How (and why) we made a Mom Room in the office
If a business is willing to give up a storage closet and approximately $550, they can make female employees’ transition back to work after a new baby a whole lot easier. The investment? A lactation room. We did it at Lemonly, and I’m damn proud we did.
According to the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, only 40% of new moms returning from maternity leave have access to private space and enough time to pump breastmilk at work. That’s disappointing, to say the least. (Almost as disappointing as the state of parental leave in the U.S., as we pointed out in this infographic.)
You might have seen my post on how Lemonly handles parental leave. Since publishing it, I’ve been part of several discussions about whether or not a policy like ours is attainable for other small businesses.
For those who don’t feel prepared to offer paid maternity leave (or for those that do and are looking for more ways to support their employees), providing a lactation room for new moms returning to work can be a simple way to make a significant difference.
When we moved into our new office last fall, we designated one of the few enclosed spaces as a “Mom Room,” knowing Lemonly ladies would likely need it eventually. At that time, we had no idea four of the nine women working at HQ would welcome new babies within less than a year.
We’re glad to offer this space to new moms returning to work, and we think other companies can easily follow suit.
Wait — doesn’t the law require most businesses to have a lactation room anyway?
Some employers are required by law to provide time and space for pumping when new moms return to work. A 2010 provision to the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers of non-exempt workers to allow an employee reasonable time and a space other than a bathroom in which to pump breast milk for one year after the birth of her child. This space doesn’t have to be solely used as a lactation room, however.
Employers with fewer than 50 employees aren’t responsible for the requirements if compliance would cause an “undue hardship” through difficulty or expense in relation to the business’s size, financial resources, nature, or structure.
TL;DR: Small businesses are supposed to provide this for employees, but they really don’t have to.
The “undue hardship” may not be as hard as many small business owners assume, though. We definitely have fewer than 50 employees and pretty limited space, but we managed to find a simple, cost-effective solution to help our new moms transition back to work after maternity leave without sacrificing their babies’ nutrition.
How we got it done
Our new office has a very open floor plan. We have two booth-like rooms for phone calls, a small conference room, and a larger conference room, all of which have windows. For non-windowed rooms, we have a closet with the printer in it, a slightly bigger closet, and two bathrooms.
For just over $550, we outfitted that slightly larger closet (4.5’ x 5’) as a Mom Room.
Lactation room recommendations from the United States Breastfeeding Committee:
- A door that locks from the inside
- A comfortable chair
- An electrical outlet
- A table or other flat surface
- A sink located in or near the room
- Small refrigerator
- Cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer
- Relaxing atmosphere
What we spent:
- Chair: $269.00
- Rug: Hand-me-down
- Bookshelf for storage: $76.99
- Mirror: $5.99
- Pillow and blanket: Already in office
- Command strips: $8.58
- Wall hooks: $24.98
- Fan: $17.98
- Laptop desk (in case moms want to work or Facebook or look at baby pictures): $59.63
- Milk-only mini fridge: $99.84 (technically outside the room)
Why it’s important
Moms need to be comfortable, confident, and supported as they return from maternity leave. Allowing them the time and space they need to pump eases a difficult transition and makes for happier employees and coworkers.
Lead designer Ashton, one of Lemonly’s new moms, recalls returning to work in the old office after the birth of her first daughter.
“Three years ago, Lemonly was in a much smaller office that didn’t offer the opportunity to have a dedicated lactation room,” she said. “I was a little apprehensive about having to use a glass-door conference room. It was awkward at times, but everyone was very careful to give me privacy. This time, I’m excited to have a comfortable, completely private Mother’s Room when I return from maternity leave. I think the biggest problem will be scheduling around the other breastfeeding moms in the office!”
The other new and expecting moms are fans of the feature, too.
Becca: “It helps so much that we have a room dedicated to mothers! Lemonly has such an open office space — it would have been very non-private using a conference room. Also, women should not be expected to use the restroom as a mother’s room. That just isn’t sanitary!”
Amberly: “It would have been harder to return to work if a Mom Room wasn’t available. Having a dedicated space for moms is a huge investment in us as mothers and employees. It allows me to provide what my baby needs while continuing to work, offering a seamless transition from home to work and back again.”
Alyssa: “It’s nice to know that I don’t have to worry about how I’ll manage continuing to pump once I’ve returned to work. Lemonly’s been extremely generous in providing not only a comfortable place to privately pump, but assurance that it isn’t disrupting the work day.”
Supporting moms supports the bottom line
Employers who facilitate mothers’ ability to comfortably pump during the workday see benefits to their business including:
- Less absenteeism
- Lower turnover
- Improved recruitment
- Increased employee morale and loyalty
The United States Breastfeeding Committee even suggests these businesses see a 3–1 return on investment in the form of long-term healthcare cost savings. Studies have proven breast milk helps build a baby’s immune system and overall health. Allowing a new mom scheduled breaks during the day to pump can prevent her unexpectedly missing work in the future to take care of a sick child.
Moreover, it makes moms happy. It’s no secret that happy employees are healthier, more productive, and more likely to be invested in their work. For the expense of a closet and a few hundred dollars, employers can take a significant step in employee satisfaction. Just ask the Lemonly ladies.
Amberly: The investment is completely worth it. There’s such a short period in a baby’s lifetime where the mother is able to provide nourishment. It means so much for employers to support her efforts to breastfeed for as long as she’d like to.
Becca: A stressed-out momma is a stressed-out employee. Giving a new mother a dedicated, private place to do “new mom things” makes one less problem she’ll have to solve day-to-day. And don’t worry — mothers are multitasking masters.
There are a lot of ways to take care of your clients, but for $550 and roughly 20 square feet, a Mom Room is one of the biggest wins you can have.
For more stories and opinions on building a kickass company culture, visit johntmeyer.com.