AnnaMarie Houlis
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Evermore companies are beginning to realize just how much a private space for a woman to pump after giving birth can help retain female workers — and, because breastfed babies get sick less, lactation rooms can also mean fewer missed days of work for parents.

The Affordable Care Act actually requires that most employers provide a private space for new mothers to pump milk beyond a bathroom stall, but in the years since the law came into effect, not all companies are totally abiding. Some are designating closets, shower stalls and single-stall bathrooms as "lactation rooms," if anything at all. And even those companies that are indeed designing lactation rooms need more guidance on what exactly that should entail.

Many of the female designers at architecture firm Perkins+Will have had to educate their clients on every aspect of the pumping experience. But, now, as part of Co.Design's Provocation series, three employees (and moms) at the architecture firm Perkins+Will — interior project designer Alyssa Carata, research knowledge manager Christine Dansereau, and senior interior project designer Lara Leskaj — were given the chance to design the lactation room of their dreams.

"I think a lot of the time the people we’re speaking to have never needed a room," Carata said, referencing higher-level executives who often dictate what amenities an office has. "They might understand that having the room is a retention aid — it helps retain a female workforce — but they may not know the nuances of what goes into the room and why it’s important."

So what should go into the room? Their perfect place to pump includes two private rooms with a small anteroom that has a sink and microwave for cleaning or sterilizing pump parts, a fridge to keep the milk as well as snacks and water, and seating (actually next to an outlet to plug in a pump) for the times when moms need to wait for a room to vacate. The rooms also have hooks to hang their shirts, full-length mirrors and adjustable furniture that could be laid into lounging positions, which some mothers need to pump, or kept upright at a working-position for those who want to answer emails while pumping.

The idea would essentially provide a middle ground between private rooms, which don’t allow for any sense of community, and lactation rooms, which are meant for multiple women to use at once. Many women (including all three designers) find the latter uncomfortable.

"You might be fine with a peer or friend or stranger, but pumping next to your boss — which is going to be more of a reality as people from mid-20s to early 40s are having babies — it’s not for everyone," said Dansereau, who returned to work in December 2016 after having her baby and was one of six new moms who needed to pump and had to wait for one another to finish.

The newly mocked up rooms are both comfortable and practical, as opposed to the many that are just "fine" or "better than going to a bathroom or finding a random spot," Carata said. The vision isn't anything fancy or expensive, either — the pumping rooms would be a bit smaller so that, in total, the idea would only require about 25 to 50 square feet of extra space.

And that extra space for a proper lactation rooms would prove to be a smart investment for companies looking to retain female talent. 

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.

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