June 28, 2024

Designing Accessible Lactation Rooms

In the past, lactation rooms were considered a privileged facility, and not many businesses and public spaces accommodated the need for a safe and private space to feed an infant or for pumping breastmilk. Lactation rooms have become more common and even considered a necessary amenity for mothers and their infants, in and outside the workplace.

Although US federal laws require that employers with over 50 employees must provide a place—other than a bathroom—for employees to express breastmilk or breastfeed, and other regulations exist around providing lactation rooms at airports, malls, and other public spaces, there is still a large gap in understanding the true needs of people who use the space when it comes to comfort, safety, and accessibility.

Mothers are out in the world and with their hands full with more than diaper bags, car seats, and snack bags; they are out working, advocating for their community, running errands, conquering the world; and through all the roles they embody, mothers come with all kinds of different abilities and disabilities that are often overlooked when designing a space that is meant to be used specifically by them.

While it is commonly thought that designing for physical access is all that is required for a space to be considered “accessible”, we learn more and more every day about designing for sensory access as well. Sensory stimuli do not only impact the adult user of the lactation room but also the infant/child. When the space is not designed to reduce sensory overload and provide a calm environment, the infant will refuse to eat (if you know, you know), or the pumping session output will not be satisfactory, defeating the purpose of having these rooms in the first place.

Leaving the house with a bag full of pumping parts or young children can be an intimidating feat for some, and knowing there is a private space for mothers to unwind and have a pumping session or feed their young children can increasingly improve the likelihood of that person visiting new places and businesses and encouraging others to as well. Consider implementing some of the Universal Design (UD) strategies listed below that could lead to an added layer of safety, comfort, and accessibility for lactation room users:

  1. Use large and visible wayfinding to indicate the location of the lactation room. Often users do not realize spaces like these are available to them due to unclear or illegible signage.
  2. Ensure that the lactation room is easily accessible for all individuals, including those with disabilities. This may include providing a ramp or elevator for individuals who use mobility aids, as well as ensuring that the room is located in a convenient and easy-to-find location.
  3. Prioritize privacy through sound proofing (i.e. full height walls, minimum STC 45 rating, acoustical ceiling tiles, acoustical wall panels), opaque curtains, blinds, and privacy film for windows, and a lockable door to ensure that individuals can breastfeed or pump in peace.
  4. Doors are recommended to be automatic and not require the use of hands. Automatic doors shall be manually activated by using a touchless automatic door opener. Thresholds at doors are flush with the finished floor or ¼ inch maximum.
  5. Provide an occupancy indicator lockset on the door that is operable with a clenched fist and does not require any pinching, grasping, or squeezing. Consider LED privacy indicators activated by occupancy sensors. (MSP airport has a great example of a similar type of occupancy indicator in their lactation rooms in Terminal 1).
  6. Provide comfortable seating, adjustable ambient lighting, and temperature control mounted not higher than 48 inches (120 cm) (ideally voice or mobile device activated). Any HVAC ceiling supply grilles should discharge air horizontally and not directly at users.
  7. Provide radiused corners on tables and counters to allow for a softer, safer experience.
  8. Incorporate technology into the design of the lactation room, such as providing outlets for breast pumps, a mini fridge operable with a clenched fist and not requiring any pinching, grasping, or squeezing for storing breast milk, and a charging station for electronic devices.
  9. Provide amenities such as a microwave for sterilizing, electrified lockers, a full-height mirror, a diaper-changing table, and basic supplies within the room.
  10. When choosing a color scheme and finishes for the room, consider using softer/calming colors on walls such as pastels and toned-down swatches. Use carpet or LVT flooring with non-busy patterns, and cleanable fabrics that do not absorb liquids on furniture.
  11. Provide a front approach sink with knee space for individuals to wash their hands before and after pumping or breastfeeding.
  12. Provide an open-top trash receptacle.
  13. Provide floor space for companions (additional chair or stroller) or service animal.
  14. If the lactation room is within a public space like a mall or airport, consider adding a brief description of the space on your website along with pictures. People feel more comfortable entering a new space when they know what to expect. i.e. describe if the lactation room is a single or multiple-occupant space, what type of equipment is available, etc.

Designing a lactation room with UD principles is crucial to creating a space that is #accessible, comfortable, and inclusive for all individuals. By considering these strategies, a lactation room can serve as a supportive and #inclusive space for all users.

Adopting UD strategies into your spaces is simple, inexpensive, and can create a sense of inclusiveness, safety, and comfort among all users. Visiting spaces where people feel a sense of belonging and reduced accessibility obstacles can make a difference in culture and overall well-being. Contact me for more information on how we can help YOU design truly accessible spaces.

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