Sunday, May 22, 2011

The importance of lactation rooms at work

Recently, we have been going through a round of milestones in the lactation room in my building at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. It is hard to believe that three first birthdays will have been reached by the end of May. These three women are myself, an associate division chief in science and an engineer. Just as a reminder, it really is the case that the World Health Organization recommends nursing to two years.

I read the register each day (we sign in so the center knows how much the room is being used). We write down our “code numbers” (what science or engineering division we are in) so I can see who is in planetary science, who is in astrophysics, who is in project management/engineering. We also have three women with young babies using the room right now too. The message board is filling up (the old style of message board that involves a marker!). I find myself rooting for the newcomers. It is also added positive peer pressure for me; if I can keep this up, it will show them they can do it too.

Remember, 100 years ago, before formula was widely used, it was the case that all babies were nursed, and generally they did this for at least a year (Baumgartner’s book Mothering Your Nursing Toddler points to historical data indicating that the natural age for weaning is after the second birthday). In those days, you would have had ample opportunity to discuss breastfeeding and would have had encouragement from people around you to make sure your child was nursed. Having that kind of support among your peers is of course important.

I know these women are facing similar workplace challenges to me. Mission schedules can be crazy. Travel periods can be intense. They keep coming back to the room to ensure their babies get the milk and so do I.

NASA GSFC management made the decision to install a lactation room in every new building a few years ago. We are up to 12 rooms at the center. These rooms exist because employers are to provide a place (other than a bathroom stall) where we can pump milk and thankfully NASA GSFC took that responsibility very seriously. This is fantastic recognition for the value of nursing babies.

I am grateful that this room is available. There is a hospital-grade pump which is much better than my pump. I have easy access to a sink to wash my hands and a refrigerator where I can store the milk. There is a microwave for sterilizing bottles (there is a nice kind of microwave bag on the market for this). You can even store pumping supplies in the room so you don’t need to remember to bring everything with you. I can use the time to check my email and have even donated an iPhone charger to the room to make sure my down time is minimized.

Our room (in the planetary science and astrophysics building) is extra comfortable since we have a champion, Anne Kinney (director of the planetary science division). She put in a nice chair and some decorations and takes visitors on a tour of the room (when not in use of course!) to encourge others to install similar rooms.

I’ve had a lot of support in my choice to nurse my daughter, and I would say that the availability of this room and the day-in-day-out examples I see in other women using it has been near the top of the list of "essential" support.

By the way, this is a good time to remind scientists to send me their stories about nursing well past a year (Ann.Hornschemeier AT nasa.gov, as soon as possible!). Next month’s post will be a synthesis/compilation of those.