BIRTHFIT Podcast Episode 126 Featuring Amy VanHaren of PumpSpotting
What is PumpSpotting?
Lindsey: [00:01:33] So who are you and what you do? Let everybody know about PumpSpotting.
Amy Van Haren: [00:01:39] Yes. So I’m Amy and I am the founder and CEO of PumpSpotting and PumpSpotting is a global community and app that connects breastfeeding women. We bring women who are nursing and pumping together so they can get what they need in terms of support at every stage in the journey. They can share advice, they can find places to nurse and pump, they can have conversations about how wonderful and hard it is and sometimes just cheer one another on.
Lindsey: [00:02:11] It sounds pretty amazing and you started this.
Amy Van Haren: [00:02:15] I did. You know I have two kids. I’m a two time breast feeder. And the second time around when my son was 6 weeks I owned a marketing agency and I had to go back to work. And I found myself navigating a lot of breastfeeding while flying, while working, and feeling really overwhelmed and isolated. Throughout the journey and the one thing that made me feel better was other women and talking to them and just sharing thoughts you know how do you fly with dry ice. And where do you go that’s not a bathroom and just really found such warmth and uplift in the other breast feeding women around me. And I felt as though we could build a better space to unite us all and to really share more of what we needed during the really sort of emotional, intimate, challenging journey that can be breastfeeding.
Lindsey: [00:03:11] Yeah I love this. I’m really into this and I remember when Teresa– it was Teresa of Grand Rapids, correct?
Amy Van Haren: [00:03:20] It was. Yeah.
Lindsey: [00:03:22] I was like “Okay. This sounds interesting”. But let’s take a step back and you know. First like I grew up and had no idea about breastfeeding. Like my mom formula fed me formula fed my brother and sister and like for our generation you know the formula industry was heavily marketing moms and at hospitals and everything. So how were you exposed to breastfeeding first? Do you remember when you were like oh yes I’m going to breastfeed my kids or you know what..What was your line of thinking there? I love this.
What’s your experience with BREASTFEEDING?
Amy Van Haren: [00:04:07] Yeah. No that’s a great question. Similarly I was not breastfed as a child and I did not grow up surrounded by aunts and cousins and women who are nursing their children. So I think that it really wasn’t in my mind or in my focus until I got pregnant with my first. And I think just kind of intuitively I felt that it was natural and the way I wanted to feed my children. I, You know for marketing, worked with a lot of organic food companies. They seemed to be immersed in the idea of nourishment and what it looks like and you know really what we need. And I think I saw some friends around me who are breastfeeding and just felt like it was kind of the natural course of things and something important for me to try. But I knew very little about it until I actually got to it.
Lindsey: [00:05:08] That’s awesome. Sue did you have any support or lactation consultant that you spoke with prior to breastfeeding like during your pregnancy or was it something that was just ok we’ll try it when that happens?
Amy Van Haren: [00:05:24] I am one of those people who really likes to be prepared. You could call it ‘Type A’. So I you know I was doing Hypnos birth thing for my birth journey and throughout that the nurse who is teaching it was really fantastic said you know “I recommend you take a breastfeeding course”. And I think especially because I really didn’t understand much about breastfeeding I mean I knew the basics of how you feed a baby, but I didn’t know the ins and outs and so I said I’m going to take a class. And I remember for me the classes were not at times that I could get to but I called Andre, the lactation consultant here in Maine and did a one on one class. And I tell people now that it was the best thing I ever did. And I’ll tell you I don’t remember a single thing she told me during that breastfeeding class. Like I finally had the baby in hand. I didn’t–I remembered zero nothing, but what I did as I had made a really amazing connection with her. So when my milk started to come in and I was engorged and I had no idea how to operate my pump or what I should be doing I already had her at the ready to call to get her help and support and that for me was the key in the very beginning of getting support.
Lindsey: [00:06:39] Meeting each other establishing that connection prior that I would say the most important thing. That’s beautiful.
