What Is a Lactation Room?
BY KATHERINE LEWIS Updated on August 20, 2020
A lactation room is a private space where an employee who is a nursing mother can express breastmilk for her baby.
Learn more about the laws surrounding lactation rooms, how they support working mothers and businesses, and what a lactation room should contain.
What Is a Lactation Room?
A lactation room is a place where employees who are breastfeeding can pump breast milk in private.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing moms breastfeed for a year if possible. However, for many working mothers, maternity leave ends before their babies are weaned, making it difficult to keep up milk production. Lactation rooms provide a secure place for these employees to pump milk while at work.
Alternate name: Lactation lounge, pumping room, mother's room
How Lactation Rooms Work
The Fair Labor Standards Act says that employers must provide a private space that isn't a bathroom for a new mother to use for pumping breast milk. The space should also be free from intrusion by other employees or the general public.
Warning: Bathrooms are unacceptable as lactation rooms because they are not a sanitary location for preparing or handling food. The law expressly forbids an employer from designating a bathroom as a lactation room.
Additionally, employers must give breastfeeding mothers reasonable breaks from their workday in order to travel to the lactation room and take the time needed to pump milk. Typically, a new mom returning to work with an infant at home needs to express breast milk two or three times in every eight-hour period of the day. The amount of time necessary and the frequency of pumping will vary from mother to mother.
The laws about lactation rooms and pumping breaks apply to employers with more than 50 employees and prohibits retaliation against employees who file complaints related to these concerns. The law also states that if state laws or union agreements provide greater protection to the working mother, they must be followed, but if federal law provides the greater protection, then that is the requirement.
Requirements for a Lactation Room
A lactation room should contain a comfortable chair for the nursing mother to sit in and a flat surface to place a breast pump upon. It must be private, meaning that others cannot see in. This can be accomplished with a locking door and covered windows. A sign indicating the room is in use would be another helpful touch.
If a dedicated room cannot be set aside, the same function can be achieved with a tall privacy screen or other private but temporary space.
While not required by law, employers might also consider providing:
One or more electrical outlets
A breast pump
A small refrigerator for storing breast milk
A microwave for sanitizing pump parts
Decorations that create a relaxed environment
Tip: If there is a large number of nursing mothers, consider making a schedule for the use of the room, so that each employee has enough time and privacy for her mission.
Benefits of a Lactation Room
Having a secure, private location helps nursing mothers relax enough for a pumping session and helps them complete the session faster, too. It gives them a place to carry out this biologically important task while on the job and space to accommodate the supplies necessary.
Furthermore, supporting nursing mothers affects the health of both the employee and her baby. Nursing moms experience lower rates of postpartum depression and reduced risk of cancer. Breastfed babies experience lower risk of infection in the short term and lower risk of diabetes, obesity, and asthma in the long-term.
Not only is breastfeeding a matter of health, but supporting lactating mothers is shown to reduce employee turnover, lower rates of absenteeism, boost morale, and save on health care costs—all of which have positive effects on the bottom line.