A breast-feeding business
Complete with nursing lounge
by Tony McReynolds & Sally Mitani
Barbara Robertson says she catches flak for selling breast-feeding supplies. It usually boils down to this, she says: if breast-feeding is free, how come you're in business?
But Robertson didn't open the Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor to push product. An internationally board-certified lactation consultant with a master's degree in education, she wanted a place where new moms could come for professional breast-feeding care and support. "My services are first and the retail support is definitely second," Robertson says. "But when you can't find a good nursing bra, I just think that's something you should be able to do."
If that's your goal, Robertson's got you covered; she says you'd have to go to Grand Rapids to find a bigger selection. Most stores that sell bras carry a couple of nursing bras at best, but Robertson carries seven brands of nursing bras in fourteen styles that range in price from $17 to $35 and in size from 32B to 54J. And these aren't your mother's nursing bras. Some are strapless so you can wear them with an off-the-shoulder dress, and others have plunging necklines that are downright daring. There's even a hands-free nursing bra for moms who like to multitask.
Another innovation: nursing tank tops, which look like regular tank tops but have concealed flaps over each breast. Ditto the sports nursing bra, which looks like something Brandi Chastain would flaunt on a soccer field, assuming she was nursing between goals.
Other products include breast pumps that run the gamut from small, handheld manual models for $35 to hands-free, double-action electric pumps that go for a couple hundred; books and videos on childbirth and nursing; nursing pillows and stools; and a selection of herbs recommended for helping to increase milk flow, among other things.
The retail section is small and fits neatly into one corner of the room because Robertson keeps only one of each item on display. The rest of her stock is in storage; she knows too many choices
can overwhelm new parents. "My goal is to really make it simple," she says. "The only thing I have a ton of choices about are the nursing bras, because I want to be able to fit each mom really well."
Since Robertson and her staff are trained fitters, that's pretty much guaranteed. And if you buy a bra and you need a place to nurse afterward, you can sit right down and make yourself at home on the other side of the room. It's a nursing lounge, furnished with comfy sofas and chairs, and if you want to relax with a cup of tea while you nurse, Robertson will be happy to brew you a soothing cup of Mother's Milk Tea, on the house.
The Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor shares office space with the Center for the Childbearing Year and the Doulas Care Program in a light-industrial office building improbably located behind a couple of houses on Brooks Street, in a residential neighborhood. Nevertheless, customers manage to find it: Robertson says a third of her business comes from walk-ins. Jayme Lanker, for example-she and her one-month-old daughter, Anya, are regulars in the nursing lounge. "This my second baby," she says, "and this the first bra I've had that fits."
Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor, 722 Brooks, 975-6534, center4cby.com. Mon., Wed., & Fri. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
[Originally published in July, 2008.]