by Brittney Herrera, IIDA LEED AP, Co-Founder + Director of Design, HBx Studio
We have seen many forward-thinking companies embrace the idea of providing their staff with a Mother’s Room, a room where new mothers can pump in privacy and comfort. More employers have gotten on board as the laws have shifted (read more here), but resources on designing effective Mother’s Rooms have been slow to catch up
I have designed dozens of these spaces throughout my career, but it wasn’t until I designed several Wellness Rooms (multipurpose employee relaxation spaces) for a Boston tech giant the functional needs of the space really clicked for me. The company had a new mom on their facilities team, and her passionate insights into the shortcomings of the rooms were invaluable.
To that point, we had designed the rooms to be multi-purpose, serving both new moms and people who were not feeling well. It was a great way to illustrate the need for the space to management since everyone could use it, not solely new moms. However, a space for relaxing and a space for pumping require very different things.
We would often end up with spaces that had a sink, a mini refrigerator, and a lounge chair with an ottoman – but while some companies might think that a space like this would be effective, it’s actually missing several key components.
The following is a list of aspects that we now know are important when designing effective Mother’s Rooms:
The room should have a lockable door, good acoustics, and be located away from the main workspace.
The door should have a privacy function lock with a visual indicator to let people know the room is in use. This will prevent people from jiggling the door handle or knocking to check if a room is in use.
Plan for solid walls with a sound transmission rating of at least 45 – pumps can be loud and some moms are self-conscious about the sound transmitting to adjacent spaces. An appropriate acoustic level can be achieved by putting acoustical batting in walls and extending the top of the walls up to the underside of the floor above.
Location, location, location
The room should be located away from any central hubs of employee activity in order to preserve the privacy of the mother. Pumping is personal, and while some moms are happy to have their teammates know they are on a pumping break, others may want to keep that information private.
Desk + Chair
Provide a table, at least 24” deep x 36” wide to accommodate the pump and a book or computer, make sure that the chair in the room is upright and comfortable.
While studies show that production drops in times of stress, some mothers prefer to work through a pump session. Working on a pump break should not be mandatory, but mothers should be given the option to do so. A sufficiently large table (at least 24 inches deep and 36 inches wide) allows moms to use a laptop or read a book while pumping.
Unlike in a meditation room or a nap room, the chair in a Mother’s Room should be upright, because the pump cannot function if the mom leans back. An ergonomic desk chair on casters works well. If the room will be doing double duty as a meditation or wellness room, provide a separate lounge chair.
Provide dimmable ambient lighting and task lighting.
It is important to provide a serene and relaxing space to encourage production. To achieve this goal, include dimmable soft lighting that will set a calm mood, making the transition from working to pumping easier.
Provide good lighting at the sink to make washing the pump easier.
Utilities for Sanitary Pumping
Provide a sink and microwave.
Pumps need to be cleaned after use. A sink within the room is most practical.
It’s a good idea to provide a microwave, because many moms use one to sterilize bottles before filling them.
Provide a refrigerator for the milk, cubby or locker for the pumps, and a hook for clothing.
Keeping the milk cold is critical, and having a separate refrigerator ensures that it is safely stored throughout the day. One option is to have an undercounter refrigerator within the room; alternatively, if your organization has multiple Mother’s Rooms, they can all share a central large refrigerator.
Cubbies or Lockers
It’s also helpful to provide a place for moms to store their pump so that they don’t have to bring it back and forth to work each day (some companies also provide a high-end pump that all new moms can use).
Provide a hanging mechanism to keep clothes wrinkle-free while pumping.
Utilities for Sanitary Pumping
Provide amenities that will make the space comfortable, easy to use, and adjustable to individual users’ preferences.
Provide an easily accessible thermostat to give users choice and control over the temperature in these rooms.
Music and Corkboard
Provide space for a sound dock or designated audio player and a cork board for mothers to pin up pictures of their babies. A compelling 2012 study suggests that milk supply increases by 200 to 300% if the mother plays guided meditations and looks at photos of their baby while pumping.
Mothers need to be able to see themselves while putting things back together after pumping – no one wants to miss a button! To save space, the mirror can go on the back of the door.
Make scheduling time in the rooms easier by installing a room scheduler at each door, like this one, this one, or this one. Ease of scheduling will allow moms to organize time spent in the room and manage changes easily.
If your company doesn’t have a Mother’s Room, and isn’t planning on getting one soon, see if there is a Mamava near you (Mamava is a company that makes private pumping room “pods”). The firm that I worked with when I gave birth to my daughter was fully open-plan – I wish there had been a Mamava there!
Failure to provide the right space for nursing moms can have a lasting impact on the emotional and physical health of both mom and baby. Some mothers may opt to not return to work if they don’t have an option to pump, and that’s a result that sets us all back. We owe it to mothers and their children to support their choice to breastfeed or not to breastfeed. Advocate for a Mother’s Room in your office, and design with these best practices in mind – not as options, but as the right thing to do. Make your mother proud.