Amy Van Haren: [00:06:47] Yeah cause you know breastfeeding is one of those things where I don’t know it’s an interesting thing where you need to know many things you don’t know and when you need to know them is immediately. There’s not a lot of time you know it’s like there’s a high learning curve to it in a way and you can’t really comprehend until you’re there. And then the minute you’re there you need to know because it’s a matter of you know feeding your baby. Really getting them what they need. And you know your milk is coming in and your body is changing and so it’s kind of high stakes in a way when when the unknown is before you. And I think that’s why it’s so important and certainly why I’m so passionate now about creating connection and outlets for women so that when they’re in those moments you know beforehand but certainly when it’s really hard or some form of challenges before you, you have a lot of support and a lot of people and a lot of places to turn so that you can get the information or you can get reassurance that what you’re going through is normal and you can be more at ease about it so you can keep going.
Lindsey: [00:07:56] I love that so. This was–Number one, you have two babies, right? Two kiddos?
Amy Van Haren: [00:08:02] I do. They’re six and four now. Not so babyish but I do yes.
Lindsey: [00:08:08] So you still had your advertising job with the first one and then the second one was when you started the app, is that correct?
That Start-Up, Mom Boss Life
Amy Van Haren: [00:08:17] Yes. So a I was in social media marketing for a long time with my first one. I was working at Stonyfield. And it’s funny because you could say my journey to support breastfeeding women started then because at–they gave us a space to pump but it felt a lot like a closet. And I had a broken chair and so I gave the room a makeover. Because I felt that we needed a better space and so that was my first foray into that and then then I owned my own business. And so I launched the app because I was doing so much traveling. So I really was pumping in different clients offices and you know at the airport in between flights looking for somewhere to go and you know pumping between businessmen on a plane. And so sort of had the idea one day when I was in a bathroom and just you know feeling as we all-anyone who’s been there I think you’re you’re doing something really important and you feel vulnerable enough being hooked up to this machine and being separated from your baby and then to be you know in a bathroom space that is not comfortable and you know you’re navigating not getting your milk on the floor. Do you sit or do you stand and smell and also for me just the conscious nature of being in an airport with people waiting outside and the time it took to hold up that stall and you know all those things that really make you anxious.
Lindsey: [00:09:43] Self talk is unbelievable.
Amy Van Haren: [00:09:45] Yeah none of that feels good. And so you’re sweat–I was sweating and I was just so overwhelmed and so anxious you know and the one thing I have is my phone. And so while I’m sitting there awkwardly holding the pump and the milk, I’m also texting friends to say how hard it is and how I’m feeling and they’re sort of boosting me you know in that moment and I just kind of had this brainstorm or this vision of “Gosh I think there is something important about what’s happening to me right now and all the other women who are doing this at the same moment or have been through it”. And that’s where that’s where the idea came for the app and to create it and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I just felt really compelled to find a way to bring it to life.
Lindsey: [00:10:30] How long did it take from that bathroom stall moment to the actual first version of the app?
Amy Van Haren: [00:10:38] I think probably just about a year. Because I had the idea and I had sketched it out and I sort of put together a slide deck of really what I wanted it to be but I didn’t really know how you went about building an app. And I was telling a yoga instructor of mine actually who had helped me through prenatal yoga and held my baby well. Max was little while I did yoga and had been very much part of my life and she said “You know I met this woman at a yoga retreat who owns an app and she’s who you need to know” and so she introduced me to Lindsay Wittmer Collins who was just the loveliest person she was from the Midwest like me and she was you know building apps for people and I shared my presentation and she totally understood it right out of the gate and she said “I love this. I think it’s so important. I know what you need and I’ll help you build it”. And then we became a beautiful partnership and dove in and then I think it was about a year after that. Two years ago just about two years ago is when we launched the very first version of the product.
Lindsey: [00:11:46] That’s awesome. And how many–because I know apps and the versions allow a certain number of people on at a different– like different times. How many people do y’all bring in that first round or initially?
Amy Van Haren: [00:12:01] Yeah. So we had an email list of 124 people. And you know our community is ourselves and our goal was to try and get to a thousand people in the first week and I think we probably got… I think we probably got 400. So we felt pretty good about that. We didn’t reach our goal but for being really scrappy you know felt good about, but then over time you know in the past couple years we now have 22,000 in the community. And so since that time period. Yeah we just..it’s Amazing how much it’s touched women and how something so simple has really made an impact and I think it just started to really grow from there and be shared from mom to mom. And we started to do some creative things to get it out there including buying a 40 foot RV called ‘The Breast Express’.
