Design at its Breast

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The Creation of Mamava and the Energy Found in Empathy

August is National Breastfeeding Month, and I found myself in sunny, hot Florida on a project, not-so-ironically trapped here by steamy, tropical stormy weather that the airports and airlines can’t control.

I say “not ironically,” because it’s absolutely related to a moment of insight in design that I’ll never forget. And one that I hope you’ll remember as well because it represents a cultural moment of change unfolding in all of our lives.

What do tropical storms, airports, and breasts have to do with one another? Well, everything really. It’s crazy to think of it now, but very nearly a decade ago, an idea was born – an idea born of empathy and a truly honest human need.

In 2008, Sascha Mayer (then a brilliant creative collaborator I’d been honored to create with for many years, she’s still brilliant as ever) and Christine Dodson (then an equally genius strategic thinker and idea realizer, still genius and the managing director of Solidarity of Unbridled Labour) were both young, working mothers. Both were committed to their amazing professional lives, as well as their growing families and their communities. Traveling was a big part of what we all did together – collaborating with clients like Nike, Xbox, Levi’s, HP, International Paper, Patagonia, etc. Facilitating projects and some very meaningful creative interactions is what we did (and continue to do today) in our brand design practice.

As young mothers committed to doing their best for their babies and, in fact, helping to lead by example for culture at-large, Sascha and Christine were committed to breastfeeding – which requires pumping breast milk while away from your babies. That making of baby food often happened in airport bathroom stalls.

What a scary reality! I know you can just smell it as you read this and that there are freaky flashbacks of images of stall doors you’ve reluctantly pushed opened in a busy airport. Sascha and Christine also ended up in broom closets in clients’ offices, or in the rental cars in busy parking lots, as they struggled to do what they knew was the right thing.

So, why were Sascha, Christine, and hundreds of thousands of other mothers who were struggling to breastfeed and pump for their babies so committed to such a challenging task? Well, here’s why it matters:

If 90% of U.S. mothers breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, the US would save $18.5 billion in annual costs and 3300 infant & maternal lives.

Babies that are fed with breast milk have far fewer lower respiratory infections (like bronchitis and pneumonia) than those fed with formula.

In mothers who breastfeed, the reduction in rates of breast cancer has been known for a long time. However, newer research has also shown that breastfeeding can help prevent type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and lower the risk of ovarian cancer. 

The United States Office of Personnel Management did a study and found: “Employees who breastfeed tend to have fewer absences and fewer instances of tardiness (than mothers who do not nurse their infants) because their infants are more resistant to sickness.

Babies that are fed with breast milk have fewer cases of bowel infections like necrotizing enterocolitis, fewer ear infections, and as the children age, lower rates of obesity. 

Nursing mothers who use programs and facilities in the workplace often demonstrate higher productivity than new mothers who do not (Berger, Hill, & Waldfogel, 2005). This is frequently attributed to a lessened emotional and psychological burden associated with being away from the baby, as well as higher energy and greater optimism.” 

Unfortunately, 60% of American women do not meet their own breastfeeding goals because they lack the support necessary to continue breastfeeding.

Then the article On the Job, Nursing Mothers Find a 2-Class System appeared in the New York Times, written from a brilliant, insightful, empathetic perspective by Jodi Kantor. It was a very big spark that ignited the idea of Mamava – a cause to create clean, safe, smart spaces for breastfeeding and pumping mothers which are accessible to everyone, everywhere. And, with a digital and media platform created to educate and communicate with mothers everywhere, and to locate the Mamava pods, Mamava has become a knowledge source for mothers and, with that, a network for positive cultural change.
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Real world experiences and Jodie’s insightful article sparked Sascha and Christine’s curiosity – a curiosity born of empathy and creativity, and the question emerged…. “How might design offer a solution to this unacceptable breast feeding and pumping travesty?” And that’s when the incubation of Mamava began in earnest. Then propelled forward by the insightful health care act changer requiring businesses with 50 employees or more to have spaces available for breastfeeding and pumping mother’s that are not bathrooms or closets.

Sascha, Christine, and our creative design culture found this insight through real empathy and experience – the kind that truly inspires design at its best. We realized that we could use design to answer this need and create true cultural change.

This video shows the very first Mamava lactation suite – in its very first location – the Burlington International Airport here in Burlington, VT. Amazingly, this airport was home to the sad story of an airline that inappropriately kicked a young mother off their plane for breastfeeding her baby. So, it was wonderful that Burlington became the first airport to place a Mamava – embraced and supported by a true cultural leader and friend, airport director Gene Richards – in its airport. Gene got it, and has helped pioneer this positive change from the start.

Today, Mamava is thriving. It’s a culture that has grown beyond the design studio incubator walls to its own space and culture – growing beautifully and boldy with Sascha and Christine and the brilliant Mamava team guiding its thoughtful and, at times, wild, flowering evolution.

The Solidarity of Unbridled Labour design team and many friends and supporters on the journey are so very proud of Mamava and to be a part of the original and ongoing empathically guided collaboration that’s inspired the concept from the start. From identity and design vocabulary, video, online, and postcards to Mamava lactation suite graphics, we love, appreciate, and respect every moment of our culture changing collaboration.

Thank you, Sascha, Christine, and all the mothers, dads, supporters, and believers in meaningful, positive, culture-changing ideas. Mamava is a beautiful and bold example of why we design – and it honestly is design at its breast.

In celebration of National Breastfeeding Month, we, in collaboration with Mamava and The Karma Bird House, created Mammas of Invention – an installation inspired by the patriotic buntings used to festoon buildings for celebrations in the past. The art seeks to contrast the historical nature of the warehouse we all create in, built in 1919 with contemporary issues of motherhood and femininity.

Learn more about Mamava:
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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