Fenway Friendly for Nursing Moms

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Thanks to a recent addition to Fenway Park, Maggie Slaving of North Adams didn’t have to wait long in life to see her first-ever Boston Red Sox game in person.

Maggie was just two-and-a-half months old when she traveled to Fenway in June with her mother Melinda Slaving (at right) and her grandfather, Dennis Sheehan of North Chelmsford. The Baltimore Orioles were in town for the first game of a big three-game series, and a wide-eyed Maggie happily took in the sights and sounds, even if she had no idea what all the fuss was about. 

But when she got hungry at the ballpark, Maggie wasn’t looking for standard ballpark fare like Italian sausage with onions and peppers, a Fenway Frank, or chicken tenders and fries. She wanted the only food she’s ever known — her mother’s milk.

And that’s where a relatively new addition to Fenway came in handy: a Mamava lactation suite, a standalone pod where mothers can breastfeed their children, or pump milk for later, in privacy and without interruption. It’s been in place since last season as part of the team’s efforts to improve the fan experience for children and families, Red Sox spokesman Zineb Curran said. 

When the time came to search out the Mamava suite, Fenway’s fan ambassadors and staff at the fan service desk referred Melinda and Maggie to the Kid Nation Clubhouse area near Gate B, down the first base line (near Grandstand Section 5, on the Van Ness Street side of the park, if you’re scoring at home). Following an inquiry at the service desk, a fan ambassador, key in hand, gladly led mother and daughter to the suite — a white molded plastic pod, about 4 feet wide by a little more than 8 feet tall, tucked away against a wall.

(It’s worth pointing out that all of the Red Sox employees Slaving approached with a question were friendly and helpful — and none knew a writer was following her and her daughter for the purposes of this story.)

A turn of the key, and the employee checked inside to make sure everything was clean and orderly before welcoming Melinda and Maggie to their nursing time. The door deadbolts from the inside, and an indicator on the outside clearly shows whether it’s vacant or occupied.

“It’s clean, and I’m glad that they checked,” Slaving said after the door closed and locked behind her and she prepared to nurse her daughter. This was Maggie’s second feeding at the ballpark — we’ll get to the first one in a bit — and she was plenty hungry.

In a less-hectic location, such as the concourse of an airport terminal or an office building, it may be quieter inside the suite. But this is 104-year-old Fenway Park during a game. “It vibrates,” Slaving noted when a cheer erupted from the Fenway faithful. But, it’s worth noting that the crowd served as an audio cue to check the television mounted on the wall, so Melinda didn’t miss Sox Center Fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 10th home run of the season.

Still, the environment gave Melinda the privacy and calm she needed to sit down, make herself at home, arrange her gear on the fold-out table in front of her and position Maggie for a good latch — critical for a positive breastfeeding experience for mother and child.

For Slaving, a relatively new mom making her first Fenway visit as well, the experience was positive. She was happy to learn that a big day out with her daughter was possible, with some planning ahead, and that there were options for feeding Maggie that didn’t involve nursing in the car.

Form follows function

Inside the lactation suite there are facing bench seats, a fold-down table that can accommodate a nursing bag or pump, and an electrical outlet. The surfaces are made of white fiberglass and Corian, so they can be easily cleaned and sanitized, and the interior is decorated with leafy green wallpaper. It’s like a comfy closet where a mother and child, and her partner, can share a nurturing moment without interruption.

Mamava (mamava.com), a Burlington, Vt.-based company founded by women, has installed about 100 of its lactation suites in stadiums, airports, colleges, convention centers, workplaces, and locations where mothers need a clean, comfortable space in which to nurse or pump. And if you’re on the go and need to find one near you? There’s an app for that — the Mamava Lactation Suite Locator, available free at Apple’s App Store.

Mamava can be found in five other stadiums in addition to Fenway – Miller Park (Milwaukee Brewers), Citi Field (New York Mets), Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco 49ers), Red Bull Arena (New York Red Bulls), and U.S. Bank Stadium (Minnesota Vikings, opening this fall). The company is pursuing arrangements with five other teams, officials said.

