Nationals Park will become a friendlier place for nursing mothers Thursday with the grand opening of a breast-feeding lounge, a private place where moms can feed their babies without missing an inning.
The Washington Nationals created the room with the help of Lansinoh Laboratories, a company based in Alexandria, Va., that sells nursing products. It is a “quiet and cool retreat” that will include comfortable chairs, a play area for toddlers, diaper-changing stations and televisions for mothers to watch the game, according to a news release.
It is one of the first such lounges in professional sports. In March, the Cincinnati Reds opened a nursing suite at the team’s Great American Ball Park.
“We are excited to unveil a dedicated and comfortable space for nursing mothers,” Valerie Camillo, the Nationals’ chief revenue and marketing officer, said in a statement.
The lounge is located just off the first base line, adjacent to Section 223.
The move comes after hundreds of people signed an online petition calling for a clean and private place for breast-feeding and pumping breast milk. The petition was started by Katie Ray of Arlington, Va., a season-ticket holder who was not impressed with the options for nursing moms when she took her 8-month-old baby to the Nats season opener in April. In an interview Wednesday, Ray said she is thrilled that the team is making a space for nursing moms.
“I’ve had to pump in a restroom at Nats stadium, and it’s absolutely disgusting,” Ray said. “It’s crazy that you’re going to ask a mom to sit on a toilet and pump food to feed her baby.”
Breast-feeding rates in the United States are on the rise, fueled in part by a public health campaign to educate women, communities and employers about the health benefits of nursing.
Until now, Nationals Park has directed breast-feeding mothers to the Reagan Conference Room or, when the conference room is not available, to family restrooms.
No air-conditioning unit was turned on in the conference room, according to Ray’s petition, and so the doors had to be open — undermining the privacy women want in a nursing space. And the bathrooms lacked a place to sit, making them unsafe and unsanitary for feeding a baby, according to Ray’s petition.
Plus, both options lacked working televisions — a problem for nursing mothers with Natitude who wanted to watch the game they had paid to attend. (The playground for children beyond the outfield fence — a very popular attraction for families — also does not have a view of the field or of a television.)
Nursing mothers do have another option, of course: They can stay in their seats while they breast-feed. And a recent survey by Lansinoh suggested that more women might be comfortable choosing to do that. Sixty-seven percent of American mothers said that breast-feeding in public is “perfectly natural,” according to the 2015 survey — an increase of 10 percentage points from last year.
Ray said that not everyone is comfortable nursing in public, and even mothers who usually nurse in public may find their children need a break from the ballpark’s sun and summertime heat. And then there are nursing mothers who are away from their babies and need a private place to pump breast milk.
“Of course we should make a mother feel supported if they want to sit in the stands and nurse. She has the right to do it,” Ray said. “But she should also have options.”