Design tips for budget- and mom-friendly lactation rooms
By Emily Smith
In the built environment, designs often include spaces for mothers to pump or for parents to feed their children, typically called wellness, lactation, feeding, or mother’s rooms. While it may seem like a small space with a simple design, this singular room can have a significant impact on the well-being of the user and their family, as well as their workplace satisfaction and productivity.
Because mothers must use lactation rooms so frequently (typically needing to express milk every two to three hours) and for a purpose that is so vital to their family’s health, it’s incredibly helpful when the design is done thoughtfully. Understandably, however, it’s the kind of space a design team doesn’t give much consideration until there is a personal connection to it. That’s why it is vital to listen to the users and put ourselves, as designers, in their circumstances, envisioning the way we would use the room.
My own experience as a nursing or pregnant mother for half a decade – over two years of which have included pumping at work full-time – has uniquely influenced my electrical design process and approach to designing a lactation room. I’ve pumped in countless locations including salons, cars, waiting roadside for a tow, on public transit, in data closets, conference rooms, restrooms, and offices, and I’ve seen both poorly- and well-designed spaces for nursing mothers.
Thoughtfully designed lactation rooms can give mothers control of their environment, tailoring it to their needs for comfort and enabling them to regroup and relax. Some mothers prefer to continue working while they pump; providing a phone and a space for a laptop or workstation are key requests in mothers’ group polls and surveys. Many mothers, however, are unable to work while pumping due to stress and let-down issues.
To design a lactation room fit for all mothers, consider these common requests:
- Dimmable downlights. Different than standard office lighting, dimmable lights are used to create a more intimate, cozy, and comfortable environment. Depending on local energy codes, vacancy sensing with an automatic shutoff may be required in the space. But lights turning off suddenly can interrupt the mother and ruin the productivity of her session. To avoid this, there is often an exception to the energy code that allows for only manual dimming rather than automatic shutoff, if the user of the space is endangered by the sudden darkness. Because a nursing mother would not be able to easily end her session and redress in the dark, lactation rooms are a good space to use this exception. However, if an automatic shutoff is still required for your application, it is recommended to set the timeout to 30 minutes, as pump sessions can range from 15 minutes to an hour, depending upon individual needs.
- Temperature controls within the room. Some level of disrobing is required to set up pumping equipment, and many times these spaces feel drafty or cold. The ability to control one’s own environment has a significant impact on user comfort.
- Well-placed power outlets and optional USB charging, which is a nice touch. Mothers often spend time looking at videos or pictures of their babies to help with the needed physiological response. An efficient design would include multiple outlets – at varying heights, coordinated with the furniture and millwork – to provide various pumping arrangements (seated at a workstation, seated in a chair with a side table, etc.).
- Location, location, location. Because mothers must typically use their break time or unpaid time to pump, the day flows more efficiently when the room is close to the mother’s workspace, limiting the additional time impact that pumping has on her day.
These simple requests have a significant impact on the usability of the space, and, when designed with thoughtful care and input from nursing mothers, can create a positive experience.
For more detailed recommendations, the AIA has a helpful Best Practices guide for designing lactation rooms, referenced by Architect magazine in April 2018.
Other well-respected resources about nursing and pumping include:
- Supporting Nursing Moms at Work
- Impact of a Breastfeeding-Friendly Workplace on an Employed Mother’s Intention to Continue Breastfeeding After Returning to Work
- A list of state-by-state breastfeeding coalitions and links to local laws
- La Leche League International
- Federal protections for pumping break times