After returning to work following the birth of her twins, Kate Torgersen was on a business trip in San Diego in spring 2014. It wasn’t the most important trip professionally, but personally, she recalled, proving that she could seamlessly transition back to the workplace was a big deal.
There was just one problem: As committed as Torgersen was to her career, she was equally committed to keeping her newborns healthy by providing them with breast milk — one gallon every two days.
Like many working mothers who find themselves on the road, Torgersen faced a tough choice. Stop pumping altogether, and her body would produce less milk, and her twins would be without food upon her return home. Continue pumping, and she’d have to find a way to store a couple of gallons of highly perishable breast milk at ice cold temperatures during her four-day trip. Torgensen continued pumping and decided to store her milk in Nalgene bottles that she kept in an ice-filled cooler in her hotel room.
Eventually, she realized, she’d have to find a way to get the milk back to her home in San Francisco.
“It sounds like a crazy experience, and that’s because it was,” she added.
It was so crazy, Torgersen decided, that no working mother should have to face similar circumstances again as they navigate the rocky transition back to the workplace. Upon her return home, she began working on a new start-up: Milk Stork, a service that allows traveling mothers to ship their milk to their baby from the road with a cooler that arrives in their hotel room as a postpaid package. Mothers can ship up to 34 ounces per day with the materials provided, and packages are shipped overnight in the continental United States.
Along the way, the company says, shipping updates arrive via email.
Federal law requires employers to provide nursing mothers with a “reasonable break time” and a place to express milk, but those requirements do not extend to business travel. The result, mothers say, is that many mothers are forced to “pump and dump,” a frustrating habit that some mothers compare to throwing out “liquid gold.”
Milk Stork launched in 2015 and has amassed about 3,000 clients from about 70 companies, up from 25 at the beginning of the year, including Unilever and SAP, the company said.
For companies looking for innovative ways to attract top talent, especially women, being able to offer milk shipping sends a particular message, according to Jason Russell, the North America Total Rewards director at SAP. Of the company’s 15,000 employees, about a dozen are currently taking advantage of Milk Stork, which the Fortune 500 company began offering employees this year alongside medical, dental and vision benefits, he said.
Russell called the program an “investment” and said Milk Stork’s value is greater than the modest number of employees using it.
But it’s that small number — a result of the reality that only so many breast-feeding mothers want to travel for work — gives some experts pause. Barbara Corcoran, the well-known business executive and investor who makes regular appearances as a judge on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” said she believes Milk Stork appeals to a particular segment of traveling mothers — the “die-hard business executive who will only breast-feed.”
Most women are willing to pump, she said, but when it becomes too inconvenient they resort to formula. Corcoran said she believes the majority fall into the compromise category, but she thinks Milk Stork offers companies a great way to support female employees.
“I think it’s a very clever and inexpensive give for companies to offer,” she said, referring to the service as “great PR.”
“It sends the right message — ‘we want to wrap your job around your personal needs.’ ”
But if companies truly want to attract a “slew of great women,” Corcoran said, there’s an even better way to do it.