What Nursing Parents Need from your Workplace Lactation Room

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.

Workplace wellness office design strategies — part II

Workplace Wellness Office
Design Strategies
— part II


workplace and workspace wellness rooms and spaces
Photo: Kelly Robinson + Wundr Studio

Why physical activity and exposure to nature is key for employee happiness

As you probably already know from part one of our series on designing for employee health, office design can have a significant impact on your employee’s wellbeing and productivity. Whether you’re moving into a new office or constructing your first corporate campus, your entire team should be thinking about how your employees will inhabit every space— and, in turn, the impact that these spaces will have on their mental and physical health.

In collaboration with our partner Two Furnish, we came up with four approaches we’ve deployed to help our clients design locations that help employees stay fit while they’re at work.

Think Critically About Services Placement

staircase in the midddle of office floorplanFor example, one of our tech clients in Los Angeles placed a staircase in the middle of the floorplan instead of on the perimeter. When staircases are accessible and centrally located, employees are more likely to take the stairs instead of an elevator.

As you work with an architect to design the floor plan of your new office, pause to think about how employees will travel through the space. How can you organize services (such as bathrooms, kitchens, and elevators) in a way that will encourage employees to move?

Take Advantage Of The Outdoors

Walking meetings are all the rage today— they help employees gain more energy and reap all the benefits of increased physical activity, like lower healthcare costs and a reduced number of sick days.

incorporating nature in workplace design
Photo: Microsoft

Creating outdoor spaces like gardens, a track, or hiking trails will give your employees a big push to take their meetings outdoors when the weather permits. Offering umbrellas that anyone can take when they head out for a walk is another way to encourage them to think of the outdoors as another workspace.

Microsoft’s campus in Seattle, which is pedestrian friendly includes walking paths just for recreation, does an excellent job of creating space for outdoor work and leisure. Nearby forest trails provide additional options for employees wanting to get away from their desks and enjoy some fresh air.

In 2017, the technology company created a treehouse outfitted with power outlets and wifi for use as a meeting space or outdoor workstation. Their intention was to foster a greater connection between their employees and the outdoors, which has been shown to boost creativity and wellbeing.

If building your own outdoor paradise isn’t in the budget, consider looking for an office adjacent to a public park, beach, or recreation site. If you’re seeking space in the financial district where outdoor space may be limited, consider a building with a public open space such as a rooftop garden.

Incorporate Ergonomic Furniture

70% of all full-time workers in the U.S. hate sitting, but they’re often stuck glued to their task chairs day in and day out. Long periods at a desk combined with poor posture can also lead to back pain, which can contribute to increased rates of absenteeism.

sit to stand desks
Photo: Two Furnish + Matthew Millman Photography

Offer your staff a variety of ways they can work outside of the standard office chair. This could be sit-to-stand desks, modular furniture, foam mats to make standing more comfortable, configurable tables with casters, or yoga balls. By giving employees the gift of choice, they’ll be encouraged to move into whatever position is most comfortable for them throughout the day.

“Nearly 85% of the offices we’re actively engaged on consider height adjustable resident desks,” said Brian Buhl, Partner at Two Furnish. “It goes beyond being fad; it’s a tool amongst the extensive list of amenities and incentives that companies are advocating for. These desks in addition to a diverse mix of ancillary vignettes inspire a degree of user-based autonomy leaving it up employees to determine which posture and environment is seemingly most productive to work in on-demand.”

Create Rooms / Spaces Dedicated to Wellness

Finally, give employees space they can use to move their body and relax their mind. The workout they get from a game of ping pong, a brief yoga session, or a workout in an on-site gym can provide quick stress relief.

health, physical, relieve stress workspaces
Photos: Two Furnish + Matthew Millman Photography

And don’t be afraid to think outside the box: not all fitness is physical. Two Furnish worked with Kelly Robinson who co-designed medication pods with Headspace, creating a place where employees could step away for a moment of calm as our main featured photo. The “Lookout” also serves as a communal space adjacent to a large café and auditorium integrating a multipurpose room for a few minutes of repose.

Photo: Kelly Robinson + Wundr Studio

These are just a few of the many ways you can use design to help your employees feel better both during their time at the office and when they get home at the end of the day. When you’re ready to think about how your office space contributes to employee health, we’re here to help. Reach out to us for a free consultation.


Special thanks to our contributor: Brian Buhl, Partner at Two Furnish

JOANY makes use of potted plants in a creative huddle space with natural light.

