When new mothers need to nurse their infants while out and about, the options can be pretty grim. It’s not unusual for them to be told that they can either hide away in a dirty restroom or leave the premises altogether. When designated nursing rooms do exist, they’re often isolated, poorly designed, and uncomfortable.
Instead of shaming mothers for providing their babies with sustenance, what if we just made it easier for them to nurse more comfortably and in relative privacy within public spaces?
A new ergonomic bench called “heer” hopes to make this vision a reality. It seats up to four people on one end while offering a semi-enclosed swivel chair on the other. The idea is that mothers can breastfeed right “here,” regardless of whether they’re in an airport, at the mall, or on a corporate campus.
“The idea for ‘heer’ came to us when we witnessed a mother being shamed for breastfeeding in a public place,” says Ivana Preiss, Design and Strategy Director for the Prague-based design and consultancy firm 52 Hours. “We thought the solution must be in design.”
Preiss took the concept to her partner Filip Vasic (now the company’s Creative Director), who in turn enlisted award-winning industrial designer Nikola Knezevic to help bring heer to life. They envisioned it as an oasis of peace in hectic environments that could also be used to soothe fussy babies and help them fall asleep faster.
The seat itself not only swivels so the user can position themselves however they like, it also rocks — something that can be pretty hard to find in public places. The shield around the seat is purposely oversized to provide a bit of privacy and protect babies from distractions while allowing parents to keep an eye on their surroundings. The attached bench makes it easy for them to stay close to any other children they might have with them or continue conversations with a group.
The heer bench is designed to go virtually anywhere, since, as the designers put it, “babies could be hungry anywhere.” Preiss and Vasic sent a questionnaire to over a hundred mothers in several countries to better understand their needs before they got started on the project, and even then they tested the resulting prototype with a group of fifteen mothers and their babies. Reactions were “overwhelmingly positive,” needless to say.
“Our approach is practical, not ideological. We are not deciding whether mothers should breastfeed in public spaces or not. Of course they should breastfeed wherever and however they wish. What we are trying to offer is a choice to those mothers who currently feel they don’t have it. We are glad that so many mothers understand this and support us.”
They add that they are “aware that social norms and habits can’t change overnight. In that sense, we see our product as one of the steps toward breaking the stigma.”
The most recent prototype for heer is made of recyclable composite plastic. 52 Hours is still in the planning phases of this project, but the designers hope to stir up demand for the novel breastfeeding bench all over the world. If you’d like to see heer come to your city, you can submit it for consideration at inviteheer.com.
All photos by Marija Gašparović