It’s Not Hard…To Make A Nice Lactation Room
Alexa Christianson, B.S. Candidate in Public Health, Tulane University
Dr. Katherine M. Johnson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Tulane University
If you’re a working, breastfeeding mom, chances are you’re all too aware of the hunt for a place to express breastmilk during the day, if you’re not lucky enough to have your own private office. We’ve all heard the bad stories about where women pump in a pinch: inside cars and supply closets, locker rooms and shared break rooms, or sometimes the office of a sympathetic coworker. Finding a decent space to pump can be challenging.
Fortunately, it is not hard to make a nice lactation room!
In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare--amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to include a provision about time and space for breastfeeding employees. With regard to lactation space, employers are required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk” (U.S. Department of Labor). Any legislation is better than none, and stating that employers must provide a private space that is not a bathroom (repeat, not a bathroom) is a major step forward. However, there currently are no comprehensive guidelines for lactation spaces.
We looked at resources from the Louisiana Breastfeeding Coalition, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, Society for Human Resource Management, and others to help fill this gap in guidelines. We found the following recommendations, which we have ranked as priority and additional amenities:
Architects, designers, and building planners may desire additional guidance on elements for lactation rooms. The following recommendations were offered from several sources:
1. Distinct rooms designed for the intended purpose
2. Minimum space of 5x6 feet
3. Comfortable non-glaring lights
4. Room palette of soft colors “conducive to relaxation”
5. Stain resistant and easily cleaned materials (walls, chairs, etc.)
In New Orleans, sociologist Dr. Katherine Johnson of Tulane University has spent the past six years interviewing breastfeeding workers as part of her Working and Nursing Study. What she’s found is that the loose requirements outlined by the law leave much discretion to employers, often creating unequal results. Some businesses may designate temporary “flex” spaces for breastfeeding employees; the problem arises when there is a conflict over who can use the room, for what purpose, and when. One woman in the study had a lactation space, but it was previously used for storage, and maintenance workers still had a key. The mother was accidentally walked in on while pumping. If a space is converted from a previous use, this should be well-communicated so everyone knows its current purpose.
Some businesses have made great strides in collaborating with nursing employees to create comfortable and easy spaces. Another woman in the study had a workplace “wellness room,” which had many of the amenities of a good lactation space. Her male coworkers often used the space to relax in the reclining chairs, but once she communicated her intent to pump, they respected her break times and privacy. When legislation does not offer enough guidance, flexibility, communication and collaboration with breastfeeding employees is key to creating the optimal pumping experience.
What are the best or worst places where you’ve had to pump as a nursing mom?
Share pictures or your story with us!
Alexa Christianson is a student Research Assistant for the Working & Nursing Study. Dr. Johnson is Tulane faculty and an independent consultant for the Diapers-to-Desk Community Program. She is always looking for more study volunteers—if you have a recent breastfeeding-at-work experience you’d like to share, please contact her about a possible interview: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louisiana Breastfeeding Coalition. 2017. “Time, Space, and Workplace Lactation Policies.” Retrieved June 2018. http://www.louisianabreastfeeding.org/projects/workplace/time-space-workplace-lactation-policies/
Miller, Stephen. 2012. “Ensure Compliance with Reform Law’s Lactation Room Requirements.” Society for Human Resource Management.
United States Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS]. 2014. “Breastfeeding.” Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved June 2018. https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding
United States Office of Personnel Management [USOPM]. 2013. “Guide for Establishing a Federal Nursing Mother’s Program.”