Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Mamava provides safe sanctuaries for modern mothers with their thoughtfully-designed lactation pods
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY MAMAVA
At Burlington International Airport, Mamava, Inc.’s original lactation pod stands prominently in the midst of a busy passenger terminal. The small and stylish freestanding structure offers much-needed comfort and privacy to mothers who are breastfeeding and pumping breastmilk. Its curved walls are covered with colorful custom-designed graphics, and its cheery logo serves as a friendly welcome for all of the mothers who walk through its doors. It’s been eight years since Mamava’s first pod was installed at Burlington International Airport in 2013, and the company has continued to expand and flourish since then. Over the course of the past decade, Mamava has manufactured and sold over 2,000 lactation pods, which can now be found in the halls and rooms of many businesses, airports, and public buildings all across the United States and beyond.
Mamava has also used their online platform to advocate for maternal health rights and breastfeeding awareness, and provided valuable information and educational resources free of charge to breastfeeding mothers. After purchasing a manufacturing plant in Springfield, Vermont, in September 2021, Mamava is now well-equipped to meet the growing market demand for their lactation pods, which has been bolstered by recently-passed federal legislation. Mamava’s innovative products and services have made a profound difference in the lives of countless mothers, and their executive staff remains firmly grounded in their core values as they move forward into the future.
The chain of events that led to the creation of Mamava, Inc. first began when Mamava’s CEO, Sascha Mayer, and COO, Christine Dodson, were working at the Burlington-based graphic design firm Jager Dipaola Kemp (JDK) in the early 1990s. At the time, Mayer was working as a brand strategist for JDK, and Dodson was involved with the account services side of the business. Working together, they helped to manage client accounts and strategize with design teams to create culturally-resonant brands.
“One of JDK’s biggest clients early on was Burton Snowboards,” says Dodson. “One of the firm’s founders, Michael Jager, met Jake Burton Carpenter around the time that he was first attempting to commercialize snowboarding.” Burton and Jager then formed a business partnership, and Jager designed the graphics for many of Burton’s early boards. “Before snowboarding was even allowed on the mountain, both Jake and Michael understood that the boards and their designs could represent something bigger for the riders,” notes Dodson. “They knew that the cultural impact of the board design would play a big part in helping to develop Burton as a successful brand.” Years later, Mayer and Dodson would end up applying that same understanding of commercial branding practices toward the development of the Mamava pods. “We wanted to elevate and normalize breastfeeding within our culture in the same way that JDK was able to help Burton elevate and normalize snowboarding.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dodson and Mayer gave birth to their first children. “We both had babies around the same time,” says Dodson. “We also both had to go back to work and use a breast pump, which was a very challenging experience for both of us. We didn’t come up with the idea for Mamava back then, but we still knew that something had to be done to help breastfeeding mothers.”
Half a decade later, when Dodson and Mayer’s children were no longer breastfeeding, Michael Jager approached the JDK staff with a unique proposition. Dodson recalls: “Michael asked JDK’s staff members how they thought they could help to solve problems in the world through effective branding and design. It was a pitch competition of sorts, and everyone worked very hard to create ideas for it.” Although Dodson had moved to Boston at the time, she worked closely with Mayer – who was still living and working in Burlington – to develop a pitch for a brand concept that supported breastfeeding women. When Mayer went into the pitch meeting with the idea that would eventually become Mamava, the JDK team was very encouraging.
In the years that followed, Mayer and Dodson were able to use the connections that they had formed during the decades they spent working in the fields of graphic design and commercial brand management to get their fledgling project off the ground. After coming up with the name and concept for the business, they partnered with a Southern Vermont-based industrial designer named David Jaacks. Dodson elaborates: “We had extensive experience in graphic design, but we had no experience in creating physical spaces. David Jaacks had worked for years building structures, fit-ups, and mobile kiosks for large companies, such as Swarovski. He really helped us bring our vision into reality in a functional and aesthetic way. He knew what it took to build an occupied space that would be situated in a highly-trafficked location, and he also knew how to build a product that would comply with all of the existing state and federal regulations.”
According to Dodson, the design and development process for the original Mamava pod prototype was thorough and exacting. Mayer and Dodson held multiple focus groups with mothers and used their feedback to create a comforting and intuitive lactation space that provided a relaxed environment for its users. “We also had to create a product that was appealing for buyers and could be efficiently packaged and delivered,” says Dodson. “Additionally, it had to be compliant with state and federal regulations. Every state is different. California, for example, has specific seismic structural safety requirements for earthquakes.”
