When I returned to work after my first maternity leave a couple of years ago, the room that was provided to me for breast pumping wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t ideal. It had been used previously as an office for a VIP, and he hadn’t completely moved his old things out of it. There were dusty boxes here and there, a sagging plant, and a huge, boxy computer monitor that must have been state-of-the-art … in 1984.
There was one fun perk, however: Mr. VIP had left his business cards lying about, which I took the liberty of pilfering. While my electric pump did its whirring thing, I’d write little “love notes” on the backs of the cards, with messages such as “nice pants,” and surreptitiously leave them on the desks of my favorite co-workers.
As fun as that little prank was, I would have traded a mountain of VIP business cards for access to the kind of lactation rooms I understand exist at the House and Senate office buildings in the nation’s capital. Roll Call reports that the buildings’ 24-hour “lactation lounges” — 10 in all — are made up of private rooms equipped with hospital grade pumps, armchairs, TVs, sinks, and more.
The lounges were created in 2007 under the leadership of then-House speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi and were kept in place by her Republican successor, John Boehner.
Roll Call also reports that the lounges have encouraged camaraderie among moms who work at or near the buildings.
“It’s the new backroom,’” one Congressional staffer told the newspaper. “There is a line of women who come at the same times each day and you get to know one another. It’s one of the best-kept secrets on Capitol Hill.”
It’s enough to make me want to go into politics … almost. (Don’t have a heart attack, Mom!)
I ended up tapering off breastfeeding with my first son at about six months because I found it so challenging to keep my supply up while pumping at work. I was fortunate, at the time, to work in New York, where state law required companies — including the one I worked for then — to provide pumping rooms for moms long before federal law caught up.
But my accommodations, to be sure, were far inferior to those on Capitol Hill.
For one thing, I lugged around my own, smaller breast pump instead of having access to hospital-grade ones, which are often praised as the best and most effective types of breast pumps. (Moms at the House and Senate office buildings are still responsible for providing their own tubing and other pump accessories.)
I also would have loved to recline in an armchair in front of a TV instead of hunching over in an old desk chair with my pump resting near an ancient keyboard. And a sink? My kingdom for a sink! Using special wipes was OK, but I still would have preferred to rinse my pump accessories under actual running water after each use.
Last but not least, there’s the social aspect: Breastfeeding can be both physically and emotionally draining. I would have loved a place that might have nurtured supportive friendships with a fellow, on-the-job pumping buddy or two.
If I’d had all that, I wonder, would I have managed to keep my supply up at least a little bit longer?
I understand that I may sound spoiled, especially since there are women who have found themselves pumping in public bathrooms, their cars, and who knows where else. I say that if having a comfortable, welcoming place to express milk to nourish your child is considered spoiled, then all breastfeeding moms should be so spoiled. It’s not really about us, after all — it’s about providing the best possible nutrition for our babies.
Federal law, under the Affordable Care Act, now requires private lactation spaces (that aren’t bathrooms) at workplaces nationwide. I’d be excited to see employers eschew minimalism here and instead emulate the lactation lounge set-ups on Capitol Hill, though I doubt many will go that far.
A memo to employers who go the bare bones route with their lactation rooms: at least have the courtesy to leave a few VIP business cards lying around for the pranksters among us …
Photo via Pumpman2/Creative Commons.