Peg

Mothers’ Rooms at Biglaw

There is a post at www.abovethelaw.com today (with a strange picture choice, I might add) about lactation rooms at law firms. The post is in the site's "fringe benefits" series which chronicles the perks of law firms.

Every working mom seems to find at least one thing to not have to compromise on and for many that one things is breastfeeding.

I continued to breastfeed my two kids after returning to work after maternity leave. With the first child, it went pretty well and I pumped for about two months. With the second, pumping lasted all of about two weeks. I didn't have the "luxury" of a special room but I did have an office, with a door, and privacy. However, every time I closed the door to pump, more people seemed to call or knock on the door than all the other 8 hours in the day combined. (I am not really the closed-office-door type so me closing the door to pump attracted attention.) I didn't have any private refrigerator so I had to keep the milk cold with ice packs and a cooler. I also couldn't clean the equipment with as much privacy as I wanted so I had to take multiple pumps to work because of fears of accumulating bacteria between sessions. It wasn't easy and it turned out to not be very private because it became obvious what I was up to.

The "perk" of lactation rooms is interesting to me, not so much because they exist but because they are labeled a "perk" and got the attention of a site like abovethelaw.com. After the post went up, I wonder how many curious men were searching the hallways of their firms for these rooms or asking around to the mothers in the office to find out if the firm had such a perk.

On the note of drawing attention to lactation rooms, I would like to take this opportunity to comment on such rooms.

I think they are a great "perk". Anyplace where many women frequent should make such an accommodation. After all, most of the shopping malls in my area as well as big department stores provide such rooms. With the standard set so low, all employers of large numbers of women should do so also. Especially because such employers frequently offer in-office neck massages, on-site drycleaning pick-up, exercise rooms and snack bars or full-on cafeterias. With all the perks of BigLaw, what's a little room for breast milk-pumping privacy, afterall.

I have two simple recommendations on such rooms. (Not that anybody is asking me for my advice but... firms should be, or at least other women like me who have tried to continue to breast feed after going back to work.)

First, don't label them "lactation rooms". I seriously doubt that places are doing this as I usually see them labeled "mothers' rooms" if labeled at all. I would go with the no label option, myself. This makes the rooms kind of like national secrets. You only get the information on an as needed basis. Breast-feeding women will know what the room is and others have no need to know.

Second, if at all possible, attach the mothers' room to the bathroom. Make the entrance one in the same. Put a comfortable chair or sofa, a door or curtain on the entry, and not-too-bright lighting in the room. Equip the room with a refrigerator and electrical outlets near the seating. Making it connected to the restroom will provide for the most privacy in the sense that other people won't be kept abreast of the person's lactation schedule by just watching the woman enter and exit "the room". However, don't assume that the bathroom is a suitable place for pumping breast milk. The designated room should be clean and clearly separate from the toilet-room.

Finally, a note to breast-feeding moms: rock on -- it's not easy and its just another battle in the ongoing war being waged by women against women. Again, nobody is asking me, but... do what you feel is the best for your kid and let the criticizers be damned!

7 Comments

KHernan881

This topic is at the top of one of my favorite blogs, the Juggle, today.  Here angle is more about discrimination but check it out if you have time at http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2007/09/20/should-nursing-mothers-be-legally-protected/.  I'll likely offer my opinion on the discrimination subject in a future post but anyone feel free to do so before me!

Chicana

I first would like to note that I do not have children and have never experienced breast feeding, but from the comments and insight from the blog, I cannot help but be discouraged about people views on breastfeeding.  One blogger wrote that something to the effect of "it was your choice to have a baby so deal with it."  Another wrote that the mother should just put off the exam.  If men were told that if they had a child they had to put off their career path for another year because well, it is just too bad… it was your choice to have a baby, then these sorts of restrictions would not even be an issue.  It is for the benefit of all society that women have children and they breast feed their children if they choose. What frustrated me about this is that having to breast feed or pump for an extra twenty minutes is equated with the ADHD extra time given on the exam.  Breast feeding is not a diagnosed disorder.  If the point of denying her the time was becuase she would receive a "material" advantage on the exam, then I could understand, but if it does not, then allow her twenty minutes to breast feed.  In the blog, somebody mentioned that she was offered a room where she could take the exam and pump.  How many people would like to pump while taking a life changing exam?  On the other hand, another poster pointed out that she could have pumped and frozen the milk, but doesn't she still have to pump about every two hours anyway?  I guess I could use more insight as to what breastfeeding actually entails and what is the best and most reasonable solution.
I just keep thinking about Miranda on Grey's Anatomy pumping breast milk at work in the surgery department.  Is that so unrealistic? If no, then why can she not take twenty more minutes to pump as long as there is no material advantage? 
As a future lawyer and future mother, I know I will be looking for an appropriate environment for breast feeding or pumping at work.  I think getting mothers back to work with a more seamless transition should be a goal for all law firms.  I also hear law firms talking about wanting to increase retention of women and increase partnership.  This is a tangible way law firms can work with women to keep them on partnership track.  I am thinking about a lot of these issues for the first time, but they are important.  Thanks for the insight Karen.  I would love to hear your take on the discrimination issue.
Amanda Aguirre Allen
 

