img_3434by Paula Redmann

We’ve all seen “that look” on the face of a mother with a young child. You know, when she glances at her watch (yep, it’s time) and starts to re-arrange that slightly unhappy wee one on her hip. Timing is everything. Slightly unhappy could escalate into full-on irate. She grabs her 30-pound pack full of rescue and anti-fuss gear. Then, like a well-trained soldier, she surveys her surroundings—eyes up, down, across—in order to plan her next strategic move. And she asks herself, “Where can I go to breastfeed this child?”

Mothers who breastfeed their children know the convenience, joy, and health benefits of their preferred choice of nutrition. It’s pretty easy at home. But out in public, the options and choices get tricky, and quite often, frustrating.

Deidre Hillman thought that one of the places it shouldn’t be hard to breastfeed a child was at Dakota Zoo in Bismarck.

“The zoo is all about families, so what could we do to provide a place for moms to go for privacy and comfort?” asks Deidre, a zoo board member and a mom to one-year old Harper.

She approached the board and Dakota Zoo Director Terry Lincoln in January of this year with her “What if…..” idea. What if the zoo had a relaxed, clean, easily accessible place for moms to breastfeed their child? Thus began the quest for The Nursing Den.

The zoo board voted to move forward and support the idea, set aside some money, and transform a building which was once a restroom, and then a butterfly house, into a cozy, den-like space.

“The idea had been there for a few years, but then Deidre, a new mom, became the driving force to move this project to the forefront. Adding this new facility for the benefit of families is a plus for the zoo,” says Terry. “Not only do we embrace the idea of breastfeeding—we’re surrounded by our animals that do it all the time—but are particularly excited to be able to provide a comfortable and private area for this to be accomplished.”

Deidre then rallied the troops. Enter Katie Logan, owner of Bump2Baby and member of the Bismarck Doula Community. Katie looked at the space and provided input on ways to “soften” it to provide not only two private feeding areas (think retail dressing rooms with comfy chairs and privacy curtains), but also an activity area for dads and toddlers to hang out while mom feeds the baby. The play space includes painted walls, (animals, of course, it’s the zoo!) toys, and snacks.

“What excites me most about this project is that it focuses on the importance of breastfeeding by giving moms the space to comfortably sit down, cool off, and feed their babies. It just makes breastfeeding for as long as possible even easier,” Katie says.

Paint, curtains, toys, chairs, sinks. The list of renovation needs grew a bit, and so did the price tag. Even with financial support from the zoo, Deidre knew some fundraising would help move the project along.

That’s where Mandy Dietz came in. Mandy, Bismarck chiropractor and mom, came on board as a financial sponsor of The Nursing Den because of her experience as a breastfeeding mom.

“It’s important that families have safe and comfortable places to feed their babies. I remember nursing my twins and having to sit on floors trying to nurse them and not get them covered in whatever was on the floor. Ick! There were times I had to go back to my car and nurse them in the back seat and miss out on all the activities. It was so frustrating and overwhelming,” remembers Mandy.

Mandy says she is delighted to support this project and give back to the community to help families.

Additional sponsors for The Nursing Den include Jones Physical Therapy, Heringer Dentistry, Steep Me A Cup of Tea, and a grant from the North Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition.

“We now have enough funds for Phase II for this space, new flooring, which will be added this winter,” says Deidre. “I’m predicting a wonderful response from zoo visitors.”

The building itself will have ample signage and the zoo maps will include the location of The Nursing Den so visitors know about the space and how it became a reality.

Deidre says the interest, encouragement, collaboration, and conversation about The Nursing Den at Dakota Zoo has been reinforced from the very beginning by a support and advocacy group called The Bismarck Birth Collective.

“It’s a community of moms, supporting moms.”

Mission accomplished. At ease.   

The Nursing Den, located near the Prairie Dog viewing area at Dakota Zoo, opened June 23.

Paula Redmann

Paula Redmann

Paula Redmann is the Community Relations Manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. She likes to run, walk, play, sing, putter in her yard, laugh with family and friends, and count her blessings. She married her high school sweetheart, Tom. They have two grown sons, Alex and Max.