By: Sojourner Marable Grimmett
One of the greatest struggles for breastfeeding mothers is to have our voices heard and accommodations met in order to express milk and feed our children in public places. Women have lobbied and fought for years to establish lactation rooms in their places of employment and public facilities. Only recently have states begun to pass laws that help ensure that mothers have a private place to nurse their children.
On March 30, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This legislation mandates that an employer with more than 50 workers provides a private room—not a restroom—in which their female employees and customers can express breast milk for their children as needed. Today there are more than 83 million mothers in the United States – roughly 61% of them work. As the socio-economic structure continues to change, more women are returning to work immediately after maternity leave. While some women are able to transition smoothly back into the workplace, others need assistance with juggling work and newly-minted motherhood.
The transition back to work is sometimes difficult and can be a bit challenging for nursing mothers who would like to continue to breastfeed. The lack of private spaces to pump at work makes this transition even more daunting; some mothers decide to stop breastfeeding their children all together.
I was one of those mothers.
With our first son, my only option at work was to pump in the public restroom. I slowly weaned him then eventually stopped breastfeeding due to the inconvenience and lack of privacy. The painful reality of allowing breast milk to “dry up” when women are not ready to stop nursing can cause tremendous grief, depression, and disappointment for mothers anxious to provide the most important nutrients to their newborn. Also, breastfeeding during the first 12 months of an infant’s life can provide tremendous health benefits for the child, even long-term. A recent report from the CDC shared that breastfeeding helps to prevent childhood obesity.
After giving birth to our second son, a former colleague and I spoke up and assisted our employer in establishing a permanent lactation room on site. We provided a safe and designated place for mothers to pump and feed their children. This allowed a smoother transition for working mothers, and enabled them to continue to provide milk for their children after returning to work. I was pleased to have the ability to nurse our second son for nearly 15 months.
Employers come up with many excuses about why they do not have private rooms designated for nursing mothers. These range from costs to space availability. In addition to offering support to breastfeeding mothers transitioning back to work, companies have the potential to reap great benefits from establishing lactation rooms on site — including, but not limited to, implementing a powerful recruitment tool for qualified employees and demonstrating an empathetic, dedicated approach to customer comfort.
Unfortunately, these challenges are widespread. Living in Atlanta, I was shocked to find out that the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (HJAIA), does not have designated lactation rooms for employees or customers. They ask mothers to feed their children in the restroom or to call in advance to arrange a private room to pump or breastfeed. There is no information or timeline posted on their website when or if lactation rooms will be established.
Breastfeeding in the bathroom is synonymous to having your child literally “eat” in the restroom. Let’s face it — eating in the bathroom is gross! You wouldn’t eat in the bathroom, so why would you expect your baby to eat there? Holding a child up or squatting on a public toilet to nurse surrounded by unpleasant smells is inhumane. Oftentimes, in order for ones milk “to let down” mothers need a pleasant, clean, and sanitary environment to express milk. Breastfeeding mothers deserve safe, secure, and comfortable places to pump and nurse their children.
To address these issues and to provide a resource for those who would like to establish lactation rooms at the public places they frequent most, I have launched a Lactation Room support campaign, Table For Two. The campaign’s first initiative is to bring lactation rooms to HJAIA. It’s time to establish designated and convenient lactation rooms at Atlanta’s airport, as well as companies, and organizations across the country.
Latch on to this movement by asking officials at the world’s busiest airport to support their employees and customers. To support this cause and for more information, please visit www.supporttablefortwo.org. You may also join the campaign on Twitter and Facebook.
Sojourner Marable Grimmett is an Atlanta-based author who is recognized for writing about the joys and challenges of being a “stay-at-work” mom and connects with moms, both new and experienced, who have the responsibility of raising a family and maintaining a full-time job. Sojourner has been featured in FitPregnancy, iVillage, Southwest Parenting Magazine, BlackCelebKids.com, MyAtlantaMoms.com, WhatToExpect.com, Fox News, and CNN. She is married to her college sweetheart, Roland and they have two young sons, Roland Jay and Joshua. Visit her blog sojournermarablegrimmett.blogspot.com follow her on twitter and like her on Facebook.