Comfortable, private and pleasant lactation rooms are a crucial part of ensuring gender equality at work — and top companies eager to attract and retain female talent have gotten on board with the Obama-era requirement that both “reasonable time” and a private space for pumping be available to those who need it.
But what happens when women who are nursing and pumping go on a business trip? Not only is pumping in airport or train bathrooms unpleasant— but oftentimes when breastfeeding parents don’t have a cooler to transport the milk, it goes to waste. I myself have pumped directly into an Amtrak sink, so I can say with authority: it wasn’t the best experience!
There are so many humiliating stories out there about moms having to explain their heavy load of breastmilk to TSA agents who police their “liquid gold.” So that’s why some high-end companies have started using Milk Stork, a breast milk delivery service: “a service that allows traveling mothers to ship their milk to their baby from the road with a cooler that arrives in their hotel room as a postpaid package.” So, no carrying of coolers. No awkward arguments about whether milk can go through x-ray machines.
Milk Stork launched in 2015 and has amassed about 3,000 users from about 70 client companies, up from 25 at the beginning of the year, including Unilever and SAP, the company said. Many of those companies added the service to their health benefits after female employees requested it, Torgersen said, noting that — at about $140 per day — Milk Stork is often cheaper than extending maternity leave.
This last sentence embodies my own ambivalence about these inventions: They’re so great for the women who are lucky enough to be able to take advantage of them. But they also seem like a sneaky way to encourage women to come back from maternity leave early and get back into gear right away — even when I’d venture that many of us would rather ease back in, and be granted additional time to spend with the tiny creatures who recently emerged from our bodies.
More generous parental leave policies, while pricier, has a much more far-reaching impact.
And yet. And yet — as several recent reports have noted, so long as the status quo is what it is, shouldn’t venture capitalists be flocking to these entrepreneurial women who are finding “hacks” to help us out with the discomforts and inconveniences of breastfeeding?
And if they’re not (which they’re not), surely there’s an element of sexism there. As Jessica Winter wrote in a New Yorker post called “Why Aren’t Mothers Worth Anything to Venture Capitalists,” “Breast pumps make up a seven-hundred-million-dollar market, with ample room to grow, but for venture capitalists, perhaps the pleasures and comforts of sexism are priceless. Nursing mothers, meanwhile, lug the industry’s indifference around in a bag.”