Not soda and chips, but pump parts and storage bottles

Not soda and chips, but pump parts and storage bottles (Courtesy Meg Stoltzfus, Johns Hopkins Office of Work, Life and Engagement / July 10, 2014)

Every working breastfeeding mother has had it happen at least once: You're on a break, ready to pump, when you discover you forgot a crucial piece of equipment. 

Maybe it's a valve, a piece of tubing or a storage bag. You find yourself wondering if you can store milk in a water bottle or use butter as a nipple cream because there's no time to run home.  What can you do?

Workers at Johns Hopkins Hospital can now purchase breastfeeding equipment from a vending machine -- believed to be the first of its kind.

The machine, which was installed last month, stocks pump accessories, storage bottles, breast pads and nipple cream, among other supplies for nursing mothers.

It's the brain child of Meg Stoltzfus, Lifespan Services Manager for the Office of Work, Life and Engagement at Hopkins.

"I worked and pumped as well, so I've made it sort of a mission to help other moms," she said.

Stoltzfus was walking through an airport last year when she noticed what a large variety of items are sold in vending machines.  It occurred to her that a vending machine would be the perfect way to provide pumping equipment for mothers at the hospital, who often work unusual hours and may need equipment when the hospital gift shops are closed.

Stoltzfus worked directly with a manufacturer to design a machine that specializes in pumping gear.  It was installed last month in a nursing mother's room in the hospital's Nelson building.

As an added bonus, the equipment is sold at a discount because it is an employee benefit. Customers swipe a credit or debit card to purchase items.

"I tried to brainstorm the kinds of things people forget," or don't have time to purchase after work, Stoltzfus said.  

Stoltzfus believes that the vending machine is the first of its kind. Representatives from the two major breast-pump companies --  Medela and Ameda -- said they had not seen one before. Nor had other work life professionals who attended a recent conference hosted by Hopkins.

Hopkins -- the hospital, university and other affiliates -- has 14 dedicated nursing-mothers' rooms equipped with hospital grade pumps, so women don't have to lug a pump to work.  The rooms also have microwaves and refrigerators to sterilize equipment and store milk.

"It ties into our mission of retaining wonderful employees," Stoltzfus said.

She said she might add another machine at an additional Hopkins location if this one catches on, and she said other institutions have expressed interest in following suit.