Dodson adds that it was critically important to also understand the cultural impact of their products. “When we were designing the pods, we knew that they were going to be in public spaces. We wanted to design something that would clearly communicate the message of our brand in a way that would conspicuously elevate public perception in regards to breastfeeding and lactation.”
After working to develop the prototype for several years, trademarking the Mamava name and beginning the process for trademarking the shape of the pods, Mayer and Dodson completed a fully-fledged pod prototype. After its completion, the pod was then installed at Burlington International Airport on September 2, 2013. “We had to fund the research and development of the first pod unit ourselves,” says Dodson. “We got some help from our friends and family, as well. It was a significant commitment. We had to decide that we had enough confidence to go part-time at our main jobs and focus on growing the business.”
After making the decision to wholeheartedly pursue the project, Mayer resigned from her job at JDK and began working at Mamava full-time as CEO. Dodson followed suit several years later and joined the Mamava Team full-time as COO in 2016.
After Mamava’s first pod was introduced in the Burlington International Airport, it received a significant amount of positive media exposure. The press coverage led to a series of subsequent inquiries from potential customers, which resulted in the first batch of orders. After the first run
of pods was marred by a series of untimely logistical complications on the manufacturing end, David Jaacks opened a manufacturing facility in Springfield, Vermont, that was exclusively dedicated to making Mamava units in 2016. “He knew that he could do a better job making the Mamava units than the other manufacturers that he had previously worked with,” says Dodson. “He started up the Springfield factory, and he supplied us with the majority of the units until we purchased the factory from him in September 2021.”
As order numbers gradually started to increase, Mayer and Dodson built a sales and marketing team at Mamava over the span of several years. Dodson says that Mamava was able to organically grow as a business due to a series of federal legislative acts, the first of which was passed several years before the inaugural pod prototype came into existence. “In March 2010, The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to require businesses of 50 employers or more to provide a space for women to use a breast pump or express milk. That served as the proverbial ‘wind beneath our wings’ when we started. We knew that companies were going to need to comply, and we designed our product with that legislature in mind. States and municipalities around the country have passed even richer laws around breastfeeding over the past decade, as well as supportive measures for breastfeeding parents.”
In October 2018, the Friendly Airports for Mothers Act (FAM) was passed by a bipartisan majority in Congress. The Act stipulated that all medium and large airports in the United States must provide private spaces in every terminal for mothers to express breastmilk. “Mamava now has over 40 units in airports all across the country,” notes Dodson. “It’s encouraging to see legislators pass laws that further the cause of breastfeeding women, which is why we’re incredibly excited about The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act. The Bill passed the House in October 2021 and is now in the Senate awaiting a vote.” If passed by the Senate, the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act will significantly improve workplace lactation protections for breastfeeding mothers. Specifically, it will require employers to provide all salaried employees with paid break time to pump breastmilk.
“Our mission has always been centered around reducing breastfeeding barriers, so we’re grateful to be able to help employers support their employees and comply with legislation,” says Dodson. To that end, Mamava has worked with large corporate employers who have purchased their pods, such as Amazon, Toyota, Boeing, Intel, and Home Depot, to advise them on how to place the pods to ensure maximum employee convenience.
“The Mamava units are not plumbed, so they can be placed in any location with the space to accommodate them,” says Dodson. “Still, when you are using a breast pump, it has many parts that have to be cleaned. Due to those considerations, we recommend that all Mamava units be placed close to a water source, such as a bathroom. We also encourage businesses who buy our units to place them close to work areas, so that employees do not have to walk long distances or ‘punch out’ to use the pods.” Businesses that employ large numbers of warehouse workers are able to place the Mamava units directly on the floor near where the workers are. By doing so, they’re not just complying with federal regulations – they’re also providing a convenient solution for their breastfeeding workers.
Dodson adds that the units are designed to be easy to build. “The units are assembled upon delivery, and they are fairly simple to put together. The wall panels are heavy, but they slide into the base of the frame in an intuitive manner. Two people working together can usually assemble a pod in several hours without any professional help. We have an online video on our website that fully explains the assembly process, and we also provide installation services for business owners who are in need of assistance.”
