A team of Wagner students have created an initiative to rate New York City restaurants and other establishments based on how friendly they are to breastfeeding mothers.
The initiative, known as Latch, won first place and $10,000 at the National Invitational Public Policy Challenge hosted by the University of Pennsylvania on March 23.
What at first started as a public policy class project evolved into a team endeavor pursued outside the classroom. After one of its members, first-year master’s student Grace Boone, completed a paper on breastfeeding policies and shared it with her classmates, the Latch team was formally created.
Ruchi Hazaray, Latch co-founder and a first-year MPA student, expressed the need for organizations like Latch from the perspectives of public health and policy.
“As we learned more about the huge public benefits of breastfeeding and reasons behind why moms stop breastfeeding, we realized that [a] lack of places to nurse away from home was a big concern for moms,” Hazaray said. “From there came the idea of leveraging existing infrastructure across the city to provide more friendly, safe and sanitary places for moms to nurse when they are away from home.”
Latch rates organizations by placing signs on the establishment’s entryway after ensuring that they have courteous staff and welcome breastfeeding moms. There will be a sign on every facility the establishment provides for breastfeeding mothers, such as private rooms and outlets for pumping.
Latch currently has eight participating businesses, including restaurants, coffee shops and nail salons. They hope to expand to include 150 establishments by next March.
“We really want to add different kinds of establishments — food establishments, non-food establishments [and] public spaces like libraries and community centers to ensure that moms can find anything that best suits their [needs],” Hazaray said.
The Latch team will use the $10,000 toward community management, marketing and establishing a legal structure. They hope to build strategic partnerships with more organizations and hire community volunteers to establish their brand further. The members said they hope to be a convenient resource for new mothers to tap into.
Priya Chidambaram, a Steinhardt sophomore studying public health, said initiatives like Latch are meaningful for health policy and women’s health.
“Putting more responsibility on businesses to create a friendly environment for nursing mothers is a new approach to this hugely debated issue, and I think it could be the approach that finally works,” Chidambaram said. “Nursing your children is a completely natural thing. When a taboo is placed on it to the point where women feel they have to feed their children on the floor of a public restroom, it’s time for something to change.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 3 print edition. Anjana Sreedhar is a staff writer. E-mail her at email@example.com