Bottled water ... for babies

Product aimed at busy moms finds new niche in wake of disasters.

File this next story under the header: Why didn’t I think of that?

First, let’s roll back four years.

Lara Hodgson, entrepreneur, board member of the Georgia Regional Transit Authority and brand new mom, is out running errands with her son when of course he gets hungry and of course she doesn’t have fresh, room-temperature water around to mix him some formula, so, of course, the baby throws a fit. This happens often enough that she complains to her husband, repeatedly, that someone should come up with pre-measured bottled water with room enough to add formula. Something just for a baby.

He tells her in effect to, well, put up or hush up.

So Hodgson puts up. And she winds up developing Nourish, a recyclable, pre-measured bottle of water with enough room for a mom to add formula on the go. That’s right. Bottled springwater for babies. All in a patented BPA-free package.

All together now: Why didn’t I think of that?

But women have been having babies for eons and hydrating them, for the most part, without benefit of specially packaged water. On this point, Hodgson agrees. So why on earth would they need it now?

“Being a stay-at-home mom has changed, because stay-at-home moms are never at home any more,” Hodgson said. “They are always on the go. We want to be where you are in a pinch.”

And it’s that constant state of motion that can make it inconvenient for a busy middle-class mom to have a clean bottle or the right amount of water at hand. Hodgson breast-fed her son for six months but sometimes needed to supplement his diet with formula.

She and her business partner Stacey Abrams — yes, that Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s House minority leader — determined there were enough women like Hodgson who would be willing to pay between $3 and $4 for water that doesn’t come from a tap but from a spring. Blue Springs near Callaway Gardens to be exact. The company also makes small containers of water in sippy-cup form for toddlers.

But isn’t there something indulgent, if not unnecessary or even wasteful, about buying a special bottled water for a baby or toddler, even if the containers are reusable? How difficult is it to wash out a regular bottle or sippy cup and fill it with water? For many moms the task likely doesn’t rise beyond a slight inconvenience.

But what if you had been a mom in Haiti right after the devastating 2010 earthquake? Or a nursing mother in Tokyo worried about radiation in drinking water following the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl?

Those are two situations where Nourish has found an unexpected niche.

Customers donated cases of the water, Hodgson said, right after the earthquake hit Haiti. She got the Atlanta-based charity Childspring International to deliver and distribute the bottles, along with formula, within days of the disaster. Doctors handed them out at field hospitals.

What made the difference for those mothers and babies wasn’t simply the clean water but the design of the bottles, said Rose Emily Bermudez, executive director of Childspring.

It’s impossible for a infant to take a swig from an open-mouthed plastic container. But Nourish has the necessary plastic nipple built in.

“The community felt like it was one of the best things we sent,” Bermudez said. “I went back to Haiti a few months ago and some mothers still have those bottles.”

In the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear crisis, Koyuru Tsunoda, who operates an online health-food business in Woodland Hills, Calif., recently purchased a few cases of the water to send to friends and colleagues in Tokyo. Tsunoda, who was born and raised in Japan, did so after traces of radiation were found in tap water in Tokyo and nursing mothers were advised not to drink it.

“When the Japanese government said a child under 1 year old shouldn’t drink the water, I said, we have to send water,” Tsunoda said.

Filling the order took on a special significance for Hodgson, who, as an engineering student at Georgia Tech, did a fellowship in Japan and lived for months with a family in what is now the stricken Fukashima province.

“They are all OK,” said Hodgson, who has kept in contact with the family over the years.

Though designed for kids, there have been some unusual adult requests for Hodgson’s product. Stylists have purchased the sippy cups because the cup’s design allows their clients to drink water without messing up their lipstick or dribbling water down the front of their pricey shirts and dresses. And it has shown up in the hands of a few celebrity babies, notably Kimora Lee Simmon’s son on her show, “Life in the Fab Lane.”

For Hodgson, it’s just fine. Better a kid get hooked on bottled water early on rather than sugary juice-box drinks, she said.