Location for breaks
There are many creative options for employers having trouble finding lactation space. No employer is required by law to provide a permanent lactation room, although many do. If you don't have space for a permanent room, consider using an existing office, closet, or storage area on an as-needed basis, screening off an area in a larger space, or providing a car windshield cover or a single-person pop-up tent. Learn the attributes and benefits of different lactation space solutions.
Do I have to provide a permanent, dedicated lactation room for my employees?
No. While many businesses choose to provide a permanent, dedicated lactation space, many types of businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, do not have space for a separate lactation room. You can give breastfeeding employees temporary access to a flexible space, such as an existing manager’s office or supply area, as long as it is not a bathroom, is shielded from view, and is free from intrusion by coworkers or the public. Some types of businesses, such as large farms or transportation companies, may need to provide a mobile space, such as a pop-up tent or a car windshield cover.
What are the requirements for a lactation room or space?
No matter what type of space you choose to provide, it must meet certain requirements. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employers must provide a space that is:1
- Functional for expressing milk (at a minimum, has a chair and a flat surface for pumping equipment)
- Shielded from view
- Free from intrusion by the public and coworkers
- Available whenever a mother needs to pump or express milk
- Not a bathroom
Learn more about what the law requires.
How do I create a permanent lactation space? What are some ideas?
Examples of a permanent, dedicated space for breastfeeding employees include:
- Office space. Many businesses use a small, existing office or part of an office area. You can use cubicle partitions to create a lactation space within an office area, as long as they are tall enough to provide privacy and are free from intrusion by coworkers and the public. To be functional, a room or space needs to be furnished with a chair and a flat surface such as a desk, small table, or shelf for the breast pump. Most working, nursing mothers use an electric pump because it’s faster. This requires access to an electrical outlet. To make the entire pumping or milk expression experience as fast as possible, you may also want to consider soft lighting for relaxation and milk flow, a sink for cleanup, and a white noise machine for privacy if the space is in a common area.
- Converted closet/storage area. Businesses often use small closets and storage spaces to create permanent milk expression areas. Closets and storage areas should be well ventilated, well lit, and wired for electricity, if possible.
- Exam/patient rooms. Health care facilities often use a patient or exam room for permanent space. An added bonus is that a patient room may already have a sink with running water or a restroom nearby for washing breast pump equipment. You can install a lock for privacy.
- Retrofitted restroom. A restroom is not an allowable milk expression area, according to federal regulations. Airborne bacteria make a restroom an unsanitary place to prepare food for infants. However, retrofitting a restroom into a lactation space might be an option. The space must be separated completely from the restroom area, with no toilet in the space. One possibility is to enclose a portion of a ladies’ lounge area that is separate from the restroom. A second possibility is to retrofit a single-user restroom by having a plumber remove the toilet and making the second restroom unisex.
- Women’s lounge. A lounge area can serve as a permanent milk expression area. It must be private from coworkers and the general public. Some companies install one or more walls to enclose the corner of a lounge for nursing mothers. You can use curtains or screens to provide privacy if others need to use the room at the same time.
- Locker room or dressing room. You can use cubicle partitions that can be locked from the inside to ensure privacy. You may want to wire the space for electricity so nursing moms can plug in a breast pump.
- Shower room. You can retrofit a shower room to be a milk expression space. The key to using this space is ensuring that the room is no longer used as a shower. Water could be a hazard when an electric breast pump is in use. The room should also be separate from the restroom and other shower facilities. Some businesses have converted a shower dressing area by installing an electrical outlet for the breast pump and a sink for washing hands and breast pump parts.
- Enclosed area of unused space. You can use additional walls, dividers, or screens to enclose a corner of an area. Consider odd-shaped spaces in a building that are not otherwise usable work spaces. Often the costs to convert such an area into a functional milk expression space are minimal.
How many lactation spaces does our business need to provide for nursing employees?
