If you’ve hit the road this summer, you may have passed a 40-foot pink bus traveling along the interstate. To promote breastfeeding and a new website in support of it, Milk for Thought, 27-year-old Ryan Comfort and his team hit the road this summer on the “Latch On America Tour,” stopping in over 30 cities in 45 days to meet with local moms and experts from the breastfeeding community to talk about what works—and what they’d love to see happen—to support breastfeeding.
We spoke with Ryan between stops in NYC and Washington, D.C., where he was to meet with the U.S. surgeon general (who recently issued a “Call to Action to Support Breast-Feeding”) and speak at the national meeting of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee today.
Parenting.com: As you explain on Milk for Thought, it’s a big leap from dreaming up a witty t-shirt slogan (“Breastfeeding is for suckers!”), as you did a few years ago, to launching a website in support of breastfeeding. What happened?
Ryan Comfort: I’ve always had the desire to create social change and feel really good about what I do. I’m really passionate bringing together business, technology and social change—and this is about generating support for a breastfeeding mom to accomplish what she wants to accomplish.
I can’t really take too much credit for how far we’ve come in the past few months. The reason that I left my full-time job when I did [5 months ago] was the timing—there’s never been more energy or excitement in the breastfeeding community, especially with the surgeon general’s recent call to action—and we want to help. It’s all a statement of the energy and excitement within the breastfeeding community—this campaign has mobilized an already energized group of people.
It has accelerated really fast because I’ve been interested in engaging and serving the breastfeeding community and creating an online platform where we can bring a lot of different components together, like connecting moms with local breastfeeding resources and working in a collaborative manner with policymakers and nonprofits to really accelerate progress within the breastfeeding culture. When people think about breastfeeding as an issue, they often think about people breastfeeding in public, but it’s also about creating better breastfeeding policies in hospitals, making lactation support at work… We’re interested in creating an online platform that will also tackle those issues—informing breastfeeding moms on how they can request what they need and know their rights. We’re going to be launching features on the site through the end of the year.
How did the Latch On America tour get to be so big? And why a big pink bus?
RC: I had been in Chicago for the past few months and working really hard to engage the local breastfeeding community, but I realized that I couldn’t move to each place for 3 months to do the same thing—so I thought, why don’t we just get an RV and do a summer road trip? And the reaction was really strong, and we wanted to match the enthusiasm of the community, so we quickly moved from an RV to a bus—a big pink bus, almost as a symbol of the movement.
What are you learning about breastfeeding on the tour?
RC: Generally, it’s clear that breastfeeding is local—it’s a local issue, it’s based on where women are and the resources available in their individual communities.
It’s one thing to think about things on a national level—but then by going to each different city, it’s interesting to hear about what has helped, for example, in Topeka—where there is drop-in lactation support available—or Portland, OR, where worksite lactation is easier. A lot of the work that needs to be done on a national level has been done somewhere on a local level, and we hope to help that happen on a national level.
When I got into this, I really thought I was promoting breastfeeding as the most natural, best food in a baby’s stomach. But since then, I’ve learned how so many new moms have felt alone or frustrated—and I want to figure out how can we as a society make those first few days better.
We’ve spoken with moms who met that one lactation consultant who shifted them from feelings of frustration and self-doubt to knowing they could overcome it and do it. We want to serve as a vehicle that can create that kind of change for a mom.
And, of course, tears have definitely motivated me. And there are some incredible stories out there, like one story of a mom who lost her baby and donated thousands of ounces of breast milk—and we got to reunite her with the mom of a premature baby who received some of her donor milk. Not only was that moment really amazing to witness, but as we put that video on the website, that will help encourage other people to donate milk.
Speaking of video, had you always planned to make a documentary along the way?
RC: Yes! Laura Zinger, the filmmaker we’re working with, and I really saw incredible synergy. As it turns out, she was already planning to make a documentary about breastfeeding, and by working together she was going to gain access to the network I had established in the breastfeeding community. The documentary will bring awareness to the general public about why it’s important to support breastfeeding moms. We just launched our Kickstarter campaign to help fund the documentary. [Check out the video below for more details]
Are you catching any flack for being the guy behind this [instead of a woman]?
RC: I don’t think I haven’t had anyone address me as offended—it’s more that they’re just curious about why a single guy with no kids [who wasn’t breastfed] is doing this. Even if they don’t ask it, I have to address it, but I think once people meet me and hear the depths of my knowledge, they get that I’m not trying to push an agenda—this work really is about empowering women. And I think that they appreciate that there’s someone out there untraditional to support them and generate attention and buzz for the breastfeeding movement.
What is your ultimate goal through Milk for Thought and Latch On America?
RC: Our ultimate goal is to help moms achieve their personal breastfeeding goals. So whether that means getting hospitals to adopt baby-friendly hospital initiatives, or by helping a mom who’s going back to work to understand her rights, or to serve as a liaison between her boss or the HR dept, maybe by offering ideas on how to make their workplace more breastfeeding-friendly—whatever support she needs, we want to help her get it.
Plus: Learn more about the Kickstarter campaign to help fund this interactive breastfeeding documentary and check out the Latch On America road map to see if the Big Pink Bus will be stopping in your area this summer!
It's World Breastfeeding Week through August 7. Stay tuned for a daily post on breastfeeding!