By Peg Johnston • September 14, 2007•Firms and the Private Sector
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!