It's hard to say how many of the estimated 300,000 people descending upon Indianapolis for the Super Bowl this weekend are nursing mothers. But for those who are, there will be a comfortable place to sit back, relax, watch the game on a high-definition television, talk smack to a Patriots or Giants fan (depending who you're rooting for) and breastfeed your baby.
It may seem like an unlikely partnership -- football and breastfeeding -- but last month, when the nonprofit health care provider MESH set up a clinic in Super Bowl Village, it partnered with the Indiana Perinatal Network to include a lactation room.
The space opened Jan. 27 and will be available 24 hours a day until Monday. The small room, 10 feet by 12 feet, is big on amenities -- rocking chair, hospital-grade pump and a lactation consultant from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. The room doesn't provide a place for mothers to store milk. And women won't be permitted to leave during the game and reenter, since the room is outside the stadium.
"It's pump and go," said Chad Priest, chief executive officer of MESH.
Priest said the NFL host committee was "awesome" and "right on board" with the room. The only concern was whether there would be enough demand. That hasn't been a problem.
"It's been getting quite a bit of use," said Priest. "Much more than our clinic. What we've been surprised about is how grateful everyone is. These moms are coming in and just gushing."
The mothers are grateful to have a dedicated -- and convenient -- room for nursing at a stereotypically macho event. The room also contrasts with criticism of breastfeeding in public that some mothers have faced.
While experts, ranging from accredited pediatricians to vocal mother-in-laws agree that breast is best, NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne, court officials, Target and even the producers of Sesame Street have been called out for being intolerant or unsupportive. Last month, the government started cracking down on employers for failing to comply with federally mandated breaks for nursing mothers and a place to pump.
A few weeks ago, Facebook came under fire for taking down photos of women breastfeeding. Shortly thereafter, the website Funny or Die was called out by the New York Times for pulling a video of a woman breastfeeding.
Mothers have staged nurse-ins to express discontent.
Tina Cardarelli, the Indiana Perinatal Network's breastfeeding coordinator, said she hopes the Super Bowl lactation room will inspire others to be considerate of nursing mothers.
"We're hoping we open the door a crack for lactation accommodations for all kinds of other major sporting events," Cardarelli said. "This is how, culturally, change really happens. In little, tiny, baby steps."
Cardarelli said she has spoken to moms who would have been left home by their families if not for the room. "A woman down there the other day with a 6-week-old baby told me she had no intention of going [to the Super Bowl], and when she saw we had a lactation room, she hurried up and got ready," Cardarelli said.