Do you pump at work? Does your lactation station support your supply?
With my toddler nearing two, my work-time pumping habits have become second nature. My right to pump in the workplace was protected under Washington State law until my little one reached the age of one. I am lucky to work in an office that continues to support my needs as a lactating mom, outside of the scope of the law. We even converse about it, and when someone brings that box of donuts to work on Friday, my coworkers will joke that I should go back for that second donut, since I’m still “eating for two.”
Even with this welcoming environment, I started out pumping in a women’s lounge. With no way to lock the door and maintain privacy, this space was not compliant with state law. With these concerns voiced, I was given access to a small office with a single chair and an outlet. Certainly not plush, this room met state standards. But after months of pumping in this frigid air-conditioned space, it took work to maintain the supply I was accustomed to. And even though I knew my coworkers were supportive, I still felt guilty leaving my desk to travel to my little isolated space.
Recently, my office changed locations, and in our new space we converted a would-be storage room, into a Quiet Room*. With calm blue walls and a locking door, this warm nook meets my needs as a lactating mom. While my co-workers go out for coffee on their breaks, I opt for a French press at my desk and a 15-minute lactation break in the Quiet Room. I no longer feel any guilt about stepping away from my desk to make some milk for my tot, who enjoys a combination of whole milk and breast milk while away from mom. And I no longer feel guilty about taking this time for myself, because the Quiet Room is not just a space for those immersed in the milk making business. The Quiet Room is a space for anyone to retreat to, for a personal phone call or even a short nap. This is the universal design of lactation spaces.
*Quiet Rooms are not unique to our office. Following the publishing of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” many professional spaces sought to revise the design of their office spaces, in interest of giving employees an opportunity to control their environment and seek sensory balance.
If you ever have doubted how much your environment impacts lactation, then perhaps you haven’t had to pump in cold room, where your supply staggers and let down is slow as each duct contracts in the plunging temperatures brought on by an AC unit. Or maybe you haven’t tried to pump in the lounge of a women’s restroom, foot traffic high and inquisitive, concerned with just what you are up to under that thin cover. Or you haven’t enjoyed the experience of pumping in the corner of an exhibit hall at Comicon, with the screeching of a Mario Kart tournament blaring behind you.
Place has a significant impact on a moms ability to establish and maintain milk supply. When I moved out of the blast of the AC and into the Quiet Room, I noticed a slight increase in my supply. Even still, my breasts predictably don’t boast the ounces they did when my child was younger. And even with the magic of the Quiet Room, I usually max out at 3 ounces per session.
If you still doubt the role environment plays on breast milk production and let down, maybe this will sway you. In interest of doing a little experimentation, today I watched videos of newborns, while I pumped. Squishy, blemished faces, rooting around for anything remotely nipple-like. Even at 22-months postpartum, my tired breasts sprang to life, and my typical haul of 3 ounces doubled with ease. This was a reminder that while we may not be able to control the temperature of our lactation space, we do have control over how we shape our space. We can always watch a YouTube video of cute babies. Or better yet, a clip of your own rooting-wonder.
So, what do my boobs have to do with your public health? I don’t continue to pump, as my child nears two, because I love the feeling of mechanical tugging on my nipples. I do it because I enjoy the quiet time it provides me. While I’m making milk, I can have a staring contest with a wall or play a brainless game on my phone. It’s my break time. And while my break time looks differently from my coworkers, it fills the same need that theirs does. It provides me with an opportunity to regain sensory balance, a moment to be alone, and to have a bit more control over my environment (Cain, 2013).
From a professional productivity perspective, a place like the Quiet Room satisfies our need to take a brain break, a necessary moment to accommodate our brains cyclical attention span. (This is also true for kids, who do better in school when they have more time at recess. Regardless of our age, we are not designed for long periods of intense concentration. We need brain breaks!) From a public health perspective, a place like the Quiet Room affords an individual a time to stand up and stretch, a break from staring deeply into a computer monitor, and an opportunity to exercise practices in good mental health.
I may call it a lactation station, my co-workers may call it the Quiet Room, and my husband may call it the bathroom—we all need a place of solitude now and again. Even if your quiet time comes with alongside the soft mechanical whirling of a breast pump.