In the months that I’ve been back at work as a nursing mom, I’ve seen quite a few designated lactation spaces in different companies’ offices.  While every room included a chair, a table near the chair and a lock on the door, most of them felt like the individuals creating the space had little appreciation for what goes into pumping at work.

Let me paint you a quick picture:

  • In addition to what you regularly bring to and from work, you probably have to pack your pump (and a power charger), a cooler bag and ice pack, multiple sets of bottles and flanges, leakage pads and sanitizing wipes.
  • You have to figure out where to slot in your pumping session to accommodate your work or meeting schedule and somehow try to eat and drink enough to sustain both yourself and your milk supply.
  • Each time you pump (generally at least two to four times during the work day), you have to walk through the office carrying your pumping paraphernalia and laptop (more than 50% of women work while pumping), sanitize your hands, wipe down surfaces, set up the pump and your laptop so your hands are free to type, try to relax, potentially suffer some pain or discomfort, disengage the pump without dripping any milk, re-dress, pack everything up, re-clean surfaces, put your milk in a fridge, and return to your desk.

Sounds easy right? 

The fact is, businesses stand to lose when they don’t support lactation.  In contrast, companies that make a small investment in the right space and attitude can increase diversity, reduce healthcare costs and increase productivity while decreasing attrition and costs. As such, a more thoughtfully appointed lactation room shouldn’t be considered a nice-to-have.   

Here’s a range of actions businesses can take to create an excellent lactation space, from the low-cost/low-effort to the more luxurious. 

Low-Cost/Low-Effort

  • A hook with a hanger. Most folks don’t pump with suit jackets or sweaters on, so it would be nice to have a place to hang them so they don’t get wrinkled.
  • A mirror. Since clothing manipulation is required in order to pump, hanging a mirror would ensure we leave the room looking as professional as we did when we entered.
  • Cleaning wipes and a garbage pail. It is virtually impossible to not drip a little milk as pumping apparatus is removed. The right tools would help us quickly clean up any mess.
  • Hand sanitizer. You really want germ-free hands before you start handling things relating to your baby’s milk.
  • Hand soap, dish soap, paper towels (if there is already a sink in the room). I’ve been bowled over by the number of rooms I’ve seen with a sink, but without the accoutrements that would typically accompany a sink. Bonus points for adding a bottle brush and drying rack.
  • A mini fridge/freezer. When you’re at the office all day, you need to keep your milk cold. This is most easily accomplished by having cold storage available in the same room as where you pump, both for the milk and the freezer packs for transporting the milk.
  • A fresh coat of paint. Paint can transform a space from workplace blah to warmly supportive. Artwork is also nice.

If You Have a Little More to Spend

  • The right chair. The best chair would have an easy-to-clean surface, a cushioned seat that is not too deep, and a relatively upright or adjustable angle for the back. As a starting point, I recommend looking at nursing chairs or even nice cushioned dining room chairs instead of office reception area chairs.
  • The right table. The table should also be adjustable so we can have our computers in front of us at an appropriate height so we can work while we pump. The table should be large enough to fit a laptop, a pump and a baby photo.
  • A second seating option. Consider having a desk and chair in the room for those who’d rather sit at a desk while work pumping.
  • Cubbies/lockers. It’s much easier to store your pumping paraphernalia in the room vs. carrying it back and forth.
  • A hospital-grade pump. In addition to being a convenience, this would also help women pump more quickly than they could with the typical travel model of pump. It may not be compatible with all brands of pumping attachments, but it would likely work for a large percentage.
  • A microwave. If the room also has a sink, this would enable us to steam-clean our pump attachments and bottles.
  • Adjustable lighting. An adjustable stand light near the chair would create a homey space.

A Top-End Model

  • A sink. Being able to wash your hands and your pumping attachments make for a much more sterile production (and don’t forget the accoutrements mentioned above).
  • An outlet close to the chair. Whether for computers, cell phones or pumps, a nearby power source helps.
  • Adjustable temperature controls. A room-specific thermostat and fan would help adjust the temperature to the most comfortable level.
  • Living room lighting. Replace the harsh florescent lighting with adjustable ambient lighting.

The Finishing Touches

  • Drinks (especially water). Staying hydrated is really important for milk supply – something that’s easy to forget about during a busy work day. Having drinking water, juice and tea in a space where we are most conscious of the need is a lovely thought.
  • Snacks. Nursing moms also need to consume more calories during the day. For extra points, consider having lactation cookies available as many moms who pump struggle with milk supply.
  • Leakage pads. For when we forget to restock our at-work supplies.
  • Magazines, books, a TV, a music player. Sometimes you have to step away from your work and your phone and let your shoulders descend.

To those that make the effort – way to go!  And to the pumping working woman – good luck sister!

Laurie Ehrlich

Laurie Ehrlich

Laurie Ehrlich is the Head of Legal Operations at Cognizant, managing the legal team financials, technology, process improvement, knowledge management and communication,... Read more

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