Creating a Lactation Room Working Mothers Will Love and Appreciate
Mothers returning to the workplace after childbirth are driven to provide for their new babies, while recapturing their roles as productive members of the workforce. Companies that provide lactation rooms in the workplace help these employees achieve both of these goals. Following the design guidelines given here will yield a lactation room that is easy to use, and offers comfort and respect to working mothers.
In the past 20 years, research findings that are overwhelmingly in favor of breastmilk over formula have caused a marked increase in the number of mothers choosing to nurse their children for the first year of life or longer. The incredible health benefits for infant and mother have compelled these mothers to dedicate long and tedious hours to pumping and storing breastmilk when they are not with their babies. Many of these mothers return to work after just 6 to 12 weeks, and they need a dedicated place where they can comfortably and efficiently collect and store breastmilk in the workplace.
Several times a day, a nursing mother needs to retreat to a quiet, closed room to collect expressed milk. She needs a calm, comfortable environment with all the required elements for an efficient and safe pumping session. If possible, the room should also allow for the continuation of work while pumping.
A typical pumping session includes changing clothes, sitting at a desk in front of a pump for 10 to 30 minutes, placing milk in storage bottles, washing bottles and pump parts and packing them away until the next pumping session, redressing and returning to work. At the end of the session, the pumped milk must be stored in a refrigerator or cooler. In an eight-hour workday, three pumping sessions are usual.
Other considerations for lactation rooms include the need for actual and perceived privacy. Pumps can be noisy, so sound dampening is important to achieve auditory comfort in and around the space. Walls, doors, and locks must be substantial and provide a good sense of security.
Lactation rooms should provide, at a minimum, a lockable door, a work surface and chair, a small utility-type sink, storage for cleaning supplies and paper towels, adequate HVAC service, including a thermostat, and well-placed electrical outlets. Telephone service and network connections for the room are also recommended to allow work to continue. ADA accessibility guidelines should be met for all features of the room, and health, safety, and labor codes should be met.
A minimum footprint of 7 feet by 7 feet is recommended, as it allows for a 5-foot radius circle with 24-inch deep counters on two walls. Other configurations, such as 10 feet by 5 feet, work well, too.
Lactation rooms should be located in a safe area, accessible to all. They should not be located in areas that would not be suitable for the preparation and storage of food. And no matter how nice the executive bathroom may be, it is illegal in all 50 states to suggest that a breastfeeding mother use any bathroom to address her pumping needs.
Install a user-operated deadbolt for privacy. The best locks are indicator dead bolts that display an “occupied” message to discourage interruptions. Alternatively, a sliding placard can be installed on the outside of the door that can be set to read “in use” or “occupied.” If the room has windows, install shades.
Walls should reach up to the structure above to minimize sound transmission into adjacent spaces. Install sound attenuation, or additional insulation, in walls to minimize sound transmission.
Provide a task chair suitable for a workstation. Keep in mind that while many mothers nurse their babies in recliners, pumping requires a mother to sit straight up as she collects milk. Chairs that allow seat, back, armrest, lumbar, tension, and height adjustments are preferable. For extra lumbar support, a small pillow can be provided. Rolling casters are preferable, to allow the user freedom of movement when hands are occupied with bottles of milk and pump parts.
Provide a minimum 20-inch deep by 30-inch wide solid work surface for the pump and bottles to rest on in front of the task chair. Provide a 30-inch wide clear knee space beneath the counter. Provide above counter outlets at the work area. If a telephone is provided, it should be within easy reach of the work area. If a laptop or computer is provided, consider adding a keyboard cover in the event of milk spills.
Provide a “hospital-grade” multiple-user breast pump, such as the Ameda Platinum. Hospital-grade breast pumps are more effective and time-efficient than personal pumps, allowing users to return to work more quickly, and working mothers appreciate the ability to carry just bottles to and from the office. If a breast pump is provided, personal milk collection kits should also be offered by the employer and extra pump parts should be stored in the lactation room. MommaWork rents Ameda Platinum “hospital-grade” multiple-user breast pumps to workplaces and provides all necessary supplies.
Lighting and HVAC
Task lighting should be provided over the sink and work area. Overhead lighting is also appropriate if light levels at the work surfaces are not adequate. Temperature should be maintained year-round at a comfortably warm level, such as in a dressing room. If possible, install a thermostat in the room to allow user control and thermal comfort.
Install a refrigerator. Depending on the number of users, a mid-size or compact refrigerator, with freezer, for milk storage should be sufficient. The freezer allows a mother to store her freezer packs for transport of her milk home. If space is at a premium, an under the counter model may be used beneath the desk to conserve floor space, provided the desk is wide enough to allow ample knee space.
Provide a sink and faucet combination deep enough to wash bottles and pump parts. Gooseneck or kitchen type faucets are recommended. At the sink, provide hand soap, “baby safe” dish soap, hand sanitizer, and paper towels.
Provide a microwave for the sterilization of bottles and pump parts. Be mindful this microwave should be (and remain) clean and clear of food splatters. Its use should be limited to purposes of sanitization and should bear signage indicating this. Depending on space restraints, countertop options, and the height of the refrigerator, the microwave may be placed atop the counter or refrigerator.
Space should be provided for the storage of personal pumping accessories. Each user should be provided with a basket, bin, or locker that can be safely left in the lactation room. Storage options include overhead cabinets, hanging wall cubbies, standing bookshelves, lockers, etc.
While a full dressing area is usually not possible, the room should include at least one hook with coat hanger and a full-length mirror for users to attend to their appearance and make any necessary clothing adjustments before resuming their work day.
Useful accessories in a mothers’ room include a trashcan and “baby safe” cleaning supplies. Bottles of water should be placed in the room, and “lactation cookies” or other snacks should also be considered.
Décor should not be overlooked. The room should be painted and wall art hung. A bulletin board should be installed for hanging notices and/or baby pictures. The room should be attractive, welcoming, and match the décor of the overall commercial space. It is best if the floor is wood or another hard surface. Carpet is not recommended because of the risk of milk spills. If many mothers will be sharing the room, installing a clipboard outside the door or creating a shared online calendar are simple ways to schedule room usage.
Debi Yadegari, JD, is a working mother of five, lactation law specialist, and the CEO and Founder of MommaWork.