The Breast Express
Lindsey: [00:13:04] Wait what’s it called?
Amy Van Haren: [00:13:04] It’s Called The Breast Express.
Lindsey: [00:13:08] Breast Express that’s amazing.
Amy Van Haren: [00:13:08] Yeah. So at one point we… Lindsay And I had a moment where we felt as though it was really important not just to unite women through technology online but also to do so in person and that we wanted to do both. We really wanted to bring the support full circle. And in this day and age the way we nurse and pump is both. It’s unique things online and you still also need in person support so we have this crazy idea to buy a bus. We bought a 40 foot RV. We turned it into a beautiful nursing and pumping suites and we have been taking it across the country on a whirlwind roadshow. We’ve gone over 14000 miles. We’ve stopped in over 64 events and places and you know had probably close to five or six hundred women nursing and pumping in the space.
Lindsey: [00:14:00] Oh my gosh. So this all started-well The Breast Express started last year?
Amy Van Haren: [00:14:06] So we launched April 27 is when we hit the road. So we did a Kickstarter last year to fund the bus and to really start the momentum in progress and to get people excited. And then you know we were working on repairs and the design for the bus and figuring out what the tour was going to look like and then we launched at MIT’s Make a Breast Pump Not Suck Hackathon.
Lindsey: [00:14:34] Let’s go back to the app for second then I wanna come back to the tour. What are some of the features of the app? So if somebody comes on now and there’s 22000 women there, what are some of the first things that they can find or see?
Amy Van Haren: [00:14:51] Yeah. So when you log on the first thing you do for your profile is you tell us a bit about what your journey looks like. So you tell us your breastfeeding lifestyle. Are you exclusively pumping? Are you working? Are you traveling? Are you a mom of multiples? Are you a military mom? So you tell us essentially what does your lifestyle as a breastfeeding woman look like. You can also log on as a supporter as we have some dads who like to share spots and things like that. And then you tell us your breastfeeding goal and you tell us how you feel about it. And from there we have two feeds at the moment. One is the mama feed where you can ask questions you can post pictures. You can just have real honest conversations about how it’s going people ask everything from recommendations over breast pumps to how to handle discussions with a manager when you’re going back to work to just saying ‘I’m having a really hard day. I want to quit. Help me out’. And so it’s really all about the conversation and then the punch spot feed is where you can rate and share the best places to nurse pump. So everything from those airport mothering rooms to which pizza joint has the really friendly waitstaff or the big booths to fit in. Then you kind of give it a rating and you tell what features and then you can share hints. So we’re really trying to think about it from a very social oriented ship you know crowdsourcing on the right level for breastfeeding because it’s not just that you need to know that there is a mothering room, sometimes you need to know does it have an outlet or you need to know, you know, some moms want to know where the milk donation center is or a lactation consultant. So really trying to connect to resources and then this month we’ll also be launching content and over time continuing to customize the experience. So it really meets your lifestyle and where you are on the journey.
Lindsey: [00:16:46] Oh my gosh I love this. This is great.
Amy Van Haren: [00:16:49] Thank you. It’s been really, it’s been really fun to create and I think one of the exciting things for me is that we really we did launch a very simple product in the beginning and now that we are building and looking at what’s next and crafting it, it’s really been driven by all the women we’re talking to and so many moms share feedback and it’s really nice to be crafting something that almost in real time evolves to serve the needs of what we’re hearing from other moms. Because of course it stemmed from my journey but my journey is only one lens of what this looks like. And our goal is really to keep building a community and a platform resource that meets every mom.
Lindsey: [00:17:35] Love this. So can you tell where you’re like biggest user base is? Like what cities or states?
Amy Van Haren: [00:17:44] Yeah our top three right now are: San Francisco, Chicago, and I would say New England. Sort of the East Coast. But we have we have moms in 10 countries and quite so you know where we’re sort of rapidly growing and then there are certain places Grand Rapids, Michigan as my hometown. That’s where I met Terissa and where we were and so there seems to be an explosion of moms there. And it’s interesting because they’ll be some places where you know you just get fiercely passionate people and they get their friends onboard. cultivating spots.
