Under the U.S. lactation room law, employers must provide a private space for nursing mothers to express breast milk for their babies. The lactation room design should include a comfortable chair and a flat surface for a breast pump to rest. Most importantly, lactation rooms in the workplace must be private and must protect the breastfeeding mom from being seen by co-workers or the general public while pumping breast milk.
Smaller companies, those with fewer than 50 employees, may obtain an exemption from creating a corporate lactation program by demonstrating it would create an undue hardship. If you are setting up a nursing room at work, you should consider including the following features:
- A breast pump so women don't have to lug around their personal pumps.
- A sink.
- Anti-bacterial wipes.
- A small refrigerator for storing breast milk.
- A microwave for steam-cleaning pump pieces.
- Decorations that encourage mothers to relax and pump more breast milk, whether that's personal photos or art work.
- 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.
Features to Consider When Setting Up a Lactation Room
While you consider what lactation room requirements you'll include in your design, consider enlisting current and former new moms on a task force that will come up with lactation room guidelines. You might also include lactation consultants in your area, facilities managers and staff from both human resources and communications.
You'll want to create a plan that not only addresses employee needs and identifies a space for a lactating room, but promotes and publicizes the availability of nursing rooms at work. The lactation room cannot be a bathroom, because toilet areas aren't a sanitary location to pump breast milk that a baby will consume. 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.
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.
Needs and Benefits 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 helpful work-life benefit to the employee that increases 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 nonprofit Every Mother cites a 77 percent reduction in lost work time 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 close -- a practice that continues today. Others claimed an empty break room or even pumped breast milk sitting at their cubicle, with a large blanket or shawl thrown over their torsos for privacy. We have certainly come a long way from that time!