Two Years In, &Mother Keeps Removing Barriers to Keep Moms on the Run
Alysia Montaño is dedicating her career to building and sharing resources for moms on race day, and beyond.
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Just 600 meters into the 2022 New York City Marathon, Alysia Montaño had an unexpected emotional moment on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
For the last two and a half years, the Olympic 800-meter runner has co-led &Mother, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting moms by bringing key resources like lactation stations and free childcare to five races so far. For the first time ever, moms in a field of 50,000 participants enjoyed extended support in the form of five lactation stations along the course of the world’s biggest marathon.
While running her first 26.2 on the roads, Montaño said she thought about the barriers she overcame to reach this point and the joy she felt in helping remove a barrier that often keeps breastfeeding moms from even reaching the start line. On Sunday, November 6, Montaño ran with them and for them.
“I just kept thinking, I need to get to the finish line for everyone who has supported our efforts and everyone that has needed this,” Montaño told Women’s Running.
The pilot program for breastfeeding moms at the New York City Marathon is the most recent initiative in a huge push of expanded efforts spearheaded by &Mother this year. In most cases, the services provided by &Mother and its partners are still a first for running events, but the nonprofit leaders aim to make them standard practice.
&Mother Introduces Services Across the Country
This summer, &Mother partnered with Allyson Felix, the most decorated U.S. track athlete in Olympic history, and Athleta to bring free childcare to the USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships for the first time ever. Through Vivvi, an employer-sponsored childcare company, athletes, coaches, and staff enjoyed the resources available to them at the national championships in Eugene, Oregon from June 23-26.
At Race for Change—a community road race in Los Angeles that hosted Felix’s final race before retirement—&Mother partnered with Vivvi once again and Mamava to provide lactation stations to parents at the event on August 8.
On September 24, at the inaugural Women’s Trail Half Marathon, &Mother worked with Solomon, the event sponsor, to provide free childcare and lactation stations at the start and finish of the race in the Marin Headlands, just outside of San Francisco, California. Organizers also included a deferral policy for pregnant and postpartum parents who could choose to delay their participation.
What &Mother Means for Moms
In her return to running since giving birth to her now 7-month-old son, Elysha Omoomy of Sausalito, California was looking to set a postpartum racing goal and came across the Women’s Trail Half Marathon. After learning that &Mother was partnering to provide lactation stations and childcare at the race, Omoomy registered right away.
“[The resources] to me was more of an incentive to sign up because I knew I was going to need the support the day of, and even if I didn’t use the resources, just the opportunity to support such a cause was going to be important because I’ve never seen any other races doing anything like this,” Omoomy told Women’s Running.
Omoomy was running late that day and pumped at home before driving to the start. But the lactation station at the finish line provided a key element of support in her race experience, and it gave her peace of mind while navigating the competition and feeding her baby, she said.
After she crossed the finish line holding her son, handed to her by her husband with 400 meters remaining, Omoomy pumped in the lactation tent, which she desperately needed for relief after traversing trails for just over two and a half hours. “Knowing that my milk wasn’t going to be lost was a huge thing for me because it does take a lot of energy to create these nutrients for my baby, who is completely dependent on my milk and not formula or other sustenances,” Omoomy said, while explaining that the privacy element and coolers provided to store the milk safely in the lactation tent were also appreciated, especially after being forced to pump in the car during her previous race, which didn’t offer any services for moms.
“Knowing that I had [race organizers’] full support meant everything,” she said.
Making Supporting Moms Standard Practice
At the New York City Marathon, &Mother partnered with the New York Road Runners, the organization that hosts the World Marathon Major, to create the pilot program for breastfeeding moms. This year, the race had lactation tents at the expo, start, mile 8, mile 16, mile 22, and near the finish line. Participants who brought their own breast pumps were able to have them transported from the start to the finish. For those who didn’t bring their own, electric pumps were provided by Babyation, a breast pump company that also offered support staff with individual sterilized pumps at mile 16. Montaño said she hopes &Mother can work with the remaining five World Marathon Majors to bring the same services to those races.
Months before New York, when Christine Lampe heard via Instagram that the marathon was offering lactation stations along the course, she planned to use the service in her first 26.2 since giving birth to her 10-month-old son. After her milk supply ran out about a month prior, she didn’t use the stations, which gave her “fomo” on race day, she said. But after spending months juggling new motherhood with marathon training—including early morning runs before her son wakes up and she goes to work as a teacher—Lampe hopes more events will bring the same support to moms working tirelessly to pursue their running goals.
“Offering [lactation stations and childcare] is huge and making that the norm would be great because I think there’s so many things that people overlook and just don’t know about,” Lampe told Women’s Running. “I think it’s so important for races to start thinking about the needs of moms and how we can better support everyone in the running community.”
With every mile marker in New York that included a lactation station, Montaño felt energized, she said. In the tents, she saw moms utilizing the pumping service while tackling the challenge of 26.2.
For the last several years, Montaño, now a mom of three, has made it her mission to tackle systemic challenges, setting a precedent for future generations of mothers. In 2019, she called out former sponsor Nike for their lack of maternity protections in a New York Times op-ed, which was followed by a number of fellow athletes sharing similar experiences with Nike, notably Felix and Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher. Facing scrutiny and public outcry, Nike announced a new maternity policy in August 2019 for all sponsored athletes. Several other companies also responded by adding maternity protections. In 2020, Montaño and co-founder Molly Dickens launched &Mother on Mother’s Day. Now two and a half years later, the nonprofit continues to advocate for the needs of mothers in the sport and beyond.
“When we look at barriers to participation, we know that this isn’t just a running thing. This goes beyond running,” Montaño said. “Running is so metaphorical to the race that we have to run within our lives.”
When she finished in 3:39:59, Montaño finally let her emotions go. For her, crossing the finish line in Central Park meant overcoming yet another barrier for moms and caregivers. It also marked a major step forward in a new normal she hopes to create.