Lactation Room to Support Breastfeeding at Work

breast pump on a desk at office

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Under the Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers with 50 or more employees must provide a private space for nursing mothers to express breast milk for their babies.

Smaller companies (those with fewer than 50 employees) may obtain an exemption from creating a corporate lactation program by demonstrating that having to do so would create an undue hardship.

Regardless of the size of your company, it's to your advantage to help new mothers transition back to work after maternity leave. A meaningful way to do this is by creating a comfortable, safe place to pump breast milk by building a lactation room.

When new working moms are back at their jobs, they may have been breastfeeding for the past six to 12 weeks. Some will have the goal of breastfeeding for the first six to 12 months of their baby's life. It can be challenging, if not impossible, for working moms to meet that goal if they do not have the support of their employer.

Tips for Designing a Lactation Room

The need for nursing or lactation rooms came about because new moms needed a private, safe, and clean place to express breast milk while at work. A lactation room cannot be a bathroom—while it affords privacy, toilet areas are not sanitary.

When you are designing a lactation room the most important thing is that it must be private. The room must protect a breastfeeding employee from being seen by co-workers or the general public while they are pumping breast milk.

You will also need certain equipment and furniture in the space, such as:

  • A comfortable chair
  • A flat surface for a breast pump to rest, like a long countertop
  • A lock on the door and/or a sign that says "occupied" or otherwise warns passers-by that the room is in use
  • A microwave for steam-cleaning pump pieces (the mom will have a bag she places the pump parts into to steam clean)
  • A multi-user breast pump so women don't have to lug around their personal pumps
  • A sink to rinse out pump parts with soap and paper towels
  • A small refrigerator for storing breast milk.
  • Decorations that encourage mothers to relax and pump more breast milk, whether that's personal photos or artwork
  • Easy access to electrical outlets
  • Tissues and anti-bacterial wipes to clean up the flat surface

Create a Task Force

It can help to enlist current and former breastfeeding moms for a task force that will develop lactation room guidelines. You might also include lactation consultants, your facilities management, and staff from both human resources and communications.

Nursing moms usually carry a bag large enough to contain their breast pump, spare pump pieces, and an electrical cord or extra batteries. They also will likely have an insulated bag with a freezer pack to keep breast milk cold and fresh if a refrigerator is not available.

When creating a lactation or nursing room, ask women what you could provide that would best support their equipment and emotional needs.

Create guidelines that address employee needs and promote the availability of nursing rooms. When new moms return to work, they will feel supported in their choice to continue breastfeeding after maternity leave—which can make the transition period easier.

Needs and Benefits of the Lactation Room Law

In addition to creating a private space where breastfeeding employees can pump milk, employers must also provide reasonable break time for them to do so.

Until a baby reaches their first birthday, nursing moms may take time to get to the lactation room as well as the time needed for pumping sessions. A typical session is 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours during the workday, but the time required will depend on the needs of each mother and child.

While some employers view the lactation room as a work-life benefit that can increase loyalty and productivity, corporate lactation programs also help new mothers avoid taking time off work due to a sick child.

The United States Breastfeeding Committee cites a 77% reduction in absenteeism among firms with lactation support and twice as many one-day absences among employees whose babies aren't breastfed.

In the days before the lactation room law, nursing moms got creative when pumping breast milk. Some would pump in their offices with the door closed—a practice that continues today. Others sat in an empty break room or even pumped in their cubicle with a large blanket or shawl thrown over their torsos for privacy. We have certainly come a long way from that time.

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  1. U.S. Department of Labor. Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers. Updated April 2018.

  2. United States Breastfeeding Committee. Workplace Accommodations to Support and Protect Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: United States Breastfeeding Committee; 2010.