Lindsey: [00:18:19] So. This is. Maybe I don’t know the answer to this but if somebody looks through they’re stressed and they can’t produce breast milk and you know, would this be a place that they could go to find either donor milk or like “Let me find some lactation support in my area” or would this be the place to come afterwards?
Amy Van Haren: [00:18:43] Yeah. So we do that in the pump spots feature you can share milk donation locations and lactation consultants or doulas or even mother in groups near you if you need support and need to go you know. That being said we’re still–it’s still being crowdsourced and so I would say you know we’re growing and hopefully we get to a point where that’s incredibly robust and you can find all those things. But you can if you know of them you can add them and you can search for them by location of where you are and then what you can also do is just ask other moms you know what have they found that helps increase supply and what are their best tips when it comes to adding in pump sessions or which you know which lactation cookie recipes do people love. Sort of all those things around that.
Lindsey: [00:19:38] Man, yes. I’m totally gonna tell all of our regional directors about this. This would be great.
Amy Van Haren: [00:19:47] Yeah and that’s our hope is really, I mean we really want to be a curated hub for all communities and I think that’s part of the onus being on the ground what we’ve done with the Arby in the tour is really tapping into local communities and partnering with the amazing companies and maternal wellness advocates that are already doing so much to support moms. And it’s been a great way to really build and to connect is to keep trying to amplify the voices of the amazing work that’s already out there.
Lindsey: [00:20:20] So with this tour you and Lindsay drove the bus to a certain city and then y’all just park it outside of the event and have moms c’mon if they want to breastfeed or offer them that safe space or how does it work?
Amy Van Haren: [00:20:35] Yep that’s about it. Yeah. It’s–that’s exactly it. We are gathering place for support and information and it looks a little bit different in every place. Well first I must say that Lindsay had a baby just over two months ago. And so. Yeah so we actually she is not on the bus because be hard to be on the bus when you’re are eight months pregnant and nursing a newborn with no car seats. But we did pull up at our house when we were in San Francisco which was really special. That was probably one of my favorite stops. So yeah. So we have Julia who was my wing woman and the recent on our team have been driving across the country and staying in RV parks and every place we show up looks a little bit different. This past weekend we were in Chicago and we were at the Chicago baby shows. We actually hold onto the floor and were a really warm gathering space for moms in between you know all their viewing the booths and to come hang out and nurse and pump in and get what they needed. We’ve pulled up at hospitals and we’ve hosted breastfeeding classes on the bus. We pulled up at an advanced auto parts just to serve a group of moms who needed a little love and support. We’ve pulled up at people’s front doors when moms told us they were having a hard time. We did some surprise and delight of lactation consultants who have been serving moms for over 20 years. And so every community–sometimes we show up in parks our farmers markets. We really have been doing lots of different things to just go either where people really need us or where moms are gathered and the bus itself is kind of an experience that’s built. You know it looks like a living room and it’s kitchen and so it’s built to really be a space where people can just relax and be at ease and do what they need. And of course we have lots of outlets and places to pump and then we’ve got all kinds of fun experiences. We have a find your flow station that Aero flow gave us so there we have five different pumps so we can talk about what are the differences between breast pumps and if you’re pregnant you’ve never seen one we can hook it up and show you what it’s like and–.
Lindsey: [00:22:39] What are your favorite pumps?
Amy Van Haren: [00:22:41] Yeah. Yeah you know that’s a great question because I feel like I’ve been learning so much about breast pumps. I with both my kids I used the the Medela Pump in Style it worked well for me. I would say the top two pumps that moms tend to get most excited to talk about on the bus are the Spectra and the Ardo. They both think that both tend to be quiet and really efficient. And the Ardo is a Swiss made pump that’s the number one breast pump in Europe and the spectra you know moms feel like it really has been amazing in terms of output of milk for moms.
Lindsey: [00:23:21] Intersting, I like this. This feedback. Has anybody been–has any business not allowed you to park the bus fare or been kind of “I don’t know about this”?
