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Wells Fargo Center now has a breastfeeding 'pod' - and there's an app for that

The 4-by-8-foot nursing suite is the first of its kind among professional sports arenas in Pennsylvania.

Left: The outside of the Mamava breast-feeding pod at the Wells Fargo Center. Right: The inside of the pod. The Wells Fargo Center is unveiling the mechanism today.
Left: The outside of the Mamava breast-feeding pod at the Wells Fargo Center. Right: The inside of the pod. The Wells Fargo Center is unveiling the mechanism today.Read moreWells Fargo Center

When Sascha Mayer returned to work after maternity leave, she often faced the same dilemma while traveling: She needed to pump, and there was nowhere clean and private to do it.

She'd need somewhere with an outlet. Somewhere to sit. Somewhere she could comfortably be for 15 minutes or more. Usually, that was a cramped bathroom stall. It was "demoralizing," she said.

The experiences led Mayer and a colleague, Christine Dodson, to co-found Mamava, a Vermont-based company that develops high-tech mobile rooms meant for breast pumping and breastfeeding moms on the go. The Wells Fargo Center — arguably one of the city's more masculine public places — will unveil its own Mamava "pod" before Thursday's 76ers game against the Toronto Raptors.

The 4-by-8-foot nursing suite, located near Section 116, is the first of its kind for professional sports arenas in Pennsylvania. Mamava pods are in a handful of other places in the city, including the Convention Center, Temple University, and the Philadelphia Zoo.

Visitors and employees of the Wells Fargo Center first download the Mamava app (free on iOS and Android). From there, users can see on a map where there are lactation rooms in their immediate vicinity, whether they are the Mamava pods or rooms tested by other users in the app. If a mother finds a Mamava location, she uses the app to "unlock" the room, which operates via Bluetooth technology. Once the mother is inside the pod, she locks a dead bolt, which registers the pod as "in use" on the app.

Inside, users will find sterile-looking benches, a fold-out table, an outlet, a USB port, and a mirror. It can be used by individuals with a pumping mechanism or for mothers breastfeeding an infant. The pods are maintained by the purchaser, in this case the Wells Fargo Center.

Chelsey Scalese, a spokeswoman for the arena, said the installation of the Mamava suite was initiated to help accommodate Wells Fargo Center employees.

"We have quite a few working moms, and wanted to be able to better accommodate them during their work day as best as possible," she said. "After even further research, we landed on working with Mamava to ensure our guests could also utilize the new initiative."

The Wells Fargo Center's unit is ADA-accessible, placing it among the priciest of Mamava's offerings. The company sells several models that range in price from about $8,000 to $23,000, but despite the price tag, Mamava's simplicity was attractive compared with constructing a custom lactation room. In addition to the space's mobile nature, it takes four hours to assemble.

The move comes as sports venues across the country have faced pressure to make accommodations for breastfeeding mothers, and online petitions have asked arenas and stadiums to install nursing rooms. Today, there are about 400 Mamava pods across the country, including in more than two dozen sports venues like Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, and Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

Mayer and Dodson, who developed the first prototypes in 2013, hadn't originally considered sports venues among their target locations, instead focusing on places like airports and hospitals. But Mayer said millennial mothers and "lactivists" are increasingly "understanding the health and environmental benefits of breastfeeding" and pushing for better accommodations in public places.

"We're sports fans; moms are sports fans," Mayer said, "so of course there's a need for it at these locations."

She added that Mamava is particularly "pleased" with Philadelphia, saying the city — in the form of the Convention Center and Temple  — was an "early adopter" of the system.

In 2014, the city approved an ordinance requiring businesses to provide reasonable accommodations for employees needing to pump or breast-feed in a safe and sanitary space.