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Why This Mom of Three Started a Breast Milk Shipping Company

Contrary to what you’ve been told, traveling with breast milk doesn’t have to be a logistical nightmare (no, really!).
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By Stephanie Grassullo, Contributing Writer
Published December 10, 2018
mom boss Kate Torgersen with her family at home
Image: Paige Courtey

The Bump presents #MomBoss, a series dedicated to showing off all-star moms. We catch up with mompreneurs behind products we love, influencers who get real about motherhood and SAHMs who can multitask in their sleep.

Pumping and work trips go together like oil and vinegar. But what if we told you there was an easy, stress-free way for you to travel in the midst of your breastfeeding journey?

That’s where Milk Stork comes in. The company was launched by mom of three Kate Torgersen after she experienced a work trip from hell. Determined to make business travels easier for nursing moms, she started a breast milk shipping company called Milk Stork, so women never have to choose between a career and their commitment to breastfeeding. We picked Torgersen’s brain to discover the secret to a seamless travel experience.

What was the inspiration behind Milk Stork?

In 2013, I became a working mom of three kids under the age of 3 with the birth of my twins Finn and Zoë. I was working as an executive communications manager—a job I loved, at a company I adored. But the transition back to work was difficult physically, emotionally and logistically with the twins.

I was committed to breastfeeding Finn and Zoë for at least 12 months like I’d done for my first child, Jax, but breastfeeding the twins was tough. We had to fight through latching problems and tongue tie and weight gain issues, not to mention the challenges of tandem nursing and all of the relentless pumping I was doing to maintain their half-gallon per-day demand.

When I was faced with a four-day business trip, I was stumped on how I was going to maintain our hard-earned breastfeeding relationship. I ended up doing what most breastfeeding traveling moms did at the time. I pumped the two “extra” gallons of milk to create a stash to cover my absence. In the days leading up to the trip, I went from pumping every four hours for 20 minutes at a time to pumping every couple of hours. Then, while I was gone, I pumped relentlessly to maintain my milk supply. Somehow, I managed to cram two gallons of breast milk into my tiny hotel mini-fridge.

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On the last day of my trip, I packed a soft cooler with the milk, along with four gallon-sized Ziploc bags filled with ice. I lugged my sloshing, dripping, more-than-25-pound carry-on of milk—along with my purse, breast pump bag and suitcase—to the security line and then endured an embarrassing inspection process, which required opening all of the milk containers and explaining, or rather justifying, to several security agents why I had “so much breast milk.”

Once I was through security, I ran to the nearest bathroom to drain the excess water from the ice bags and then rushed to the nearest bar to replenish the bags with fresh ice.

I barely made my flight.

That business trip was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I came home frustrated by the logistical barriers and burdens I faced during the trip, and was determined to create a solution for these very specific pain points so many working moms face.

Image: Milk Stork

How has Milk Stork evolved since then?

Milk Stork launched in August 2015 and is the first breast milk shipping service. Since then, we’ve shipped more than one million ounces of breast milk and supported tens of thousands of moms during their trips. Equally important, we’ve raised awareness about the logistical challenges breastfeeding moms face as they transition back to work, and have helped normalize their experiences in the workplace. With this awareness, we now have more than 300 companies offering Milk Stork as a benefit to their employees.

My hope moving forward is for every breastfeeding mom who has to travel for work to be supported by her employer with Milk Stork. It’s also my mission to continue to create solutions to help lighten the load—both physically and emotionally—so working moms can maintain their commitment to breastfeeding, on their terms.

What are your best tips for traveling while breastfeeding?

  • Print out the TSA guidelines and carry them with you!
  • Call your hotel and ask them for a fridge for your room. The minibar is usually not at refrigerated temperature and if you move anything in there, they’ll charge you.
  • Use Mamava or PumpSpotting to plan out your pumping locations while you’re out and about.
  • And, of course, ship or tote your breast milk home with Milk Stork. If you’re traveling for work, ask your employer to reimburse you!

How do you juggle work and kids?

The juggle and the struggle are real!

I have more flexibility in my schedule with my own company, but the tradeoff is it makes the boundaries between work and life a lot more nebulous. I love being able to walk my kids to school every day, and it’s easier for me to schedule time in their classroom or to coach their soccer team.

The flip side to that flexibility is there is no “off switch” for my job. I never get to “leave the office.” I have to be very deliberate and conscientious about managing my work-life boundaries and establishing sacred moments with my kids. I may not have the luxury of turning off my phone for an entire day, but it’s off during special moments, whether it’s the walk to school, bedtime stories or a game of monopoly.

What’s something you learned about yourself once you became a mom?

Being a mom taught me to believe in myself and has given me the confidence, skills and inspiration to become an entrepreneur.

As a mom I’ve had to tackle the unknown by relying on own smarts, courage and intuition. It’s given me deep wells of emotional endurance and grit to push through doubts, uncertainty and criticism—and sometimes chaos! It’s challenged me to be patient, present and keep an open mind. Momming in and of itself is an entrepreneurial endeavor!

Image: Paige Courtney

Have you made any mistakes that have helped you become a better mother?

With the twins everyone told us, “you’ve gotta get them on the same schedule!” We heard it over and over, so we tried to feed them and make them sleep at the same time. For weeks, we chased the myth of “the same schedule,” but it never worked because they aren’t a unit—rather, they’re individuals with different needs. Having twins taught us to celebrate and support the unique awesomeness of each of our kids.

Do you have a secret parenting hack?

Small FedEx boxes make for kid-porta-potties in a pinch. Whether you’re on a long road trip in a remote area or potty training a kid on “No. 2,” these boxes are widely available at FedEx drop boxes, which are almost everywhere. They’re sturdy enough for a kid to sit on, and the cardboard is thick enough that you can seal them up until you find a trash can. This might be my proudest Mom-Mcgyver move to date!

What’s your guilty mom pleasure?

Watching Fixer Upper while enjoying a glass of wine.

How do you think the workplace can do better when it comes to supporting pumping moms?

Before we can talk about how the workplace can better support pumping moms, we need to talk about how it can better support working parents—and that starts with paid leave. According to PL+US, one in four mothers must return to work less than 10 days after giving birth. Having access to paid leave provides moms and babies with time and resources to recover and bond after birth, and helps to contribute to higher breastfeeding rates.

Upon returning to work, breastfeeding mothers face countless logistical challenges. Although employers are required by law to provide breastfeeding employees with reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, 60 percent of women don’t have access to these basic requirements.

Once these minimum standards have been met, workplaces can create a culture of support by providing:

  • A clear, supportive, company-wide policy that communicates pumping moms’ rights—not just to them, but to all employees
  • Well-appointed and maintained lactation rooms, ideally with locking doors, access to sinks and refrigeration, comfortable chairs and hospital- grade pumps
  • A maternity return program to help moms transition back into the workplace
  • Most importantly, I would encourage employers to talk to their pumping moms and ask for their ideas and feedback

Published December 2018

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