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Breaking down barriers for working moms who breastfeed

Anu Anand Aug 24, 2018
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A mother gives the bottle to her baby on Oct. 8, 2012 in Paris.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

Mothers in the workforce face many barriers. In the U.S., maternity leave is not guaranteed and childcare can cost anywhere from 25 percent to 52 percent of a family’s income, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation.

Another challenge: travelling while breastfeeding. How do you pump, freeze and transport milk from a hotel room to hungry babies at home amid back-to-back business meetings?

The World Health Organization recommends babies be exclusively breast-fed for the first six months of life.

U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs is the latest company to help working mothers bridge those competing demands. The company says it will offer female employees a breast milk courier service. It’s not the first U.S. company to do so. IBM, Accenture, Ernst & Young and Twitter already have similar policies.

But Goldman is thought to be the first company in the U.K. to do so.

Kate Torgersen knows the breastfeeding challenge intimately. In 2015, with eight-month-old twins, Kate faced a four-day business trip.

“At the time I was producing a gallon of milk every two days,” Torgersen said. “So I was going to have to somehow manage gallons of breast milk in a hotel mini fridge and then lug it all home. And there was no solution for that. I came back after lugging 26 pounds of leaking breast milk and ice through airport security and I decided that I was going to fix this problem.”

She started MilkStork.com, the first breast milk courier service, which now works with at least 130 companies in the legal, tech, sales and consulting industry. Roughly 20 percent of her clients are Fortune 500 companies.

“Our cooler kits are pharmaceutical grade coolers that provide a minimum of 72 hours of refrigeration. They’re push button activated and don’t require dry ice,” explains Torgersen. “The kits come with everything a woman needs to pack up her milk: Breast milk storage bags, shipping seals, and a priority shipping label already on the box. So really all she needs to do is drop her cooler at the front desk and it overnights home.”

She says she’s been surprised at how willingly companies have signed up for the service.

“When we first launched, moms started using the service themselves and rightfully began asking their companies to reimburse them or support them with MilkStork. We’ve really benefitted from a strong pipeline of companies who want to bring this service to their moms. Usually, there is already an understanding that this is an important benefit,” she said. 

Given there are more men named John in some top jobs than women, how often does her pitch to male CEOs fail?

“I do on occasion have to do some Breastfeeding 101,” Torgersen said, laughing. “I have been asked, ‘Why don’t you just stop pumping while you’re on your biz trip?'”

“I actually really welcome those moments because I think it’s an opportunity to really shine a light to some of the challenges working moms face when they return to the office,” she said. “Lactating in a corporate environment can be really challenging. Usually I walk away from those calls and they walk away from those calls having a greater understanding of what working moms have to deal with.”

Along with egg freezing, childcare and paid leave, breast milk delivery might well prove to be the next big corporate perk aimed at retaining working mothers.

Click the audio player above to hear BBC World Service’s Anu Anand conversation with MilkStork founder Kate Torgersen. 

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