Courtesy of Milk Stork
By Gwen Moran
August 25, 2015

Inspiration can strike at the strangest times. For Kate Torgersen, the ah-hah moment came while stuck in an airport security line with a bag full of breast milk and melting ice.

It was May 2014, and Torgersen had to go on a four-day business trip while she was still breastfeeding her twins. “You have to pump every three or four hours to maintain your milk supply or you lose it,” she says. “I just remember standing at the airport in the TSA line with two gallons of breast milk and eight pounds of dripping ice in a carry-on and just thinking, ‘I cannot believe there’s not a solution for this.’”

So, she created one. Milk Stork, based in Palo Alto, launched on August 10. The company delivers milk-shipping supplies—including breast milk storage bags and postage-paid, pre-addressed, pharmaceutical-grade shipping coolers for each day away—that will be waiting at the traveler’s destination when she arrives. Mothers use their own pumps to express breast milk, and can send up to 34 oz. per day with the materials provided. Users order supplies through Milk Stork’s mobile-enabled web site and packages are shipped overnight in the continental U.S., though Torgersen says the refrigeration units last 48 hours after activation. The service is priced at $99 per day.

The company has launched at a time when breastfeeding rates are on the rise in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “2014 Breastfeeding Report Card.” However, fewer than 30% of mothers still breastfeed at the recommended one-year mark. The CDC report says that proper lactation support may help nursing mothers do so longer.

Ship Happens

The concept of helping breastfeeding moms ship their milk gained attention in July, when IBM announced that, starting this fall, the company would launch such a program for its employees. In an email message, an IBM spokesperson said that an employee team headed by Barbara Brickmeier, Big Blue’s vice president, benefits, came up with the idea while brainstorming ways to make working mothers’ transitions back to work easier. IBM’s service will include a mobile app that will allow mothers to make arrangements and order supplies before departure and have them shipped to her hotel, with the tech giant picking up the cost. (IBM declined to share any details on which, if any, outside venders will participate in its program)

Diane L. Spatz, Ph.D., a perinatal nursing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing and director of the lactation program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in Philadelphia is enthusiastic about such services. At CHOP, she says she frequently works with mothers who need to transport breast milk long distances, and it’s not easy to package the milk properly or ensure that it remains sufficiently cooled.

 

“We’re used to packing milk, shipping milk, teaching parents how to travel with milk. That’s part of our routine care at Children’s Hospital, but if you are a working mother and traveling, you as a mom have to figure all that out yourself,” she says.

One of those working moms trying to go it alone was Nikki Balcerak, northwest marketing manager at Clif Bar & Company. She used Milk Stork in late 2014 when Torgensen, who she knew professionally, was looking for early adopters to test the service. She was about to go on a three-day business trip and didn’t have enough stored milk on-hand for her son.

“When I heard of the service, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this would solve so many of my problems. I have to try this,’” she says. “It really is a game-changer for breastfeeding moms.”

Staying Safe

CDC guidelines say that freshly expressed milk may be safely consumed when stored in clean, tightly sealed containers at room temperature (up to 77 degrees) for up to six to eight hours or in insulated cooler bags (roughly 5 to 39 degrees) with ice packs for up to 24 hours. Refrigerated milk (roughly 39 degrees) may be consumed for up to five days. At CHOP, where they’re often dealing with sick babies, Spatz is more conservative, recommending that milk only be consumed for up to four hours at room temperature and four days after immediate refrigeration.

Spatz says her primary concerns about milk shipping services include temperature control and tampering. When receiving shipped milk, she recommends that caregivers carefully inspect the package to ensure there are no signs of it being opened after it was sealed and sent by the mother. If there is any doubt about the milk’s safety, it’s best to discard it.

She also mentions the cost. Milk Stork’s $99-per-day price tag can add up quickly add up and puts the service out of reach for some moms. However, Torgersen says she has had inquiries from companies interested in offering her service as an employee benefit, absorbing the cost as IBM plans to do. Landing corporate clients who will offer her service as a benefit is part of her business model. She currently has individual bookings through November.

“I have a hunch that moms are asking their organizations to provide this as a benefit,” she says. And, if not, perhaps this is the start of breast milk shipping becoming a more widespread and accepted item on travel expense reports.

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