As a grad student, I often used instrumentation in rather remote basement of a building. There was a little-used woman’s bathroom nearby. I walked in one day and heard this weird wheezy ticking sound coming from the handicap stall. I panicked, thinking there was some sort of electrical emergency or – though I don’t tend to be paranoid – that it was a bomb or something. I looked under the edge of the stall and saw sensible shoes, a bag or two and some tubing and quietly left the bathroom. I guessed it must be some sort of medical thing. A few days later, I met the person at the sink as she was washing out a bottle and recognized her as a post-doc from 10 floors up and one building over who had recently had a baby. I was very glad that I hadn’t called campus police. I realized she must be pumping and always sort of wondered why she made the journey to use this particular restroom to express milk. I figured that is must have been because it was pretty isolated. I now realize that it was probably because it was the only semi-private space with an electrical outlet.
I am happy to report that the lactation room I had access to was fantastic and I will detail its glory here to let you know what to advocate for at your own institutions in the case that they are not as well-appointed. The lactation room I used has a key that available upon request. It also has a deadbolt that indicates – much like airplane lavatories – whether the room is occupied or not. There is a schedule posted on the outside of the door for users to reserve times and a list of names, e-mails and phone numbers inside the room so one can arrange to switch times when necessary. It is a secure, private space.
Behind that lockable door you find:
a chair – no balancing on a toilet!
a desk – no carefully placing bottles full of milk on the floor of a bathroom stall!
a medical grade pump (that you can buy a personal attachment for for about $30) – no lugging (or forgetting to lug) a breast pump in its stylish and discrete bag around every day.
a sink with a small drying rack
*a boiling water spigot* – no sterilization worries! (I had no idea these even existed).
a mini fridge/freezer – no storing milk in the lab fridge!
a shelf for users to store personal items – like the pump attachment and very expensive sterile bags that attach to the pump.
a white board for messages and announcements; a cork board for baby pictures; a stack of recent copies of Science, Nature, The New Yorker and STAR magazine; a reliable open WiFi signal.
The fantastic lacation room set-up freed me from some of the planning that breastfeeding parents often need to do and reintroduced a degree of flexibility that science sometimes demands. The investment of my university in re-purposing that half-a-broom closet not only sends a message of institutional support (which is important in of of itself) but also ensures that even if one were to arrive at work carrying nothing, or if an experiement runs unexpectedly long, lactation poses no barrier to laying down some hot science and rocking parenthood simultaneously.