Space for Nursing Moms

By Paul Seibert, CMC

5 minutes

CUs and their employees both win with thoughtful handling of lactation needs

work-life balance on woman's handsRecently, National Public Radio in Seattle conducted an informal survey asking listeners who are or have been new moms to send them photos to post on its website showing where the moms have expressed breast milk at the office. The responses ranged from near luxury surroundings at the Gates Foundation to depressing photos of a wooden chair in a storage room and the back seat of a car. One woman showed the fabric panels she placed around her desk for “privacy.”

It’s not always easy for a company to provide a dedicated mother’s room. In the credit union world, we have two main environments: operations centers (offices) and branches. Typically operations centers have sufficient space for a dedicated mother’s room; often branches do not. As branch size is being cut by 50 percent to 80 percent, adding a mother’s room can be tricky. And retrofitting older branches isn’t always easy either.

However, laws have set up some requirements in this arena that CUs need to be aware of. Plus, making it easy to be a working mom can make great business sense. Some great people might come back to the office sooner after maternity leave, and be more productive while they are there. Additionally, providing a lactation room is an expression of caring for staff and the importance of families. It could be a factor in a desirable candidate’s decision to join your organization.

OK, I am a guy writing about a women’s issue; however, providing a reasonable space to support a nursing mom impresses me as the right thing to do.

The Law on Lactation

On the legal side of this issue, Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act under the Fair Labor Standards Act took effect March 23, 2010, and mandates accommodation for nursing mothers. This federal law requires employers to provide break time and a place for hourly paid workers to express breast milk at work. The law states that employers must provide a “reasonable” amount of time and that they must provide a private space other than a bathroom. They are required to provide this until the employee's baby is a year old.

In an article titled “Support of Breastfeeding in the Workplace,” the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention presents rationale for providing accommodations, the impact of policies on women, and examples of state policies and guidelines.

Some states have been well ahead of the federal government. In 1995, Texas set forth legislation to “standardize basic components of workplace support for breastfeeding.” By complying, employers receive the Mother-Friendly Workplace designation from the Texas Department of Health. Following are the primary components of the legislation:

  • flexible work schedules to provide time for milk expression;
  • access to a private location for milk expression;
  • access to a nearby clean and safe water source and sink for washing hands and rinsing out any breast-pump equipment; and
  • access to hygienic storage options for the mother to store her breast milk.

The regulations state that you cannot ask moms to use a bathroom, as it is unsanitary, but you can use the lunch room. The door must be lockable from the inside and a defined time provided. Some credit unions use the cash room if sufficient space is available for a comfortable chair, but this can be awkward. If the credit union is deploying a new branch business model and prototype that reduces staffing and size, a lactation room can be provided from the vacant space. In new, smaller spaces this can be very difficult, particularly at 800 to 1,200 square feet.

One of the issues in providing an appropriate area is the ability to create a relaxing environment. Doctors tell us that breast pumping is most successful when the mom is relaxed. This cannot occur if people are constantly knocking on the door asking, “How much longer?” Providing this environment should be relatively easy in a branch as the number of employees is small and they typically enjoy the event of a new child and the mom’s return to their team.

What Some CUs Are Doing

In preparation for writing this article, I spoke with credit union and bank facility managers about how they are developing lactation policies. Each varied slightly, but included the same basic components:

  • Establish a lactation policy for the entire organization in line with federal and state regulations.
  • Select an in-house advocate.
  • Assess all facilities to determine reasonable accommodation.
  • Where reasonably possible, add a lactation room.
  • When it is not possible to add a lactation room or use an appropriate existing space, accommodate employees in other ways. These may include:
    • redeployment to a location that offers a lactation room;
    • paid time off to go home or travel to another facility;
    • arrangement with a neighboring business that is willing to share its lactation facility; and
    • arrangement with landlord (such as in a shopping center) to provide lactation rooms.

I talked with a number of moms who needed to use lactation rooms at work. Their suggestions, along with legislated requirements, paint a clear picture for lactation room design:

  • comfortable chair that helps the mother sit up and slightly forward; 
  • small, movable table for the pump machine;
  • a small refrigerator for storing expressed milk that is separate from the lunch room and eliminates any need to carry breast milk across the office, which can be embarrassing (It is an unfortunate office joke that breast milk has been mistaken for coffee cream. But this really happens. If the breast milk needs to be kept in the office refrigerator it should be in a well-marked separate container with a lid.);
  • storage cabinet for pump machines;
  • if at all possible, a sink for washing up;
  • lock on the door that the mom operates from inside;
  • incandescent lighting on a dimmer rather than harsher florescent lighting;
  • muted and soothing wall colors with no harsh accents; and
  • sound insulation.

Using the staff lounge or other high use locations requires coordination with staff. You do not want to rush the mother, but need to consider how to share the space with other staff as well. As an option, the mother could use a double breast pump to decrease the time spent pumping.

In all, setting up a good space for new moms to express milk has the potential to be a real win-win for credit unions and their employees.

Paul Seibert, CMC, is VP/financial design at CUES Supplier member EHS Design, Seattle.


CUES Learning Portal