Why lactation rooms matter

Written by: Lisa Stelzner

Primary Source: Daily Dose of Science Blog

An important and timely blog post by Carrie Glenny at the University of Washington was published this week about the necessity of available lactation rooms at workplaces.  New mothers that choose to breastfeed need to pump milk every few hours, and this can be very hard to do in workplaces without private offices.  Take a graduate student or post-doc at a university, for example.  They often share office space with others in the lab and have nowhere to pump milk in private.  Bathrooms are less than ideal, especially because pumping takes 10-30 minutes, so you need somewhere comfortable to sit.  This blog post discusses how the ideal lactation room would have a locking door, a sink for washing parts of the pump that need to be cleaned after each use, and a fridge to store breastmilk in. Desk space would allow a mother to continue working while she pumps.

The post shares some nice figures and graphs about the family status of postdocs that leave academia (male and female), and University of Washington survey results on need for lactation rooms there. Many women have pointed out that they don’t feel welcome to an academic culture that doesn’t support their right to raise a family.

Carrie writes, “Beyond the need for a space to meet the physical needs of pumping moms, providing an accessible lactation room for every mom in academia sends an important message: we support you and your family. Many women in academia who want to have children are hearing a different message: this is not the time or place for a baby. In addition to the implicit message sent by the lack of resources and support from the institution itself, many women may be discouraged outright by mentors, advisors, or even peers. I have had personal experiences with this and I’m sure others have as well.  Academia is an environment where there’s often little distinction between “work” and “life”, let alone a balance, and it’s easy to feel like family planning should take the back burner or you’ll risk harming your career. So returning to work to find that the most basic of necessities, like a place to pump, aren’t available to you can make you feel like your choice to have a child is not supported.”

I know this problem is not limited to universities – a lack of lactation rooms at workplaces and public places is a real problem for other women trying to balance careers with having a baby, and trying to run errands or enjoy free time outside your house can become stressful for women worried about breastfeeding in public (which is still frowned upon by many people, but luckily some recent articles sound like some public perceptions are starting to change).  I hope society continues to make progress in making lactation rooms available so that this is one less limiting factor for women who want to balance family needs with a career.


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Lisa Stelzner
I'm a plant biology PhD student studying monarch butterflies in Michigan, but I'm interested in lots of other types of science, too. I am interested in how breeding monarch butterflies choose their habitat based on floral species richness and abundance. Few studies have been conducted on optimal foraging theory when it involves an organism searching for two different kinds of resources, and butterflies are an ideal study system to investigate this, since many species are ovipositing specialists and only lay eggs on one species of hostplant, but are feeding generalists and nectar from a broad variety of flowering forbs.