In addition to Mamava’s original family-style pod, they now also offer the slim and compact Mamava Solo model, as well as the spacious Mamava ADA model that is equipped with grab bars and a turnaround space. “The Mamava Solo is perfect for smaller spaces in office buildings,” says Dodson. “The Mamava ADA is a wonderful option for buildings with more space, and there are many elements of it that are wheelchair-compatible.”
Dodson says that many businesses purchase Mamava pods due to the fact that their buildings were not designed with recently-passed legislative acts in mind. “We always say that the ‘best-in-class’ option is to have a built-in room with a sink and comfortable furniture. Many businesses overlook lactation rooms when they are building their offices, and then come to us to purchase a Mamava unit to mitigate the situation after the fact. Also, many older buildings cannot be retrofit to accommodate such rooms due to lack of space. In some cases, the zoning permits and electrical and plumbing work necessary to adequately retrofit a space to support a permanently-fixed lactation room is not feasible. Mamava pods provide an easy and streamlined option for businesses and public buildings that are seeking to comply with legislation and offer their employees a safe, private, and inviting place to pump or express breastmilk.”
According to Dodson, all Mamava pods are linked into their proprietary smartphone app, which provides a variety of services. “Mothers can use our app to find Mamava pod locations, but it doesn’t just show the location of our pods. Moms can also use the app to find user-submitted safe areas where they can use a breast pump or breastfeed their babies. They can also use the app to unlock the doors of our pods, and there are additional interactive features, as well. You can adjust the lighting and the fans in the pod, and there are audio tracks of sounds, like waterfalls, that help moms relax. There is a real community of moms that has emerged as a result of our products and our app, and it feels amazing to be able to help provide people with those resources.” One of Dodson’s favorite features of the Mamava smartphone app is their heartwarming “Words of Support” feature, which came into existence as a result of encouraging paper notes that were left on the doors of one of the first active Mamava Pods by mothers who used them. “The ‘Words of Support’ feature allows moms to leave positive messages for each other. You can type a note that is connected to the pod that you’re in, and when the next user goes in, your note pops up. People write things like, ‘You’re doing a great job!’ It’s wonderful to see our community of moms support each other in that way.”
The Mamava smartphone application and website also provide resources for nursing mothers that offer them the opportunity to learn more about laws and regulations regarding breastfeeding, as well as templates that help mothers communicate and share helpful feedback with businesses and transportation facilities. “If a mother, using the Mamava application, travels through an airport frequently and notices that they do not have compliant accommodations, they can use our template to send a letter to the airport that tells them to get in contact with us about installing a pod. We also provide tools and resources about how to talk to employers to set up lactation plans, and offer nutrition and travel advice, as well. We try to remain as active as possible in terms of updating our website, social media channels, and application; because we know how much it means to the community of mothers who use our products.”
As Mamava continues to grow its reach, it has formed symbiotic partnerships with multiple corporations, who purchase pods with custom designs that advertise their brands and services. “We started this business not only to provide a service to mothers, but also to broaden awareness about the importance of maternal health and breastfeeding services,” says Dodson. “Every customized pod with a corporate logo serves as a billboard that benefits both us and the brand that advertises their services on the pod. For example, if an insurance company or healthcare
provider purchases a pod with a customized branding graphic and places it in a football stadium, that association is incredibly beneficial. It lets people know that the company that sponsors the pod supports breastfeeding, too, which also serves to raise additional amounts of awareness and support for the cause.”
Dodson says that she finds incredible fulfillment in her work at Mamava and is grateful to be able to use their products as a platform to catalyze positive change. “We are a for-profit business, but we are nevertheless a mission-driven company – and our mission is to help breastfeeding mothers at every stage. The CDC and World Health Organization recommend that a mother breastfeed for at least six months. If a mother doesn’t have the right amount of support, she will stop breastfeeding before six months. Oftentimes, mothers will start breastfeeding when they leave the hospital, but many will stop when they return back to work. We want every woman to be able to meet the breastfeeding goals that they set for themselves, and we want to help provide them with the necessary support to be able to do that. The original goal when we started this company was never about creating spaces or making money. It was always deeply tied to helping mothers and babies. When mothers and babies are healthy, it’s good for society, it’s good for the world, and it’s good for the future.”