New York City restaurants are awash in ratings, from Zagat numbers and Michelin stars to Health Department letter grades. Now there’s one to show how welcoming they are to new moms who need to nurse.
Latch, a campaign created by four graduate students at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, ranks participating businesses on whether they offer open, semi-private or private space, and electrical outlets for breast pumps. The group gives establishments window decals to show potential customers they’re friendly to nursing mothers.
New York state law allows women to breastfeed in public. Yet Latch’s founders cite research showing that new mothers list discomfort nursing among strangers as a top reason they switch to formula earlier than six months, against the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“One establishment at a time will erode that stigma,” said Ruchi Hazaray, one of the students who hatched the idea in NYU’s Introduction to Public Policy class. “In the long run, maybe it will be less of a rarity to see a mom breastfeed in a restaurant than it is now, and people will get more used to it.”
On March 23, Latch won first place and $10,000 in the National Invitational Public Policy Challenge hosted by the University of Pennsylvania and Governing Magazine.
Beyond the health benefits for mother and baby, a shift toward more breastfeeding would have an economic effect. Annual health-care costs could be cut by $13 billion if 90 percent of mothers exclusively nursed for six months or longer, according to a 2010 article in the journal Pediatrics. Only 13 percent do now, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.
In New York, promotional campaigns have boosted the city’s in-hospital breastfeeding rate to 90 percent. By the time babies receive their eight-week checkup, that rate drops to just 31 percent, city data show. The Affordable Care Act strengthened the mandate for employers to accommodate nursing mothers, yet when not at home or in the workplace, women are often out of luck.
Latch’s founders say encouraging better use of existing space to accommodate breastfeeding is easier than creating new spots in a place as densely populated as New York. Engaging businesses has been a missing link in prior campaigns, they say.
Latch, which is initially targeting Manhattan neighborhoods with a large number of children, has signed up eight businesses, mostly restaurants and cafes in Greenwich Village and Tribeca. By March 2015, it seeks to expand to 150, and to include public library branches, nail salons and laundromats.
None of the three women and one man behind Latch is a parent. Yet all say they’ve witnessed friends and family struggling with the dilemma.
“Two weeks ago, a cousin was at the airport in Atlanta and was pumping in the bathroom on the floor because that was the only place with an outlet and privacy,” said Grace Boone, another Latch founder.
Moms in Atlanta and San Francisco have already contacted them, she said, wanting to bring Latch to businesses in their hometowns.