How to Set up a Lactation Room to Support Breastfeeding at Work

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Under the U.S. lactation room law, employers with 50 or more employees must provide a private space for nursing mothers to express breast milk for their babies. Smaller companies though, meaning those with fewer than 50 employees, may obtain an exemption from creating a corporate lactation program by demonstrating it would create an undue hardship. Regardless of the size of your company if you want new working moms to transition well after maternity leave create a comfortable a safe place for them to pump breast milk by building a lactation room or nursing room.

When new working moms return to work they may have been breastfeeding for the past three months (the hopeful length of maternity leave in the U.S.). Most have a goal to breastfeed for the first six months of their baby's life and try to go for a year. Without the support of their employer, this goal can be challenging to hit. Creating a lactation room will better the chances of the working mom to succeed at breastfeeding and improve her health and her child's. Here's how you can help.

Designing a Lactation Room

The need for a lactation room came about from new working moms who needed a private, safe, and clean place to express breast milk. The lactation room cannot be a bathroom because toilet areas aren't a sanitary location to pump breast milk that a baby will consume. So when you are designing a lactation room the most important thing is that it must be private and must protect the breastfeeding mom from being seen by co-workers or the general public while pumping breast milk.

Here are some suggestions for when you begin to fill the room with equipment and furniture:

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

Create a Task Force to Create Guidelines for Your Lactation Room

Enlist current and former new moms on to a task force that will come up with lactation room guidelines. You might also include lactation consultants in your area, your facilities manager(s) and staff from both human resources and communications.

Typically, nursing moms carry a bag large enough to contain their breast pump, spare pump pieces, and electrical cord or spare batteries. They also will likely use an insulated bag with a freezer pack to keep breast milk cold and fresh if a refrigerator isn't available. These are the things they already have so when creating a lactation room, or nursing room, ask them what they'd like to have that would best support their equipment and their emotional needs.

You'll want to create guidelines that address your employee needs and promotes the availability of nursing rooms at work. As more new moms return to work after giving birth, you'll likely find that the lactation room becomes a popular place for them to share baby pictures and swap stories. They will also feel supported in their choice to continue breastfeeding after maternity leave which makes the transition period easier to manage.

Needs and Benefits of the Lactation Room Law

In addition to creating a private space for breastfeeding moms to pump milk, employers must also provide reasonable break time. Until the baby has its first birthday, nursing moms may take time to get to the lactation room as well as the time needed for the pumping sessions themselves. Typically that's a 20 minute period every three or four hours during the work day, but it will vary depending on the needs of the mother and child.

While some employers view the lactation room as a work-life benefit to the new working mom that can increase loyalty and productivity, it actually helps the employer as well. Research has shown that corporate lactation programs help new mothers avoid taking time off work due to a sick child. Indeed, 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 in pumping breast milk. Some would simply pump in their offices with the door closed—a practice that continues today. Others claimed an empty break room or even pumped breast milk sitting 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.