For new moms returning to work, there may be no greater intersection between their personal lives and their professional identities than pumping breast milk. Breastfeeding women need both time and a clean private space to plug in a breast pump. In addition, they need to pump multiple times a day on a regular schedule to maintain their milk supply and avoid painful engorgement. But expressing milk at work can make for uncomfortable situations when lactation rooms aren’t specifically designed around the physical and physiological needs of breast pumping. If your goal is to provide thoughtful user-centered lactation spaces for working mothers, you’ll want to avoid these five common mistakes.
Fail #1: The lactation room is designed like a nursery. Except women aren’t babies.
Breastfeeding women who pump at work may be making food for their baby, but too often they’re given spaces that look more like nurseries than spaces for multitasking moms. Surrounding pumping moms with Disney characters or baby accessories may seem appropriate, but pumping moms are pumping at work and many will choose to continue working while expressing milk. Rather than infantilizing women, lactation spaces should reflect the reality of 21st-century working mothers by ensuring a dignified space that recognizes and respects their professional identities.
Fail #2: The lactation room is far, far away.
Breastfeeding mothers need to pump milk to maintain their milk supply when they’re away from their babies and they need to pump on a predictable schedule. While the exact time it takes to pump may vary from mother to mother, the more time moms have to spend in transit (not to mention the time it takes to set up the pump, let-down, and then clean up) the more time they lose in their day. Limited lactation spaces can lead to loss of time and productivity for both employees and employers. The best lactation spaces are designed to be easily accessible by moms when they need them and located in close proximity to where they work.
Fail #3: There’s only one lactation room and room for only one breastfeeding employee.
If an organization employees women, chances are high that they will need more than one lactation accommodation. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends at least six milk expression stations for every 1000 female employees. However, the actual number may differ depending on the number of breastfeeding women employed and the space capacity of existing facility space. But keep in mind the perennial problem when it comes to women’s bathrooms: THERE ARE NEVER ENOUGH. Don’t let the lactation room replicate this problem.
Fail #4: The lactation room looks like a prison cell. Or a dairy farm.
Breast pumping is a physiological response so well-designed lactation spaces provide a comfortable, and comforting, space for moms to plug in, relax, and let-down. Breast pumping mothers are providing food for their babies, so the space also needs to be sanitary and easy to clean. But that doesn’t mean a lactation space should be devoid of charm or lack comforting amenities. In fact, the best lactation spaces are designed to be calm and private havens that provide an optimal experience for pumping.
Fail #5: The lactation room is temporary.
Workplace lactation spaces are often an afterthought rather than the result of an intentional design decision. This means that breastfeeding women are often stuck pumping in temporary spaces like empty storage closets or borrowed offices. Or even worse, bathrooms. Forward thinking companies recognize that designing appropriate lactation spaces for breastfeeding working mothers is now a crucial amenity for a truly inclusive workplace.