Tennille Webb, a Walmart employee who saw a pod in an airport and took the concept back to her bosses at Walmart in Bentonville who ran it up the corporate ladder.

Walmart officials told Talk Business & Politics the lactation suites have been about two years in the making since Webb first introduced the idea to management. Walmart purchased three pods which were customized with company branding. Mamava said the large pods like the ones being tested cost about $22,500 each. Smaller unit prices start at $9,500. The units are made in Springfield, Vt.

“This is a pilot in three stores. Walmart will gather data from the app and evaluate the usage and welcomes feedback from customers and associates during this test. As usual, Walmart will decide to expand or abandon the test after sufficient data is gathered,” said Anne Hatfield, Walmart spokeswoman.

She said the decision for Walmart to jump on board with Mamava is about giving customers and employees a choice.

“Moms sometimes have to leave the store to breastfeed their babies and we want to offer them the convenience of handling the need right away,” Hatfield said in a phone interview.

She said the pods are large enough to allow for a baby stroller and other small children in tow. She said the units will be sanitized by the store’s regular janitorial team. Walmart and Mamava do ask users to wipe up any messes created during use. There is no cost to use the pod. While Walmart already provides employees a place for pumping milk after they return to work, they are also allowed to try the pods and provide feedback.

In Bentonville, the unit is located at the back of the store near restrooms and there is overhead signage that denotes “Mother’s Room.” Users can download the free Mamava app on Apple or Android and see locations where public units are available. They can reserve a time on the app and they will get an access code for entry upon arrival. The door of the pod locks on the inside and the “In Use” tag is visible on the outside of the door.

Hatfield said the units in Walmart stores in Williston, Vt., and Gilbert, Ariz., have been in use for about two weeks and the initial response is positive. The Bentonville unit was installed Monday (Aug. 26).

Walmart made the announcement in conjunction with National Breastfeeding Month and it serves a very important demographic for the retail giant – young families.

Mamava has nearly 1,000 of the units across the U.S. and Canada. Common locations are public venues like airports, museums, hospitals, professional sporting venues and institutions of higher learning. The unit in Walmart in Bentonville is the first in the state. Mamava co-founder Sascha Mayer notes on the corporate website, the company was born in 2013. Mayer was inspired by an article she read a few years before on the difficulty young mothers were having returning to work and trying to continue breastfeeding. She said while some corporations offered private places for pumping, those women working in restaurants or other public venues didn’t have that option.

Mayer and co-founder Christine Dodson said they had pumped at trade shows, airports, corporate retreats, baseball games and even in the back seat of a male client’s car. The Mamava founders said they set out to solve the problem by launching the free-standing lactation suites and making them accessible for businesses and venues across North America.

Talk Business & Politics asked moms on social media to share their thoughts about retailers offering customers private places to breastfeed. Krystal Mothersell of Van Buren said it would be a nice gesture for retailers to offer the private pods. As a mother of two, she said she’s been fortunate to use the backroom when available. Lindsey Morris or Tulsa, Okla., said as a mother of three she thinks retailers should offer private breastfeeding stations.

“I have had to use dressing rooms when they have them,” she said.

Brittney Richard of Katy, Texas, said the units would be great to have in retail venues.

“I can’t tell you how many times I had to breastfeed in bathrooms,” Richard said.

Nikkie Kent, executive vice president at Mamava, said Walmart has also placed six other units in Jet.com and Walmart fulfillment centers and warehouses to accommodate employee needs. Kent said she worked with Webb and Walmart’s real estate team for more than 18 months to get the three test units for public use in place. Kent said Mamava is also working to expand their business relationship in Arkansas. She said the company is in talks and moving in the right direction to get additional units in place.

“We applaud Walmart for taking this step to help support moms who choose to breastfeed. This is an important shopping demographic and this convenience could also be a traffic driver,” Kent said. “A busy mom running the carpool could know she can stop at local Walmart and breastfeed the baby and also pick up the diapers and something for dinner on the way out.”

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