Amy Van Haren: [00:23:35] We had one one place in Savannah, Georgia that–yeah that was you know said they didn’t feel like we aligned with their mission. Which felt a little interesting to us because they really serve kids and families. So that was the only experience where someone in a wasn’t uber inviting. Sometimes and we were really large. So certainly there are restrictions. Parking permits and spaces and things like that that sometimes don’t work out, but well you know what I would say is that the response and the interest in having us come by has been overwhelmingly positive. You know we probably get a handful up to 10 requests a day of where people want us to bring the bus. And so I think there’s real interest in supporting breastfeeding women and so many moms I think want to be breastfeeding and want to continue and so. Yeah just seems to be a space that’s really important at the moment.
Lindsey: [00:24:34] How many people can you fit on the bus?
Amy Van Haren: [00:24:37] I think we had twenty eight on the bus at one time. It’s really I mean that’s like packed house that’s you know people sitting on the bed people hanging out in the kitchen. We’ve got two like leather captain’s chairs up front which is hilarious that they spin around so you can sit there and then our record when we were in New York baby show we had twelve moms nursing and pumping at the same time.
Lindsey: [00:25:03] All on the bus? That’s amazing.
Amy Van Haren: [00:25:08] It was just it’s pretty cool to see to sort of be surrounded by that many other women who are just doing their thing and also you know coming on the bus we have so many people that say that they step on and her name is Barb. I should say that should we call her Barb the BRV. See people hop on Barb and you know they say they feel a really calm that this space is and everybody does it differently. So you know some moms still wear nursing covers, some pull the curtains up front, some lay down inside lie and nurse on the bed, you know others just sit and so it’s been fun to see all the preferences and all the ways babies like to nurse and–.
Lindsey: [00:25:49] And mom.
Amy Van Haren: [00:25:52] Yeah.
Lindsey: [00:25:53] That’s what I’m picturing this and I was looking at the Website and I saw like the pictures of the bus and people nursing on them that it seems like such a beautiful space that you’ve cultivated where women can go and they feel safe and you know the number one reason we hear that women you know either their milk supply drops or you know they don’t want to breastfeed is that they don’t feel comfortable or they’re stressed you know. And what a cool thing like the moble thing and mobile space that you’re driving around, but then also this app where they can go and they feel safe to talk about breastfeeding.
Amy Van Haren: [00:26:37] Yeah yeah. Yeah. And I think there’s all layers of that certainly. And my journey in a way I’ve met a lot of women who are similar. And I was never uncomfortable breastfeeding in public but I always did it with a cover. So it’s still like there was a layer and when I was getting used to it, it still felt like gosh how do you find a seat? And do you pullover? And what about the timing? And you know and then you’re back at work. And for me it was how do I have those conversations with my managers or my clients about the fact that I need to schedule things around the pumping times and you know in a way it’s just what we’re doing is creating an experience that lets people feel safe, of course which is really important, but also lets people just feel normal.
Lindsey: [00:27:23] Mm mm mm mm. Yeah and you’re continuing the conversation like I know there’s you know like right now it’s black breastfeeding week. And yeah like we both mention that we weren’t breastfed as infants and you know as long as the conversation continues more and more we’ll find out you know hey like this is it’s a reproductive right just thing else. And you know I don’t think it’s been a conversation that our culture has embraced until you know probably the last eight to 10 years.
Amy Van Haren: [00:27:59] Yeah. Yeah and I think even in the last two since we’ve launched the app it’s been tremendous to see you know there’s over 2 million hashtags on Instagram for breastfeeding. Yeah. And so it definitely…The conversation is taking place more than it ever has. And I still think we have a ways to go because certainly. if not support and spaces and you know just ease is not the same in all places and for every woman. But I think the more we talk about it the more we make it part of our day to day journeys and it’s exciting to be in a space for so many companies are innovating and really trying to look at nourishment in this way and with fresh eyes.
Lindsey: [00:28:47] Yeah it’s almost–we’re almost there I feel it. But I live in Los Angeles which is more progressive than, let’s say, the middle of the country. But it’s like ok you own a company or your you know high up in a company and you’re not embracing breastfeeding in some way, then you’re living in the dark ages. Come on.
