What Nursing Parents Need from your Workplace Lactation Room

 

How to collect the real requirements and how diversity can help

The designated lactation room in our client’s office was small and empty, without furniture nor decorations. But it existed, which was a crucial step forward for future parents planning to return to work after adding a new member to their family. 

Prior to the Affordable Care Act in 2010, not many companies prioritized a space for parents to pump and store breastmilk at the workplace. The new law required employers with over 50 employees to provide a pumping space that was not located in or through a bathroom, locker room, or similar facility, and many smaller companies followed suit. 

We recently guided one of our clients through the process of designing an inclusive lactation room that supports the needs of both current and future employees. Here’s a peek at the features and furnishings they used to design a space that feels safe, comfortable, and functional.

Discover what nursing parents need

My client, a small financial institution, was building out their new office. They didn’t currently have any employees that required a lactation room, but as they designed their new workspace, they wanted to comfortably accommodate employees who would need a clean, private space to pump. 

In my work building out tenant improvements, it’s not uncommon for the lactation room, if it’s considered at all, to be a repurposed utility closet or spare nook under a staircase. In this case, the client wanted to be proactive and inclusive and put a lactation room in the first draft of their new office layout. The next step involved finding great furniture and fixtures that would help create a homey, welcoming environment. 

My job, furniture procurement, can be very straightforward for certain room types. Conference rooms and private office requirements are well-established, and they existed in the client’s current office space. However, the lactation room was different, and my team had no template to follow. 

Design a welcoming lactation space

The client offered a few suggestions for furnishings they would need to get started: a rocking chair, a small fridge, and low lighting. But as I began searching my sources for options to present to the client, something occurred to me. The requirement gathering for that room had consisted of three men, myself included, all of us speculating about what a nursing parent might need. 

I could understand the need for a small fridge for storing breastmilk and comfortable seating. However, the idea that we specifically needed a rocking chair struck me as odd. Were we picturing small children being rocked to sleep in this room? 

As a result, I realized that we didn’t understand the nuances of this room’s usage. Since the client had never had a lactation room and didn’t have any employees who would currently make use of one, they might also be feeling a little lost.

I reached out to my client, who acknowledged a lack of research behind these requirements and thanked me for volunteering to do more research. After consulting with friends, colleagues and family who had made use of a lactation room before, and with a bit of internet research, I came up with a list of requirements.

How to furnish a lactation room

Since nursing parents often spend 15-20 minutes per session pumping, plus time to set up and break down supplies, lactating employees could expect to potentially spend hours every day in this room. After researching and discussing with colleagues, I decided the following items would help us create a comfortable space that would meet all of a nursing parent’s requirements.

A comfortable, ergonomic chair. As I suspected, rocking wasn’t as important of a feature as we initially thought. Many parents pointed out that a chair that was easily cleanable and had an adjustable height and back support would be a valuable addition.

A small refrigerator. Parents need to be able to immediately store breast milk before transporting it home at the end of each day.

A small table. The table could be used for placing a breast pump, and needed to have easily accessed electrical power.

Privacy lock specified for our finance client for their office’s lactation room.

A privacy lock. Users needed a way to indicate when the room was occupied so they could maintain privacy.

Easy access to cleanup supplies. Parents spoke about the need to have a sink nearby for washing pump parts, antibacterial wipes for sanitizing surfaces, and a waste bin.

A mirror. After pumping, many parents appreciated being able to adjust their clothing before returning to the office.

Sound dampening. Since breast pumps aren’t completely silent, acoustic ceiling tiles and other sound dampening measures were incorporated to increase privacy.

Other features we considered including were individual thermostat control as well as artwork and additional lighting. Additionally, if the office has no employees who are currently using the room, it could potentially double as an additional wellness space for private meditation or stretching.

Key takeaways for facility managers

Lactation rooms are more than just retention aids for the parents in your workforce. They’re spaces that show your organization cares about helping working parents feel included and comfortable in the office after bringing home a new family member.

For me, this project invoked a few key lessons that are applicable for lactation rooms and beyond.

First, gathering project requirements is more than simply collecting a list from your stakeholders. Your stakeholders may not have a full understanding of what they need, and they may not be able to fully understand the experience of a given room’s users. Gently question them to discover assumptions and reach a consensus about what the room really needs.

Next, ensure that you have a full representation of future stakeholders (owners, and in this case, parents, parents-to-be, Facility Manager, PM, architect/designer, general contractor, and acoustical company) when gathering requirements, or you may miss critical input.

Finally, diversity in your stakeholders is fundamental to ensuring requirements are complete and aligned with project objectives. Seek diverse opinions and you’ll be more confident in your final design.

Interested in designing a lactation room at your current office, or planning to include one in your new building? Reach out and schedule a time to chat with our team.