The number of lactation spaces needed depends on many factors. For example, companies will want to consider how many women of reproductive age (usually 18 to 50 years of age) are employed, the number and size of buildings, and the employees’ work schedules and job settings. A general guideline is to provide at least one permanent milk expression space for every 50 to 100 women employed by the company and to adjust as employee needs increase.
Some businesses find that multi-user milk expression rooms are efficient, because they allow more than one woman to express milk at the same time. Multi-user spaces can be designed to accommodate two or more nursing mothers, depending on the need. Privacy for individual users should be included as part of the plans. Learn more about multi-user rooms.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) compiled a formula for identifying the number of spaces needed. NIH estimates that at least six milk expression stations should be provided for every 1,000 female employees. This number is based on a pregnancy rate of 5% to 7% among the female population, a breastfeeding initiation rate of 75%, and an assumption that most nursing women’s milk expression periods cluster around a similar period from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during a standard workday. The chart below is based on NIH’s general guide:
Milk Expression Spaces
Number of Female Employees
Suggested Number of Stations Needed
Fewer than 100
For every additional 1,000 employees
6 additional stations
How big of a space does our business need to provide for nursing moms?
Permanent space can be as small as 4 feet by 5 feet, though the size of an accessible restroom stall, 7 feet by 7 feet, may be more comfortable.
Spaces can be for single users or multiple users. If you set up a room for multiple users, ensure privacy by using curtains, screens, partitions, or cubicle dividers to create individual spaces within the larger multi-user room.
How can we create a lactation space for more than one nursing mom to use at a time?
You can design multi-user spaces to accommodate two or more nursing mothers, depending on the need. Privacy for individual users should be included as part of the plans.
Examples of ways to set up a multi-user space include:
- Individual rooms. Some businesses create multi-user space by constructing individual rooms within a space that are locked independently. Another option is to create a multi-user space where two or more mothers can express milk, with an adjoining single-user room for women who prefer privacy.
- Curtains. Many businesses use curtain dividers to create individual milk expression “stations” within a multi-user room. Curtains are also commonly used to provide an additional layer of privacy within a multi-user room when the outside door to a hallway is opened.
- Cubicle partitions. Cubicle partitions create privacy within a multi-user lactation suite. Walls should be tall enough to protect the privacy of users. Some companies use cubicle doors with locks.
- Screens. Temporary dividers create privacy within a multi-user room. Screens should be tall enough that a tall person cannot see over them while standing. Rolling screens such as those used in health care settings can be moved to create privacy when needed. Wooden louvered dividers can create flexible, temporary spaces as needed.
Where should the lactation space be located?
Ideally, a lactation space is close to where an employee works and no farther than a 5-minute walk. Spaces should be evenly distributed within large buildings, as well as across a large campus, in easily accessible locations. Limiting an employee’s travel time minimizes the overall amount of break time that women will need to pump. Centralized locations also make it possible for the greatest number of employees to access the space.
Look for space near running water for nursing women to wash their hands and breast pump parts. Permanent, dedicated lactation space should have heating, air conditioning, and ventilation in the same way the rest of the building does. Lactation rooms should be safe from chemical exposures, loud noises, or other workplace hazards.
How can we make the lactation space private?
Women will feel comfortable and safe when the door to the lactation room can be locked. If a lockable door is not possible, provide a sign outside the door with a clear policy to help prevent others from entering the space. “Do not disturb” doorknob hanger signs may be used. Curtains or partitions by the door might be needed to provide an additional layer of privacy when a door is opened from the outside.
Lactation spaces with windows should have shades or other ways to shield a nursing mother from view. Lactation spaces should never have surveillance cameras, webcams, or any type of visual recording device inside the room. Some companies do have standard surveillance outside of the lactation room to help ensure the safety of employees using the space.
Privacy should also be provided to individual users within a multi-user room. Curtains, screens, partitions, and cubicle dividers can create individual spaces within a larger multi-user room. Another option is to construct walls to create individual milk expression rooms within a lactation suite.
What amenities should be included in the lactation space?
