How to Set Up a Mother’s Room: A Step-by-Step Guide

06/22/2019 – By Gretchen

“I actually set up a Mother’s Room at the plant while I was there,” I shared with mixed company as we were casually talking about the challenges of working in a manufacturing facility with a young baby.  I had just started a new job back in the corporate office.

“Oh, that’s awesome!” said a late-middle aged man in the group.

“Thank you, I’m pretty proud of it!  It was surprisingly challenging…”

“I bet!  So, how did that work?  Did they like, staff it with an hourly?  And you just brought your baby in?”

I suddenly realized we had a gross misunderstanding, and it was up to me to strike a delicate, educational balance without embarrassing anyone.

“Oh, wouldn’t that be awesome?!  Actually, a mother’s room is just a place for a mom to express breast milk while she’s away from the baby for the day.  A nursing mother needs to do this in order to send milk to daycare in bottles, as well as keep up her milk supply to continue to breastfeed.”

“Oh…interesting,” he replies, clearly embarrassed and surprised, “I never thought of that…”

Later, my new female colleague who was part of the conversation said, “I just love how casually you answered that – “to express breastmilk”…I would have totally clammed up!”

I wish I could say this type of conversation is unusual, but let’s be real: we are really only the second generation to be regularly pumping breast milk at work.  Our career-mothers often only nursed during maternity leave, then switched to formula when returning to work.  The Affordable Care Act was just signed in 2010, less than a decade ago, which, in Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, requires employers to provide break time and space for nursing mothers to express breast milk.  We are still trailblazing, especially if we work in a male-dominated environment.

So, here is a guide for those lucky trail blazers out there who get to take on the heroic task of setting up their own mother’s room.  I’m not promising that it will be easy, and you’ll almost certainly get to practice having some of those awkward conversations like above, but it unequivocally will be worth it – especially if you have the privilege of seeing another new mother use the space after you set it up.  You are fortunate enough to be part of the Titans creating a better workplace for moms.  Get it, mama!

Step One: Timing and Mindset Setting

Timing

It’s important that you start this initiative at the same time as you begin preparing for maternity leave.  Again, prepare your mother’s room BEFORE the baby arrives!  Don’t be like me and show up back to work “pretty sure” that there you’ll find a good space.  Having a mothers room ready will reduce the anxiety of returning to work immensely.

Mindset Setting

Write down the reasons why a mother’s room is important to you.  Recalling this will be so helpful when you have to broach the conversation to your boss, ask to expense the few items you need, direct the maintenance guy where to install the lock, and finally, when you actually need to pump, repriotize meetings, schlep your pumping bag back and forth, etc.  You deserve this.  Your baby deserves this. 

Step Two: The Law

If you have trouble with the mindset setting, revisit the law.  Your employer is legally obligated to provide you a private, clean space (that is not a bathroom) to express breast milk for the first year of baby’s life.  Uncle Sam is on your side, nursing mama!  If you have any doubts, check out this helpful overview from the United States Breastfeeding Committee.

Step Three: Get an Ally

Starting a new project is always more fun with a partner-in-crime!  If you’re able, get an ally in the workplace to support you – whether that’s helping you clean the designated space, championing for you in meetings/managing perceptions when you’re not there, sending reminder emails to the HR regarding these needs, or just being a listening ear.  You might be surprised that this ally does not have to be a woman: many men have wives who have had similar challenges and would be happy to help a friend and coworker.  For me, I was fortunate enough to have three allies helping me out: my boss (dad of young children), my coworker (my adopted work-mom), and our facility’s administrative assistant (WonderWoman and doer of everything).

Step Four: Identify a Space

Your mother’s room needs to be a clean, private room with a lock.  Work with your boss, HR, or ally to identify a good space.  The space can be an existing office, but whoever uses that office needs to vacate it whenever you require the space without issue – this can be tricky, but is totally doable.  Don’t be afraid to explore creative options and look in “nooks and crannies”.  If the room has windows, put up blinds, shades, or paper, and ensure it’s effective. 

In my experience, we “discovered” a kitchenette that had been locked up for 20+ years – most folks had forgotten about it since it was decommissioned, and it was only because of our curious and impetuous admin asking, “What’s behind these doors?” that we discovered it.  My kitchenette-converted-mother’s-room had locking bi-fold doors with a small gap, so I hung a room divider wire and curtain in front of it just for my own peace of mind.  It also gave it a nice, feminine feel to the room.

Step Five: The Essentials

What you absolutely need in addition to a clean, private room with a lock:

  • Clean, private room with a lock
    • If the room has windows, put up blinds, shades, or paper, and ensure it’s effective.  For me, my room had locking bi-fold doors with a small gap, so I hung a room divider wire and curtain in front of it just for my own peace of mind.  It also gave it a nice, feminine feel to the room.
  • Electrical outlet
  • Chair – a comfortable one is ideal!
  • Small Side Table/Surface
    • This is for your pump to rest on as you sit in the chair.
  • Wastebasket

Step Six: Nice to Have Additions

If the space allows, here are some nice-to-haves that will make pumping at work easier:

  • Sink
    • It’s super-convenient to have a spot to wash your hands in the room.
    • Don’t forget the paper towel and hand soap!
  • Microwave
    • The microwavable steaming Medela bags were super-handy on the mornings I didn’t have time to sterilize my pump parts.  That said, it was a little awkward walking from the community microwave with a huge Medela-branded steaming hot bag in-hand to the mother’s room!
  • Refrigerator
    • It’s really nice if you don’t have to take your milk back to the community fridge.  I also refrigerated my pump parts between the day’s sessions.  Alternatively, you can store your milk in a lunch-size cooler with ice packs.
  • Mirror
    • This helps you feel your best knowing your top and hair are in-place before going back to work.
  • Blanket
    • For days when the office is chilly and you’re sitting there with no top!
  • Foot Rest
    • You might as well kick up your feet while you’re at it, mama!
  • Phone with a Speaker & Mute Button
    • If, heaven forbid, you have to take a conference call while you’re in there.  We’ve all done it, don’t worry, no shame.

Step Seven: Take It to the Next Level

  • Mother’s Room Sign Occupied/Available
    • This is really handy if you’re sharing the space with other mothers.  Even if you’re the only one using it, there’s no question of, “Where is she?”, when you’re not at your desk for 30 minutes.
  • Water
    • Have a case of bottled water available for the sessions you’re in a hurry and can’t refill your water bottle beforehand!
  • Basket of Potential Necessities
    • Nursing pads, paper towels, granola bars, Medela pump part wipes, spare Medela microwave steam bags, and spare pump parts/valves, are all nice things to have on hand in a basket for you and other mamas to use, “just in case”.
  • Whiteboard or Post-It Notes
    • If you share the space with other mamas, consider trading pick-me-up messages on the whiteboard or wall.  I loved trading notes with the woman who started using the mother’s room shortly after I returned to work.

Again, congratulations on endeavoring to start “a place for a mom to express breast milk” in your workplace!  You are courageously shifting paradigms and creating a better workplace for future mothers – thank you, mama!


About Me My name is Gretchen, and I’m a career mom.  I have a precocious toddler girl, Kensington, and a talented, hard-working husband, Brett.  My education is in biological engineering and I’ve been working full-time for seven years. Presently, I’m an innovation project manager for a Fortune 500 company at their global corporate headquarters.  I share my journey and resources for other career moms at careerfamilycourage.com.  Our mission is to inspire, serve, and grow career moms to be the best, most courageous version of themselves at home and at work.  Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, or RSS to keep in touch, or send me an email at gretchen@careerfamilycourage.com .


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