TND

I am very happy to see that more law firms are providing lactation rooms. I breastfed my son for 10 months and pumping was really hard, and made harder at work by trying to find a private place to pump. A private, established place makes everything easier and also I think, makes it more acceptable. This way, no breastfeeding mom has to go approach HR and get "special accomodations" made for her, which can be daunting, especially in corporate settings.
I also wanted to add to the poster that mentioned Grey's Anatomy, my husband had many breastfeeding moms in his residency program in Emergency Medicine and they were all accomodated. Part of that, I think, was that the female attending physicians also mainly breastfed and therefore they had paved the way for the residents to do the same. It was a really supportive environment and I was very impressed. I hope whatever law firm I end up working for after law school is the same way.

veronica

Peg, I used to close my door and put a sign on it saying "beware of the leopard". Or you could be more explicit - "If the door is closed it's for a reason. It will reopen shortly".
I breastfed for 14 months but had I spent more than 3 of those in a law firm I could not have done that. Pumping just is not as effective as breastfeeding directly and my supply dropped every week and picked up a bit again on the weekends.
 I disagree with your suggestion for a bathroom-connected room though. Imagine, the room gets cleaned by the same cleaners straight after they've done the toilets! And if the entrance is the same for you it's the same for them so they won't treat it as a different "cleaner" space. I think that's a recipe for that outpost of sexism, the "go feed the kid in the stalls" argument.
My firm had a lactation room (unlabelled but pretty clearly separate on a separate floor to all the lawyers). I never used it. I preferred my office. Otherwise I'd have to traipse down carrying a big black Ameda bag, and then wrap everything up and bring it back to my office, then extract the milk containers and shuffle off to the fridge to put them away while hoping I didn't meet Mr Senior Partner. I can't imagine holding a conversation with him while holding 2 bottes of warm breastmilk!
I actually think your own office is the best place. But you do need either signage or a great secretary to keep people from disturbing you. I found turning my light off worked well too. If they can't see light under the door they think you're out.
But Beware of the Leopard worked pretty well. A few people asked me what it meant when I saw them later. I said it meant they didn't really want to open the door just then. They took the hint. It is in fact a quote from Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy but I didn't go into that.

Peg

So, the thing is that the same people that clean the bathrooms, also clean your office.  I pumped in many a "lounge" that was connected to bathrooms all over my town and region—in shopping malls, churches, etc.  I definately do not think you should pump on the bathroom floor, etc.
My personal experience with using my office was not ideal.  However, as I think I stated, I am an open-door type girl so closing the door caught peoples' attention.  Not to mention that I think those electronic pumps make a decent amount of noise.  To me, turning the light off would be even worse because then people would think that I also gone during the day, not a good impression to give if you are back to work from maternity leave and trying to impress people with your dedication post-baby.

veronica

Peg I still think it's different when you're not connected to the bathroom. I don't know what it's like where you work but where I've worked (and this counts for several places) the cleaners were  actually different people for the bathrooms v the office space. They also had different equipment and trolleys of stuff. So I don't really agree on that point, I still think as far as a nursing mother can get from pumping near a bathroom is a good idea.
Funny, there probably isn't much difference between the mothers lounge and the bathrooms at BRU, but there was between the offices and the bathrooms in every law firm I know of.
 Again in my experience if the work's done the work's done. Lights off or not. Door open or not. I don't think either of those ever affected my image. If you're not even in the office but off in the bathroom pumping you're not there either. But it does highlight my other point which is that a good secretary is very very helpful. Mine used to simply decline anyone who wanted to enter when I was pumping. Depending on who it was she would be more or less explicit. She was great. I realize not everyone will have their secretary right at their door but if you do and you have a good rapport they can be a great help.
It also saves time to pump in the office. Well it does if like my workplace the lactation room was on another floor.

KHernan881

<font color=”#000000”>There is more about this today on The Juggle which talks about the economics of breastfeeding with some interesting statistics.  Check it out.</font>
 
 

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