Before I had kids, I would have thought of lactation rooms as one of those luxury things that employers do to prove that they are really female friendly (rather than something that is actually important, like maternity leave, or childcare, or being non discriminatory in choosing who to promote).
When I came back to work gradually after three months maternity leave, I realised how vitally important a lactation space is. If you are working full time with a child under a year, and trying to breastfeed (the WHO guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding up to six months, and breastfeeding up to two years) then it is essential that you have a clean private place to express breastmilk, and a fridge to store it in.
Privacy is important because (apart from the very real embarrassment factor for the mother and her co-workers) relaxation is essential for successful expressing. And cleanliness is important because – well its pretty obvious that the breastmilk for babies should be clean!
The Australian Breastfeeding Assocation has a set of essential criteria for an employer to set up a breastfeeding friendly workplace. It’s really not that difficult. In my organisation, while I was breastfeeding, all I had to do was to commandeer one of the two available meeting rooms that you couldn’t see into twice a day. And put my breastfeeding kit into the fridge afterwards! I managed to do this at two different client sites also.
But it is depressing how many different women I have seen on mothering sites who have had to resort to expressing in the toilet (not the cleanest place in the world) or decided it was all too hard and given up before going back to work.
Here’s the reason it was important to me: although I was pretty focused on my career, the fact that I was breastfeeding, and doing something for my baby that no-one else could do (not even his father, who was looking after him all day) made me much happier about being back at work without him.
Here’s the reason it should have been important to my employer: my baby was much less likely to get sick because he was breastfed, and hence much less likely to need me to take time off work to look after him.
Once I had finished breastfeeding, I forgot about how important this was. But I’m fired up again now, and I’m going to make sure my employer sorts out their facilities properly (I had to figure it out for myself, which is not something you want to do when you’re too embarrassed to tell people what you are doing).