Parenting

Pittsburgh's 'Milk Truck' Brakes for Nursing Moms

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pittsburgh artist Jill Miller converted an ice-cream truck into a roaming piece of pop-art that can also serve as a lactation-break room. After a strong start politically, she's applying for nonprofit status to get funding grants rolling.

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Automotive Pop Art

On the principle that "babies should be able to eat when they're hungry," Miller drafted the truck's design and then hired a large-materials fabricator to carry out her vision of an automotive piece of pop-art that could also provide a mobile lactation break space.

One of the sponsors of the truck is Milkstars, a clothing line for nursing moms, headquartered in Los Angeles. The company's creator, Jamie Rubin, says she contributed to the effort because, "I thought it was important to support a project that tries to normalize breastfeeding. I also thought it was just plain cool."

Local authorities are also fans.

In honor of the truck's debut this fall, the Pittsburgh City Council named Sept. 13 "Milk Truck Day." "Whereas, the Milk Truck…believes babies should be able to eat anywhere and everywhere; and … be it further resolved," stated the proclamation. Councilman Patrick Dowd, who sponsored the proclamation, likes the fact that the truck uses humor to break down taboos about nursing in public.

Guillermo Cole is spokesperson for the Allegheny County Health Department, health authority for the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, which has handed out "Breastfeeding-Friendly Place" awards since the mid-1990s.

Cole says the Milk Truck is a great idea. "It encourages moms to breastfeed longer," he says. "They're just not breastfeeding long enough."

Lack of Support

He says that in Allegheny County, while 69 percent of babies are breastfed at birth, six months later the number is less than 38 percent, and then drops even lower.

"We feel this is due in part to lack of support in the workplace and areas outside the home," he says.

There are also health benefits for moms.

With breastfeeding comes a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer and post-partum depression. The health department recommends babies be breastfed for a minimum of six months, but Cole points out that the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests at least 12 months.

He adds that breastfeeding is also smart business in the workplace. "If employees have healthier babies, that means taking fewer days off to care for a sick child … not just for moms but for dads, too."

With the conclusion of the Warhol exhibit, a reduced call for the mobile nursing unit because of chilly weather and a shortage of gas money, the truck will only be making appearances at local events until the vehicle gets the nod as a nonprofit entity.

When that is accomplished, "we can begin to apply for grants to hire truck drivers and others," says Miller.

They filed the paperwork for 501copyright status in September. In the meantime, the truck makes its larger-than-life appearance on the hilly roads of Pittsburgh as Miller drives it to work and around town when she's doing errands.

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Jean E. Herskowitz is a freelance writer and lawyer living in Pittsburgh.

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