Permanent dedicated lactation rooms require basic amenities to be considered functional and comply with the law. These basic needs include:
- A chair
- A flat surface such as a table, desk, or shelf for the employee’s breast pump and supplies
Many companies go beyond the basic requirements to make the rooms more comfortable and convenient. Employees feel supported by companies that create relaxing and useful lactation spaces. A relaxing room may also help women express milk more efficiently and cut down on how much break time is needed to pump. Consider adding these enhanced options, which can make a woman’s pumping breaks shorter and more efficient:
- An electrical outlet for the mother’s breast pump
- A hospital-grade, double electric, multi-user breast pump
- A sink for washing hands and pump parts
- A small refrigerator for storing milk
- Soft lighting, an ottoman or footstool, framed photos or posters, and a place for mothers to post photos of their infants, to help with relaxation and milk flow
- A locker or hooks for a woman’s belongings (helpful for employees who do not have their own office space or cubicle)
- A full-length mirror for a woman to readjust clothing after pumping
- Cleaning supplies to keep the space clean
- Information about lactation support, such as the Office on Women’s Health no-cost breastfeeding helpline at 1-800-994-9662, open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time, with help available from trained breastfeeding peer counselors in English and Spanish
Should we provide breast pumps for nursing employees?
Federal law does not require that you provide breast pumps for nursing employees. Most nursing mothers use their own breast pump to express milk at work. Most health insurance plans must provide a breast pump to breastfeeding moms. Employees should contact their health insurance plan or Medicaid plan before maternity leave to ask which type of breast pump is approved and how it is provided. Some women may be eligible to receive a breast pump through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and should contact their WIC state breastfeeding coordinator (PDF, 827 KB) for more information.
Companies that employ larger numbers of nursing mothers find it is cost-efficient to purchase or rent a multi-user, double electric breast pump. These pumps can be shared by multiple women, and they are valued because they help women express milk quickly and efficiently. Employers also benefit because women are able to minimize the amount of break time needed to express milk.
If a multi-user breast pump is provided for employees, each user will provide her own separate attachments. Check with your company’s insurance program to see how breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies are covered.
Should we make the lactation space available to breastfeeding moms who are not employees?
Some businesses make the space available to other mothers in addition to employees. For example, a restaurant or retail store might make the space available for customers. A university might make the space available to students.
If your business opens the space to others, employee needs must be the priority. Personal items in the space may need to be secured. Having a formal lactation policy helps to clarify these priorities and responsibilities.
Should we keep a schedule or log for nursing moms to use the space?
Companies with many nursing mothers may wish to keep a log for employees to reserve time to use the space. This can also help the business determine when additional space may be needed. Scheduling options can include a paper sign-in sheet kept in the room, a dry-erase board, or an online calendar available to all staff.
How do I provide a temporary or flexible lactation space? What are some ideas?
Employees and supervisors should work together to arrange scheduling and use of flexible spaces. In the absence of a permanent dedicated lactation room, a formal policy, support from managers and coworkers, and clear communication will help nursing moms know they will be supported.
Some examples of flexible spaces include:
- Manager’s office. Remember to secure personnel files and cover any surveillance cameras or webcams, to protect the woman’s privacy. Provide shades or curtains for any windows in the office. The employee’s office or a coworker’s office are other options.
- Conference room. Supervisors and employees should work together to coordinate meeting schedules and pumping breaks. If the meeting room is needed for a full day, alternative lactation space should be provided. Privacy should also be addressed by communicating the lactation policy clearly to anyone who has a key, including janitorial staff, building or facilities staff, and administrative staff. If the room does not lock, the business should provide obvious signage to indicate when the room is in use, in all languages used by employees.
- Dressing room. If there are multiple dressing rooms and many nursing mothers, you can retrofit one of the dressing rooms to create a permanent lactation area by creating new signage and wiring the space for electricity. Another option for flexible space is to temporarily use a dressing room that can be locked from the inside.
