Southwest’s lactation lady has big plans to help new parents

NursingMom.com offers breast pumps, nipple cream and support

Megan Steelman, a Cedar-Isles-Dean resident, took on the role of Southwest's lactation lady in late January, in launching a business called NursingMom.com.

The partially Web-based business, run out of the former Southwest Journal building at 3225 Lyndale Ave. S., provides a retail showroom, featuring breastfeeding products and new-parent resources. She said she hopes to add an all-inclusive parenting center in the near future.

Steelman's no stranger to the subject, having raised two children and spending more than 18 years studying and teaching childbirth and breastfeeding in California. She's also written a book, "Thinking Pregnant," and has a new-parent sequel in the works.

After living in the Twin Cities for a year and a half, Steelman said she's noticed a greater need for education and support for new Southwest parents regarding breastfeeding issues. "Babies are born knowing how to suck and woman produce milk -- but putting the two together isn't always easy," she said.

A breastfeeding business?

According to Steelman, breastfeeding is not as easy as some might think. "The first two weeks to a month can hurt and be difficult," she said.

She said the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend breastfeeding throughout an infant's first year for optimum health.

Steelman said new parents in Minnesota have support while still in the hospital, but once they get home it's a different story. She said 98 percent of women leave the hospital breastfeeding, but by just two weeks later the stats plummet. "Breast milk has all of these wonderful things, but most women don't do it for that long because they're going back to work," she said.

Currently, breastfeeding pumps and devices are only available at hospitals or large chain stores like Target and Babies 'R' Us, Steelman said. However, larger stores don't offer expert advice on pumping or always have the model that would work best for each mom.

Steelman said her business selling breast pump devices could save new moms money on insufficient breast pumps, by using expert advice to determine what would work best for them right away.

For example, Steelman said working moms better benefit from time-efficient double pumps, but that wouldn't be the case for stay-at-home moms. Overall, she said breast pumps must have a good motor and vacuum. Some come with accessories. Prices range from $20 to $1,300.

NursingMom also sells other breastfeeding accessories, like leak-protection washable breast pads ($15), nipple cream (under $10) and bottle warmers and sterilizers ($30 and up).

Mom's perspective

Linden Hills resident Laura Salazar, mother of a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old, said breastfeeding hasn't been easy. She said although it isn't hard to find nursing information -- she was able to get it from her hospital and midwives -- finding the right breast pump is another story.

Salazar said despite a friend's recommendation, she tried many pumps and found plenty of lousy models that were incapable of keeping up with her active lifestyle. "There's a lot of bad ones out there," she said "They don't work, and they take forever."

But Salazar then took her friend's advice and found the best breast pump for her, a Medela model costing $300.

Now on her second child, Salazar said she's got the mechanics of breastfeeding down, but still finds it difficult to deal with social issues such as breastfeeding in public.

She said when nursing in public (under a blanket), people take notice. Salazar said a support group addressing these issues would be very useful.

Steelman said such topics are exactly those she hopes to address when meeting with parents individually or, in the parent center she hopes to establish in the future, facilitating a support group.

Parent center

NursingMom.com is operated under umbrella company, Niche Retail, that hosts 11 Web-based companies out of the Lyndale office space. While NursingMom and the other Niche companies are currently Web-based companies, NursingMom has also created a retail showroom in the building. However, because the building is not zoned for retail, Steelman only sees clients by appointment.

Steelman said she's establishing partnerships with a few other parent-oriented companies in the building, including the Niche Retail Companies' Elite Car Seats and JoggingStroller.com, with a parent center in mind.

She plans to start classes and support groups this spring to address breastfeeding and parenting issues, such as breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding and sex, and a class specifically geared towards new dads. Steelman said by late summer she also hopes to have a lactation consultant on staff for appointments.

Steelman said new parents are often looking for advice on how to fit nursing into their schedules, social scenes and love lives.

She said she plans to open a parenting center and retail store in another location.

In the expansion, she'd incorporate educational resources, retail products with services such as prenatal massage and yoga classes, Steelman said.