Amy Van Haren: [00:29:10] Yeah it’s true. But I also think it’s. There’s also a difference between wanting to support it and then the like the logistics of being able to. Because I know we’ve also met some people on the tour who say I’m all for supporting my employees and you know we’ve given them a space and we’re trying to make it happen. But it’s also sometimes just the logistics of it are much more challenging than you would think. And so. I think it’s cool the way you know Mamava creating pop up pods and milk stork is helping businesses ship milk and I think everybody is starting to think about how do we make it so that support happens. And even if it’s not straightforward as a company for how you offer those services that there are outlets for you still to be able to make it possible for your employees.
Lindsey: [00:30:02] That’s a good point. Lots happening. So any big goals for 2019?
Amy Van Haren: [00:30:09] Yeah I mean we just want to reach more moms and we just want to really double the size of our community and keep it growing so we keep offering the support. And you know we’re just we’re actually coming your way with The Breast Express Tour. We’re going to be in Albuquerque and San Diego and to L.A. at the end of October and the beginning of November. So yeah might have to come stop by.
Lindsey: [00:30:33] Yeah the ladies here and we’d like to know the dates for sure.
Amy Van Haren: [00:30:37] Yeah. And then I think we’re going to kind of catch our breath and spend a little time with our families. And then we’re already starting to think about where we go in 2019 and you know my hope would be just for us that we can continue to create experiences that make moms feel really amazing. And I’m excited to keep getting creative about how that happens and to really grow the app in such a way that moms can find more and more people and places to connect to and hopefully just at you know this time next year there’s even more conversation and more happening.
Lindsey: [00:31:17] Yeah. So…sorry you cut out just for a second. If there–if people are looking for you on social media where can they find, I’m guessing it’s PumpSpotting, but social media, Facebook, Instagram, things like that. Where can they find all this information?
Amy Van Haren: [00:31:38] You can find us at PumpSpotting and you–at PumpSpotting dot com and you can download the free app in the Apple store and at Google Play.
Lindsey: [00:31:51] Oooo nice. And then is this your full time gig now?
Amy Van Haren: [00:31:53] It is. Yes I still do some marketing work on the side. I do with my agency because it’s fun and I enjoy it but I have a great team that does that and I am all systems go on supporting breastfeeding women.
Lindsey: [00:32:07] I love that. So anything we did not cover that you want to leave with the BirthFit audience before we sign off?
Amy Van Haren: [00:32:17] I just want to say are all doing an amazing job. Motherhood in the early days that early first year, it just there’s so much into it and so much that we have to go through. And I just want to say that I continue to meet so many amazing women and I love the way women are showing up to support one another and I’m just excited and honored and proud to be here cheering everyone on.
Lindsey: [00:32:43] Well thank you. I’m really glad you said that because I’m blown away by this project and I’m honored to be here with you and supporting women as well because this is an awesome product and you’re connecting women. With something they need support in that’s not you know, like we talked about early on, directly in your face or like if they didn’t have a lactation consultant that they connected with early on like this is a place to start for sure.
Amy Van Haren: [00:33:10] Yeah. Well thank you. Yeah. I’ll have to–We’ll have to stay in touch. Maybe we’ll partner up when we come to L.A.
Lindsey: [00:33:18] I’m thinking like what do we–like the BirthFit summit. We’re in Austin in May. So maybe…
Amy Van Haren: [00:33:25] Wow.
Lindsey: [00:33:25] Yeah I know.
Amy Van Haren: [00:33:29] See this is fun. This is where this is where it’s fun to. You know you put something out there and you have the first go around it’s fun to think about the next phase because we can go ahead and do some exciting stuff.
Lindsey: [00:33:41] Thanks so much for spending some time with me.
Amy Van Haren: [00:33:44] Oh thanks for having me on, it was a pleasure.
Lindsey: [00:33:46] Definitely enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, Amy.
Amy Van Haren: [00:33:49] I will likewise.
Lindsey: [00:33:51] Alright, Bye.
Amy Van Haren: [00:33:52] Bye bye.
Lindsey: [00:33:52] Got it.