- Partitioned area. You can use dividers or partitions to create a small milk expression area when space is limited. It is important to use clear and obvious signage and to communicate a policy to all other workers to help guarantee the privacy of the lactation space.
- Exam/treatment area. Businesses may have an on-site clinic for employee health services. This could be considered as a place for breastfeeding women to express milk. Employees and supervisors should work together to arrange scheduling or alternative locations if the clinic is needed for other priorities.
- Closet or storage area. You must move any chemical products to another location. Mothers will need light while the door is closed and an electrical outlet for using their electric breast pumps. Provide a door that locks from the inside or a portable screen that covers the door opening to ensure privacy. A storage area that is used several times an hour by employees to get supplies is not a good option for lactation space. A woman’s privacy in a frequently used storage space cannot be ensured unless there is an unused area that is screened off.
- Employee lounge/break room. Employees and supervisors should work together to arrange scheduling that meets the needs of all employees. A door that locks from the inside or a sign outside the room helps provide privacy. You can also temporarily screen off a smaller part of a larger space for a nursing mother to pump as needed. Considering providing amenities that make a lounge comfortable and relaxing for nursing mothers.
What considerations should I think about for a flexible lactation space?
If your business wants to use flexible space for lactation space, consider the following:
- Location. Select a flexible space near the employee’s workstation, to minimize the time needed to get to the space. A space near running water also enables women to wash their hands and their breast pump parts. A space with an electrical outlet helps moms with electric breast pumps.
- Amenities. At a minimum, provide amenities such as a chair and a flat surface (e.g., a desk or small table) for the breast pump. Look for flexible space with an electrical outlet or ability to be wired for electricity to operate the breast pump.
- Privacy. Flexible space, such as a manager’s office, may be lockable. Areas such as storage rooms may not. If the space cannot be locked, protect the privacy of nursing moms with clear and obvious signage and a well-communicated policy. This informs other workers when the space is in use. Larger spaces can be partitioned with temporary screens for privacy. In a shared or common area, a white noise machine can alleviate embarrassment or discomfort about the noise of a breast pump.
How do I provide an outdoor or mobile lactation space? What are some ideas?
Pop-up tents, mobile options, and space in nearby buildings are flexible or portable solutions. Other needs such as access to water should also be considered.
Some examples of mobile or outdoor spaces include:
- Pop-up tent. These single-person tents often zip up for privacy and provide ventilation. They fold down easily and are lightweight to carry. Other similar camping or beach-type tents also work as long as a woman can stand up in them and there is room for a chair.
- Vehicle. The cab of a large agriculture or construction vehicle provides privacy when the windows are covered. Some businesses provide a windshield visor for privacy. The vehicle battery can also power a breast pump with a car battery attachment. Mothers might use their own vehicle or a company vehicle if it can be parked close to their work station.
- Portable lactation station. A bus company created portable lactation stations by purchasing new portable restroom shells. The toilets were removed before use, so the shells were sanitary. The space was just large enough for a small chair and a flat surface for the mother’s breast pump or supplies. Such portable lactation stations were placed in safe locations, such as employee-only maintenance buildings. If you adopt this solution, use clear and obvious signs to indicate that the portable restroom shell is not a restroom, so that others do not try to use the space.
- Temporary structure. Some businesses use temporary outdoor structures, such as mobile trailers at construction sites, to provide private space for women to express milk. Alternatively, one part of a mobile trailer can be screened off. Supervisors and employees should work together to arrange a schedule. Another option is to construct a small temporary space that can be dismantled later. In other outdoor work settings, space could also be identified in a nearby building.
- Shared space with other businesses. For employees who travel, such as those who drive a taxi, truck, or bus or who are sales employees, employers might consider identifying other businesses in the community willing to share space. You can try requesting space from public organizations, such as libraries, faith-based organizations, or fire or police stations along the employee’s route. Hotels also have space options and might be willing to partner with the business. Employees who travel to a nearby business to express milk might need extra break time to accommodate travel.