Workplace wellness office design strategies - part I

Workplace Wellness
Office Design Strategies - part I

JOANY makes use of potted plants in a creative huddle space with natural light.
Two Furnish's client, JOANY, makes use of potted plants in a creative spherical garden space. Designer: Kelly Robinson and Photographer: Wundr Studio


Keep your employees healthy and productive with these four approaches

As the cost of healthcare expenses rises and employers grow more concerned with absenteeism, designing for workplace wellness has become a necessity for companies. Providing employees with opportunities to exercise, such as walking paths and standing desks, have become standard client requests.

But helping employees with their mental health is a trickier proposition. We know 40% of U.S. workers experience office stress, but the causes are as diverse as the people experiencing it.

Typically, improving workplace mental health has been the task of HR departments and employee assistance programs. But an increasing number of companies, including Uber and Amazon, are turning to design to provide employees with stress relief. Here are 4 approaches you can use on your next project to create spaces that foster productivity and relaxation.

Incorporate Natural Light

Sunlight was once viewed as the enemy of indoor spaces, as it penetrates through glass, heating up rooms and disrupting climate-controlled environments. But a lack of exposure to natural light at work has been shown to contribute to poor sleep and depressive symptoms — something no employer wants their workforce to experience.

Client: JOANY, Designer: Kelly Robinson, Photographer: Terrence Williams

Having natural light plus a keen awareness of materials which reflect and absorb is essential. “Having exposure to natural elements impacts your staff. Being inside all day can be uninspiring or impact your mental health – if it’s inevitable, which for many of us it is, employers have the option to adopt philosophies such as biophilic design or WELL that are proven to positively impact productivity,” said Brian Buhl, partner at San Francisco-based furniture dealer Two Furnish.

Uber Technologies’ new office in Mission Bay sought to foster connections between employees and the great outdoors. By placing all services such as elevators and restrooms at the building’s core, every employee can have a workstation within 20--30 feet of a window.

If you can’t give every employee a bit of natural light at their desk, consider placing gathering spaces around the building’s shell. They can be used for meetings, one-on-ones, or space for employees to have a moment of respite while enjoying a little bit of light and a novel view.

Furthermore, simply spending time outside has been shown to improve happiness and even give our memory a boost. Think outside the office when you design meeting rooms and gathering places. If you make spaces for outdoor interactions available, people will use them — sometimes rain or shine.


Bring the Outside In With Biophilic Design

Spherical garden designed by Kelly Robinson for TwoFurnish's client, JOANY

What’s the next best thing to providing space for employees to experience the great outdoors firsthand? Bringing the outside in using features like living walls in common spaces.

The biophilic design movement, which promotes exposure to natural environments through the use of indoor plants and patterns found in nature, is taking off in the tech community. One point/element of the movement is the fact that homo sapiens have spent most of their history outdoors, not in sealed office buildings. Adherents assert that incorporating these elements into workspaces will improve productivity and employee well being.

One example of this approach is Amazon’s new greenhouse located in downtown Seattle. With more than 400 species of plant life, The Spheres provide employees with a variety of unique spaces to work or unwind, including many spots that mimic natural environments like bird nests.

Most companies aren’t able to build their own private rainforest, but there are small ways to bring nature to your client’s employees. A living wall or adding space for potted plants can help decrease stress and reduce the amount of sick days.


Add Colors and Artwork

The Bridge Group LLC, San Francisco, commercial project construction management, real estate services, facilities consulting, owner’s representativeIf real plants aren’t an option, what about adding pops of color and art pieces that reflect the outside world?

Art can have a positive impact on our emotions and our productivity— one study found
employees working in spaces enriched with color, art, plants, or other design elements
were 17% more productive than employees working in bare, undecorated environments.

Our recent project for a tech company in Los Angeles took studies like these into consideration.
We facilitated the creation of a mural and a hanging art piece that spans multiple floors,
which adds visual interest to employee’s days every time they walk past.

Create Private Spaces

The Bridge Group LLC, San Francisco, commercial project construction management, real estate services, facilities consulting, owner’s representative

As many companies shift towards adopting open office layouts, spaces for employees to speak privately or enjoy a respite moment to themselves are becoming more important.

Consider adding phone booths in open office environments to provide privacy for a phone call. San Francisco coworking space, RocketSpace achieved this with The Bridge Group in collaboration with the design team.

Although design isn’t a panacea for depression, there are many different approaches designers can take to help workers reduce office stress. They can be as simple as adding plants to a break area, or building an outdoor patio— the benefits for an employee’s state of mind makes it worthwhile.

What design approaches does your office use to help employees to maintain with workspace wellbeing? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.


Special thanks to our blog contributor: Brian Buhl, Two Furnish