Designing Workplace Lactation Spaces That Work
Sascha Mayer, CEO and Co-founder of Mamava
Ask any breastfeeding mom where she’s pumped at work and you just might hear a long list of ad-hoc, just-in-time spaces: borrowed offices, storage closets, empty conference rooms, toilet stalls. Repurposed spaces often don’t comply with lactation accommodation laws (the federal FLSA protects many breastfeeding employees, but some states have even more stringent laws) and aren’t designed to meet the needs of breastfeeding employees.
What’s more, workplaces that send workers scrambling to pump milk in makeshift accommodations may inadvertently send the tacit message that breastfeeding mothers are not really welcome at work. The lack of appropriate lactation spaces also creates unnecessary stress for breastfeeding employees, works against an inclusive workplace culture, and disrupts productivity.
A truly accommodating workplace lactation space requires thoughtful consideration of what pumping employees need, is easily accessible to employees when they need it, and takes into account cleanliness and comfort.
Here are five non-negotiables for workplace lactation spaces:
1. Conveniently located near employees
Lactation spaces need to be close to where breastfeeding employees work. The amount of time it takes to pump varies, but every pumping person will need to travel to the space, spot clean the space, set up their pump, express milk, clean pump parts, and store the milk. All of this takes time, so the closer the space is to where employees work, the more efficient they can be.
2. Designed for pumping
When lactation rooms aren’t specifically designed around the physiological and psychological needs of pumping, then pumping at work can be both physically and emotionally uncomfortable. At the very least, lactation spaces need to have a locking door to ensure total privacy and eliminate the fear of being walked in on. (Anxiety, stress, or discomfort can inhibit milk flow and even reduce the immune-boosting properties of the milk.) They also need a comfortable seat, a stable surface for a breast pump, and an outlet.
3. Autonomous access
Workplace lactation spaces with restricted access options—such as calling a number to gain entry or tracking down someone for a key—create barriers precisely at the point of need. No one should have to ask for permission or explain what they need when it comes to their own bodies.
4. Sanitary and easy-to-clean
Breastfeeding employees are making food for their baby, so they need a sanitary space. With a new emphasis on the importance of sanitization to stop the spread of germs, it’s more important than ever that lactation spaces are designed for easy clean-up. Avoid fabrics, carpeting, or other surfaces that are difficult to clean. Provide on-site hand sanitization and sanitization wipes to make it easy for breastfeeding employees to prepare the space for pumping, and to ensure the space is clean when they leave. Spaces should also be well-ventilated for exchange of fresh air and a comfortable temperature.
5. Solely designated as a lactation accommodation
Supporting employee health with wellness rooms and yoga spaces is a positive workspace trend. But adding the lactation space—needed by a subset of employees on a predictable schedule—to multi-use rooms that are open to everyone is a disservice to breastfeeding employees. Pumping milk requires a set schedule to maintain milk supply. Time spent waiting or working around coworker timetables and routines can be more than just inconvenient—it can actually impede milk production and leave a breastfeeding employee engorged, uncomfortable, or even ill. Expressing milk is a food-making activity and requires a dedicated space available when employees need it.