A shop for nursing mothers Store: First Feast, a new store in Ellicott City, carries clothing and other items specially designed for mothers who breast feed.

Maternal instincts

October 24, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

For nursing mothers such as Karen Solomon, breast feeding isn't always compatible with everyday life. In church, for instance -- dress clothes typically don't have flaps for nursing, and not everyone in the congregation exactly welcomes the practice.

So Solomon was in full praise recently while walking through First Feast, a new store in Ellicott City that is among the first in the state devoted to breast feeding and maternity wear.

"I think this is great," Solomon said. "I'm looking for something I can wear to church and still nurse."

First Feast sells nursing apparel, breast pumps, books and videotapes. It also offers breast-feeding classes. The store did $4,000 worth of business on its first day of operation, Oct. 11.

Similar stores are opening throughout the nation, catering to two trends: More women are breast feeding and more working women are having babies.

As a result, they're buying more clothes that afford discreet public nursing and buying more breast pumps to produce and store milk while at work. First Feast even sells electric adapters so mothers can run pumps off a car's cigarette lighter during commutes.

Solomon feeds her 1-year-old son every time he's hungry, which includes his time in the nursery at the Halethorpe Community Church in Arbutus. Solomon said public nursing slowly is becoming more accepted. "Which is good," she said. "Because I think that's what God had intended."

It's certainly what Stephanie Angelo is banking on.

A nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Angelo for years had rented out breast pumps from her house in Columbia. At a lactation conference last year in Kansas City, she learned of a small number of successful nursing stores elsewhere in the nation.

"I thought, 'I can do this,' " she said.

So with the help of her husband, James, a computer programmer, Angelo spent eight months writing a business model and set off for area lending institutions.

"At every single bank where a man was running the show," she said, "I didn't get the loan."

She eventually received a $100,000 Small Business Administration loan, an amount of debt she described as daunting.

Picking a name was less intimidating. In fact, "First Feast" was voted the third-best name for a new business this year in a contest sponsored by a promotional magazine for two banks, NationsBank and Wells Fargo.

The First Feast store, at 1,300 square feet about the size of a backyard swimming pool, is near the intersection of Route 40 and U.S. 29 -- amid the baby-making subdivisions of Ellicott City and Columbia.

Angelo said she spent $20,000 on the interior, which has a sofa, lamps, flowers and a stained glass window.

Outlook

The store should do well, according to interviews with similar store owners and those in the breast pump industry.

"Some [retailers] have gone down this road and been very successful," said June Case of Medela Inc., a pump manufacturer based in McHenry, Ill.

First Feast sells a Medela breast pump for $196. The milk goes directly into a refrigerated black bag that looks like a tote for a laptop computer.

For years, nursing mothers have bought or rented pumps from hospitals, drug stores and home-based businesses.

Large retail stores also sell pumps, although the pumps have tended to be cheap, uncomfortable and as loud as blow-dryers, according to those in the industry.

First Feast also sells foot rests, blankets, slings and maternity wear.

With its devotion to breast feeding and maternity wear, First Feast appears to be unique in the Baltimore area, if not the entire state.

"I am not aware of a shop of this type in the Baltimore area," said Judy Major, a counselor with the Baltimore office of La Leche League International, a breast-feeding advocacy group.

In the Maryland suburbs near Washington, two lactation consultants who do retail on the side said they didn't know of any stores like First Feast.

And Barbara Heiser of Ellicott City -- co-founder of the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy -- said, "There's nothing like it, to my knowledge, in the state of Maryland."

Similar stores are popping up in other states, including Bosom Buddies in upstate New York and Boing Boing in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- as well as stores in Santa Monica, Calif., San Francisco, Sacramento, Houston, Dallas and other cities.

"They're getting more and more common," said Petty Toman, owner of the Nursing Mother's Boutique in Oshkosh, Wis., who reports doing $150,000 worth of business already this year.

Toman's experience indicates there is a ceiling for breast-feeding stores, though. She originally had a 1,500-square foot store but realized she only needed 1,000 square feet.

First Feast is 1,300 square feet, although its market is more populated than Oshkosh.

In Ellicott City, Angelo is offering advice in addition to merchandise, something nursing mothers don't necessarily receive in large baby stores that also sell toys and diapers. Angelo will teach free breast-feeding classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She also will hold "Grandparents' Teas," designed to explain the attributes of breast-feeding to the parents of nursing mothers.

Indeed, mothers 25 years ago were not as likely to breast feed. According to studies by Rose Laboratories, which makes baby formula, 27 percent of new mothers nursed babies in 1970 compared to 59 percent in 1996.

Angelo sees the trend as a return to the way things ought to be -- a trend she hopes will often make its way through her store.

"Women," she points out, "have been breast feeding since there were babies."

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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