Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler helped cut the ribbon on the Bryan Health Nursing Nook at Pinnacle Bank Arena. (Photo by Bryan Health)

In an effort to become more mom-friendly, Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., opened the Bryan Health Nursing Nook for breastfeeding mothers at the venue. The freestanding suite is the first of its kind in the nation to be installed in a public arena and is sponsored by Bryan Health and the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency. The suite is located on the main concourse between an entrance and seating and can be accessed using a key from Guest Services.

“When we planned and built Pinnacle Bank Arena, our goal was to make it a place where everyone would feel welcome,” said Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler. “When it came to our attention that nursing mothers might be hesitant to attend events, we wanted to remove any obstacles they and their families might face.”

The real initiative began with Mike Miller, CEO of Key Nurse Leaders. While attending a women’s basketball game at the arena, he noticed a number of mothers with infants at the game. Eventually, he found out from guest services that nursing mothers were left to breastfeed or pump in bathrooms or sometimes in the referee lounge. The lack of suitable areas for mothers caused Miller to ask, do nursing women who pump and breastfeeding women stay home because they want to or because it is such a hassle to go out?

After speaking with City Council, the Joint Public Agency, Pinnacle Bank Arena’s management and teaming up with the Lincoln Breastfeeding Coalition, Miller found Mamava’s design for Lactation Suites online and started working with the arena to find an appropriate location to house it.

“The Nursing Nook ended up being more advantageous than a lounge,” said Miller, “because many moms weren’t comfortable nursing or pumping in a room full of other women and children, and this required no major renovation on the part of the arena.”

At the time when modern venues were being built and managed about 15-20 years ago, Miller said there was a push for bottle feeding, and the comeback of breastfeeding represents a dramatic cultural shift unaccounted for in most public facilities.

“I think a single lactation station is really more of a metaphor than an answer,” said Miller. “We will need more spaces but we are exploring the issues.” He added that since there is not a lot of research out there on the number of nursing mothers attending arena events, he has started doing some of his own. “For a venue of 15,000 seats, we should have at  least four or five suites. A lot of times they’ll sit empty, but for major events they’ll need more.”

Mamava, a breastfeeding design solutions company based in Vermont, designed and created the Lactation Suite as an outlet for on-the-go and working mothers. With a total of 32 sq. ft. and a height of 7 ft. 6 in., the suite is made to comfortably fit two women while allowing room for luggage, strollers or other children if needed. The surfaces are made of Corian with a minimalist design that allows for easy cleanup, and retractable casters allow facilities to move the suite’s location based on foot traffic and access.

“It’s a great way for the venue to easily support nursing moms and do it without any interruption,” said Mamava co-founder Sascha Mayer. “They don’t have to build a room, and the unit is sponsored and that’s part of our business model as well, just partnering with sponsors to make this happen for no cost or very little cost to the venue.”

With an outside surface available for a sponsored wrap and inside graphic opportunities, Mayer believes each unit acts like a billboard in support of wellness that facilities can make a big deal out of, instead of a having a room hidden away somewhere for mothers to use.  

In August 2013, Mamava opened its first suite at the Burlington International Airport and since then, have opened units at college campuses, call centers and retailers. As more women are staying in the workforce after having children, employers benefit from the ease they provide as well. In 2012, the Affordable Care Act began requiring businesses with at least 50 employees to provide spaces other than bathrooms for mothers to breastfeed or breastpump for a year after the births of their children.

“The Affordable Care Act kind of made it a business proposition,” said Mayer. “So it’s not necessarily just for people who are visiting these venues, but it’s for all the women that work there. We are really excited about the fact that maybe the woman who's selling tickets or cleaning up after an event can also have the opportunity to breastfeed and keep that going. We’re really about being wherever moms are and where moms are working.”

With a goal of being the healthiest community in the nation, the Community Health Endowment was formed in Lincoln almost 20 years ago to provide funding for health-related programs. Beutler sees the opening of the Bryan Health Nursing Nook as another step toward that goal.

“Giving babies the best possible start in life leads to healthy kids and adults, and breastfeeding has many proven long-term benefits,” said Beutler. “It has been proven to reduce respiratory illness and other ailments in babies and to help children avoid diseases like diabetes later in life.

“We hope that other businesses, organizations and venues across the City will follow our lead and consider adding or upgrading their accommodations for nursing mothers and babies.”

Interviewed for the article: Sascha Mayer, (802) 343-7766, Chris Beutler, 402-441-7831, Mike Miller, (402) 434-0460.