What considerations should I think about for an outdoor or mobile lactation space?
If your business wants to use outdoor or mobile spaces for lactation space, consider the following:
- Location. Select a mobile space near the main working station when possible. Women also need access to water nearby to wash their hands and breast pump parts. Many companies with outdoor workers provide portable hand-washing systems. If this is not possible, the employer should allow women extra break time to get to a water source.
- Size. The space should be large enough to accommodate a chair and a flat surface, such as a small table, for the breast pump and other supplies.
- Amenities. Minimum amenities are a chair and a small table or flat surface for the employee’s breast pump or supplies. Some mobile options, such as a company vehicle, can provide power for a battery-operated pump. Access to running water so that employees can wash their hands and breast pump equipment is one of the most helpful amenities.
- Privacy. Portable or mobile spaces might need additional privacy features. Some mobile spaces have unique features that allow privacy. For example, a pop-up tent can be zipped closed. A portable lactation station can be locked from the inside. The cab of a vehicle can be made private with windshield visors. Businesses can protect the privacy of nursing mothers with clear and obvious signage and a well-communicated policy to all staff. This informs other workers that the space is in use and the employee’s privacy needs should be respected.
- Access to electricity. Women using an electric breast pump will need access to electricity. If an extension cord or electrical wiring is not possible in a mobile space, consider allowing women to use a vehicle and its power source. Some companies provide a personal-use breast pump that is powered with a car battery. Allow extra break time if mothers must use a manual pump or express milk by hand. It takes twice as long to express milk one breast at a time.
- Storing milk. Mothers can keep their milk fresh in a small cooler with ice packs if standard refrigeration is not available nearby.
- Weather issues. Extreme heat or cold makes expressing milk outdoors more difficult. Employers should make arrangements for indoor solutions for milk expression during months with extreme weather conditions to keep women comfortable enough for adequate milk flow.
How can we share lactation space with other businesses?
Some employers with limited space for lactation partner with nearby businesses willing to share their space. In some cases, businesses work with a landlord to create space that is shared by all businesses housed in the same building. Shared space with other businesses is also a solution for employees who travel, such as those who drive a taxi, truck, or bus. Employees who travel to a nearby business to express milk may need extra break time to accommodate travel time.
What considerations should I think about for shared lactation space between businesses or organizations?
If your organization wants to share lactation space with other businesses, consider the following:
- Identifying businesses or organizations to approach. Approach public organizations in the community to identify space. Government or other public buildings might have a milk expression room or other available space they are willing to share. Local police or fire stations might have lactation space for members of the public. Consider public health departments, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agencies, social service agencies, and other federal or state organizations. A local library, hospital, or church may also have available space. Hotels often have more space options available. Nearby businesses with young women on staff may be willing to partner to support nursing moms. Work with your local business association to identify common needs in the community.
- Scheduling space. To meet the needs of businesses and employees, discuss any schedule conflicts in advance. This will be especially important if the partnering business also has nursing mothers who need to use the space. A schedule log or online calendar is helpful for employees to record times they will be using the space. This is also used by the business to indicate when the space is not available, such as holidays or company celebrations.
- Communication. Clear communication helps ensure that the partnership works for everyone. Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are required to provide nursing moms with time and space to express milk at work. Therefore, it is up to the employer, not the breastfeeding mother, to seek out potential partners and make arrangements. Conduct ongoing communication to address any needs or issues that arise. Businesses might consider a written letter of agreement that outlines clear responsibilities of both businesses and their employees. This helps to ensure that a company is compliant with the FLSA requirements to provide nursing mothers with time and space to express milk.
- Handling milk. Nursing mothers might consider storing their milk at their own worksite rather than at the site of the partnering business. If a standard refrigerator is not available, a mother’s personal cooler can be used.
Did we answer your question about providing lactation space to nursing moms?
For more information about breastfeeding in the workplace, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
- U.S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions — Break Time for Nursing Mothers.