For many moms returning to work, finding a room in which to express milk is a source of anxiety and headache. No. A bathroom just won’t do. It can be hard to talk to your boss about the need to pump at work, but I would strongly urge you to do this for several reasons:
- You will need to express milk to feed your baby while you are apart
- You will need to express milk periodically throughout the day to prevent plugged ducts and engorgement and to maintain your milk supply
- They may be required by law to allow you space and time to pump depending on state and federal laws.
The US Department of Health and Human Services sponsors a program they call The Business Case for Breastfeeding. Within this program, they have information for both employers and employees, so I would encourage you to explore this website thoroughly. They have a PDF Employee’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Working with information on everything from choosing a pump to building a pumping schedule. Pages 7 and 8 talk about how to guide a conversation with your employer to help you receive the support you need. It includes possible objections an employer might raise with suggested responses and a sample letter that you can email to your employer to help start the conversation.
Cindy and I are both lucky enough to work for a corporation that supports breastfeeding, pumping, and work-life balance. We’ve seen the best of the best, and while not every Mothers’ Room needs to have couches and paintings on the wall, there are some elements that make up a good pumping room.
Mothers’ Room Essentials
- A usable table and chair. This seems like a no brainer, but I recall in my early days of pumping at a Mother’s Room at corporate headquarters. In trying to match the decor of the room to the modern style of the building, they had provided us with a trendy side table with a 12 inch by 12 inch surface and a semi-reclined easy chair. It looked lovely, but the table was too small to hold the pump, bottles, and other gear and the chair was so reclined that I found myself perched on the edge with a sore back. Much more practically, our current room, the one Cindy and I share, has a corner desk and an old office chair. Maybe not as stylish and trendy as the other room, but far more useful and comfortable.
- An electrical outlet. Yes, I know. Most pumps come with battery packs, but they go through batteries like you would not believe! And the batteries don’t just stop working. They gradually peter out and the suction of the pump gets less and less. You don’t notice it as the batteries start to die, and this can impact your pumping output. Electrical outlets are a must.
- A lockable door. Need I say more? Breastfeeding in public? No big deal. It’s beautiful, natural, and so forth. Pumping in public? I fully support any woman’s right to do this, but I’ve yet to meet a mom who loves the idea of having a colleague walk into the room while she’s pumping. There’s just something so strange about having your nipples getting sucked and released by a noisy machine. So yes. A lockable door is critical.
- It should be clean. Bathrooms are not clean. I led an initiative to call all of our corporate satellite locations in the US a few years ago and this is how I explained the need to the site managers: “What these moms are doing is making lunch for their kids. Think of a place that you would feel comfortable making a sandwich for your own lunch. If the area is clean enough for you to eat or prepare your own food, then you are probably right in thinking that it would be okay for a Mothers’ Room.”
When you frame the conversation to your employer this way, “I only need 4 things,” and emphasize the simplicity of it all, it may seem more achievable and he or she may feel less resistant to the idea. Mothers’ Rooms don’t need to be fancy. We just need a little space to make milk for our babies.
Mothers’ Room Nice-to-Haves
If your employer is an enthusiastic supporter of your need to express milk, here are some items that, while not necessary, will certainly make things more comfortable.
- Proximity to a sink. While it is certainly possible to either bring extra parts or wipe down your parts with Medela Quick Clean Wipes (the only thing I know of that is designed for this purpose and safe to use), it’s nice to be able to wash your pump parts with soap and hot water between uses.
- A mini-fridge. This is very much a bonus! The little coolers that come with your pump do a great job keeping your milk cold. I used mine the entire 20 months I pumped for my older daughter. You can also use a break room fridge. I occasionally took great delight in labeling things as “CONTAINS BREASTMILK!” That’s a way to guarantee that your lunch won’t get stolen! But the mini-fridge sure is convenient. Definitely not necessary, but very handy to have.
- A telephone. Funny story: One of the moms in our office *cough*cough*Cindy*cough* got locked into the room one time! Thank goodness there was a phone! She was able to call the security desk and after a lot of hand-wringing and wondering what to do, one of our facilities managers rolled his eyes and said, “I’m not waiting for a locksmith when I can just take care of this now.” And he drilled out the doorknob to set her free. Yeah, it wasn’t actually very funny at all. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to get out in time to pick up her kids from daycare. Thank goodness for that phone! If your room doesn’t have a phone, be sure to bring your cell just in case. It’s also handy for attending conference calls that conflict with pumping times.
- Locking drawers. My pump just lives at the office in a locked drawer inside the room. I don’t have to haul it back and forth between the room and my desk. It just stays there. Technically I am not supposed to do this and I promise not to hold my company responsible if someone steals my 5-year-old used breast pump (if they steal that they must need it really badly). Having a “locker” there in the room is very convenient.
- A whiteboard. We use our whiteboard to communicate with each other and to post announcements about facilities, room scheduling, the corporate lactation program, etc. It’s a nice communication tool.
- A mirror. Taking your shirt on and off can muss your hair. It’s nice to be able to straighten up and fix your makeup before heading back to your desk.
Here’s a quick list of inexpensive bonus items that you can stock your room with that make life more comfortable:
- Paper towels
- Disinfecting wipes
- Milk storage bags
- A company phone list (see the story above about the coworker that got locked in)
- A sharpie pen for labeling things
- Tape for posting notes and notices
- A copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
What is your pumping room like? Do you have any tips on things that you found were either essential or nice-to-have when you pump? Please leave a comment below!