How To Create a Supportive Lactation Space

How To Create a Supportive Lactation Space

November 30, 2023


For many working mothers, returning to work after having a baby is an intensely emotional experience. It’s a relief to get into a routine and out of the house, but it’s hard to be separated from the baby. Add to that the stress of juggling day-to-day duties, meetings and pumping on a schedule, and you can see how a supportive work environment can go a long way.  

As an employer, you have a legal duty to provide pumping breaks and a space for nursing employees to express breast milk. But supporting breastfeeding employees goes beyond meeting your legal obligations. Here are some tips for creating a lactation space that will show your employees you care. 

Find a quiet, private space that is not a restroom

The space should be large enough for a chair and have a flat surface for pumping equipment. For that reason, many employers designate a permanent lactation room. But if that’s not an option, you can offer a flexible space such as a manager’s office or supply room. You can even provide a mobile space like a pop-up tent if necessary. 

The important thing is to ensure that it’s functional, private, shielded from view and available when the employee needs it. (Remember, under the Affordable Care Act, the space cannot be a restroom.)

The Department of Health & Human Services Office of Women’s Health shares common lactation spaces used in various industries:

IndustryCommon Lactation Spaces
Hotels and restaurants
  • Empty hotel room
  • Manager’s office
  • Storage area
  • Locker room
Retail and personal services
  • Empty treatment room or storage area
  • Partitioned area in a quiet room
  • Acceptable space in a private home
Health care
  • Dedicated lactation room
  • Office or conference room
  • Community site with lactation space
Education
  • Office or teacher’s lounge
  • Partitioned area in a conference room
  • Empty classroom
  • Locker room
  • Cubicle with privacy screen
Manufacturing, factories and warehouses
  • Partitioned area 
  • Pop-up tent
Transportation
  • Vehicle with a windshield visor or cover
  • Fire station*
  • Businesses along route**
  • Portable restroom shell (without a toilet)
Public spaces
  • Dedicated lactation room
  • Manager’s office
  • Storage area
  • Police or fire station, public office or library
Outdoor job sites
  • Portable restroom shell (without a toilet)
  • Pop-up tent
  • Empty office
  • Storage area
Offices
  • Dedicated lactation room
  • Cubicle with privacy screen
  • Partitioned area in employee lounge or conference room
  • Empty office
  • Storage area

* In Los Angeles, municipal employees can stop at any fire station on their route to use the station’s lactation space. 

** Some trucking companies have partnered with businesses along transportation routes to accommodate breastfeeding drivers. 

Secure the space

Once you have identified a suitable lactation space, find a way to make it private and secure. If you have a dedicated lactation room, install a lock on the door to prevent unwanted entry. 

Whether you have a dedicated lactation room or another space, provide an “Occupied” or “Privacy Please” sign so other employees and visitors know when the space is in use. 

Provide amenities

Basic amenities include:

  • A sink for handwashing and disinfecting pump parts 
  • A table or flat surface for pumping equipment
  • A large chair that can easily be wiped clean (e.g., vinyl)
  • An accessible electrical outlet for breast pumps
  • Sufficient lighting

Other valuable amenities include:

  • A refrigerator for storing expressed milk and pump parts
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Extra breast milk storage bags
  • Sharpies for labeling breast milk
  • Snacks
  • Water bottles or electrolyte drinks
  • A sound machine to conceal pumping noise (This is particularly helpful when the lactation space isn’t visible but is audible, as in partitioned cubicles.) 
  • A microwave for sterilizing pump parts

Create a schedule

If you have multiple employees using the space, create a schedule. This ensures each employee has enough time to express milk. You can create a shared calendar or assign time blocks. Have your managers work with employees to ensure they have adequate time between meetings and other work duties. 

Onboard employees returning from maternity leave

It’s not enough to just create a lactation space. The human resources association SHRM suggests onboarding your employees when they return from maternity leave. That means setting up a meeting with HR to familiarize them with policies and resources, including your lactation space, and answer any questions. 

Remember to train your managers on the company’s legal obligations and lactation policy.   

Reach out for help

For help with your lactation space, talk with your benefits adviser and legal counsel. They can help you create a space that supports breastfeeding employees and meets your legal obligations.