Felina Rakowski-Gallagher and daughter

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–It is Tuesday afternoon and new mother Kate Yadan is in a sour mood. What’s wrong?

“Two a.m. emergency C-section Friday night,” Yadan harrumphs, referring to her Caesarian-section operation four days earlier. She walksaround Manhattan’s only breastfeeding boutique in aggravated slow motion with a hospital bracelet still on her wrist. “Why am I here? Because my breasts are so engorged and my husband didn’t want to see me in any more pain.”

At the Upper Breast Side, Yadan is in a place where personalized postpartum pampering is part of the transaction. A breast pump can look like a scary piece of equipment to first-time users. An earlier customer was close to tears at the sight of milk coming out of her.

“I know what that feels like. You don’t think it’s going to work. And if it does work, you think it’s going to hurt you,” says the store’s spirited owner Felina Rakowski-Gallagher. “My goal immediately after opening the store was getting moms past that first pumping time.”

Since opening her boutique in January 2000, she has become a confidante and cheerleader to nursing and expectant mothers all over the tri-state–New York, New Jersey, Connecticut–area. Rakowski-Gallagher, a former New York City police officer, commandeered the store from her dining room table in the early months.

“It was by appointment only and women had to walk up a flight of stairs with a stroller and deal with two cats and a young child. Still, the women kept coming and coming,” says Rakowski-Gallagher.

‘Mothers’ Grapevine’ Spread the Word

Thanks to the “mothers’ grapevine,” word kept spreading and soon the business started to cramp her living quarters. Her husband was tired of coming home to half-naked women and begged her to look for a store front. Finally, in February of last year, she was able to secure a suite in the lobby of her building on West 71st Street. Once she was able to conduct business without scheduled appointments, her business increased substantially.

The weak economy hasn’t hampered nursing bra sales. Rakowski-Gallagher and her staff, which includes her mother Ruth Rakowski, and occasionally her 4-year-old door greeter daughter Samantha, are constantly answering phones and welcoming walk-in customers. The store sells seven brands of nursing bras in every conceivable size, from a 34L to 50K. Although Rakowski-Gallagher guards her business figures, she did say that she sees “a minimum of 100 pairs of breasts” in her store per week.

The store isn’t exactly part of big retail trend, but according to La Leche League, there are a few others like it in California, New Mexico and Illinois. Some women also are going to online breastfeeding shops blissfulbabes, One Hot Mamma, and Mothers’ Best.

Every two weeks, Rakowski-Gallagher’s own nursing mentor, Beverly Solow, offers “latching-on” classes for new moms with nursing difficulties. The shop also features a comfy couch for weary new and expectant moms to sink into, a baby scale so mothers can weigh their babies before and after a feeding, a try-before-you-buy policy on breast pumps for purchase and rental, starter kits, baby slings and nursing swimwear.

“What have women done before they had a breastfeeding boutique to go to? They went to a pharmacy or a big franchise store and had nobody to talk to,” says Rakowski-Gallagher. She is grateful for organizations such as La Leche League based in Schaumburg, Ill., that have long provided support for nursing moms through a monthly meeting format and literature. Rakowski-Gallagher’s shop, however, offers an entire new level of convenience to moms.

“Two generations ago, a woman’s extended family would come to the house after a child was born. In New York City today, it is often just a woman, her partner and her new child in her home after the birth,” says Rakowski-Gallagher. “La Leche League refers women to my store constantly because they know I have pumps and I can teach women how to use them. I also have a list of all their nursing support groups.”

“There has been an absolute explosion in the number of breastfeeding products on the market. At the same time, the quality has improved dramatically. Nursing mothers no longer have to contend with poor quality, poorly fitting, uncomfortable nursing clothing or breast pumps that bear a closer resemblance to the family vacuum cleaner than anything you’d find in a hospital setting. It’s a great time to be a nursing mom,” says Ann Douglas, author of “The Mother of All Baby Books.”

Owner Had Her Own Nursing Struggle

After giving birth to her daughter in 1998, Rakowski-Gallagher struggled with cracked and sore nipples and a low milk supply. When her daughter was 3 weeks old, she called her girlfriend Dawn, who had successfully nursed three children, for help.

“I told her that I was ready to give up,” says Rakowski-Gallagher. Dawn brought in from Long Island a Medela Lactina Select, a hospital grade breast pump, and showed her how to use it. Later that day, she attended a new mother’s support group at a local synagogue led by Arlene Eisenberg, the late author of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

At the support group, a woman referred her to lactation consultant Beverly Solow. “I called up Beverly, who came to my home the next day,” recalled Rakowski-Gallagher. “Before we got off the phone she said ‘just pump on your worst side every few hours until I get there.'” The pumping relieved a lot of the pain and increased her milk supply. Her baby started falling asleep satisfied at her breast.

The relieved mom continued attending a nursing support group where one day she overheard a transplanted Salt Lake City mom brag about her hometown’s breastfeeding boutique called The Lactation Station. It was an epiphany for Rakowski-Gallagher. In short order she was on a flight to Scottsdale, Ariz., with 7-month-old Samantha to attend an annual conference for lactation consultants sponsored by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, a nonprofit corporation that has developed a voluntary certification program for lactation consultants. There she met the owners of The Lactation Station and invited herself to hang around their shop for a week. After absorbing what she could of the business, she knew she wanted to replicate something like it in New York.

Vital Accessories for Working Moms

The buzzer rings and welcomes in a tall freckle-faced woman wearing a black business suit. She is back at work at Morgan Stanley, the New York financial services company, after a few months of maternity leave. Scanning the walls that are covered with hard-to-find nursing accessories, the new mom bursts out, “I wish I had known about you earlier!”

“I can’t buy that kind of publicity!” says Rakowski-Gallagher with an infectious laugh. The customer is looking for The Easy Expression Bustier, one of the boutique’s best-selling items. It resembles a sturdy white tube top with two holes in the front for suction cups and is popular among working mothers because it minimizes the amount of disrobing required to pump. The customer’s office at Morgan Stanley has two lactation rooms equipped with a hospital-grade breast pump for working moms.

Corporate policy on lactation rooms is an issue that Rakowski-Gallagher is passionate about. She urges nursing mothers to demand a lactation room, “so that you don’t have to pump on a toilet stall.” She was heartened by a law firm that recently ordered a pump for their employees.

She wishes more companies would make life easier for nursing moms who return to work. “There should be enough support from your family, friends and from your businesses, that you should continue breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby want,” says Rakowski-Gallagher.

Vanessa Geneva Ahern is a writer who lives in New York City. You can visit her online at http://www.girlgumption.com.

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