Curran said the Red Sox, in focusing on improving the experience for children and families, designated three nursing areas and acquired the Mamava suite last year, at the same time the Wally’s Clubhouse and Kids Concourse activity areas were established. 

“Space is at a premium at Fenway Park, so the Mamava was a great option for us to provide a nursing area for moms in our kids’ area where there was no available space that could be converted to a nursing station,” Curran said. “So far, the feedback from fans has been positive.”

What’s the score on other sports venues in greater Boston?

At TD Garden, the venue shared by the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics, spokeswoman Courtney Mercier said the arena works with parents who require nursing assistance on an as-needed basis, with plans for a more permanent space being considered.

“Guests who are nursing mothers are directed to visit TD Garden’s Guest Relations, located on the main concourse, outside of Loge Section 4. A guest relations associate will work with the guest to make sure accommodations are made to meet the guests’ need,” Mercier said. “We are currently exploring options for a more permanent space for nursing mothers, among other guest services.”

Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots and the New England Revolution, has a private room inside the midfield first aid station, on the West 100-level concourse, for moms who need to nurse or pump. It has three privacy pods with chairs, power outlets, side tables, and supplies. (Those bringing breast pumps are advised to contact the stadium before attending.)

Plenty of moms breastfeed their children in public, and Mamava CEO Sascha Mayer said she and her company fully support that choice. But it is a personal choice, and as Mayer explains, a baseball game can be a noisy, hectic place for mother and child to have a positive nursing experience. 

“While we fully celebrate breastfeeding in public, we are empathetic to the reality that an environment as busy and chaotic as a sports arena is not always conducive to a good feeding session,” Mayer added. “It’s harder for moms to relax, and babies can be too distracted to get a good latch. We provide our pods so that moms can rest assured there’s a great space for them to feed or to pump, and never second-guess her opportunity to treat herself to a game night or worry about the return to work and how she’ll keep up her milk supply.”

Mayer and her colleagues at Mamava knew what that experience was all about first-hand, having sought space and privacy to pump breast milk at trade shows, airports, corporate retreats, and even the back seat of a client’s car. She and co-founder Christine Dodson launched Mamava out of the graphic design studio where they worked in Burlington.

“We know from experience, and from speaking with hundreds of moms, that pumping and breastfeeding at games is incredibly difficult,” Mayer said. “Moms who wish — and deserve — to take a night out and watch their favorite team deserve a dignified space to pump, as do moms who are working at stadiums and arenas and need to pump on the job.”

While some venues offer bona-fide nursing rooms — Mayer cited the Cincinnati Reds’ Great American Ballpark as a strong example — at other venues, it’s located in a family bathroom. 

There are three nursing areas at Fenway, including a family bathroom doubling for that use near Section 19 — not far from behind home plate. It, too, was exceptionally clean, and has a chair for nursing along with changing tables and bathroom fixtures. Slaving brought her daughter there for the first feeding, in the second inning, as it was closest to her seats. (The third is on Level 5 of Fenway, behind the State Street Pavilion box.)

While the nursing chair is positioned adjacent to the toilet (if there’s something Slaving would change, that was it), the bathroom was clean. And the chair had what the benches in the Mamava suite lack — arms, where a nursing mother can rest her elbows. What’s more, there are some advantages to being in a space with a sink, paper towels, and a changing table, depending on your particular needs. 

Underscoring the need for nursing facilities at sporting events, there was another mom waiting with her baby outside the Mamava pod while Maggie nursed — Jennifer Hall of San Diego, and her 9-month-old daughter, Adrienne.

Hall checked the Mamava website while traveling — she used one at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport — and knew before she got to Fenway that there would be accommodations for her and her daughter when she arrived at the park.

“I’ve been pretty lucky,” Hall said of finding places to nurse her daughter on the go. “I wouldn’t let it stop me, but it’s nice to know there are options. I’ve found more options than I knew were available.”