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Mommy Mayor: Nursing Nirvana

by Cathleen Lewis

I’ve found my nursing/working-mom nirvana. It’s Room 176a in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, otherwise known as “EEOB,” the office building in the White House complex.  Last week, I had the privilege of attending a series of meetings on the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” program but that meant that I was on a train at 5:30 am and home around 8 pm, which meant that I was going to need to pump sometime during the day. So, I emailed my host and was greeted with a quick email saying, “No problem, I’ll get you the details before you come.” And, sure enough, two days beforehand, I got a quick note to myself and two other moms letting me know where to go.

Once the morning session broke, I took my bag and headed to find Room 176a. It was easy to find and even had a sign easily identifying it. I opened the door and found two other moms pumping. We quickly greeted each other and started talking.

For other employers trying to figure out what moms need, let me describe the room:

  • a chair and two small coffee tables. One of the moms said that one of the tables would shortly be traded for a chair;
  • 2 Medela pumps, for general use. All moms had to do was bring their accessories, if they wanted;
  • a cabinet where moms could stash their accessories to make it easier to duck in and pump between meetings. No need to lug a pump around just stop in and grab your stuff;
  • a fridge to store milk, a counter for moms to spread out equipment on to put milk into freezer bags; and
  • a sink and chlorox wipes to clean out the accessories and a microwave for moms who took the extra step to sterilize between sessions.

The best part was that it had other moms, along with a bulletin boards sharing good news and displaying baby pics. In the 15 minutes I was there, I was welcomed into their little village. We shared war stories about times we used other “nursing rooms,” those dark lonely spaces that fit the requirements but made us feel like outliers requiring us to carry our pump and cooler bag around to our meetings all day. We shared advice and offered support.

One mom had a week-old baby in the NICU and she was back part-time, in part because, as a researcher, experiments don’t stop for child birth but also so she could save her time for when her baby was home. She was concerned that she wasn’t giving her baby enough breastmilk, but the other mom and I quickly assured her that her output was impressive given how young her baby was. I pictured how lonely she would have felt in the rooms I’ve pumped in — back to work while her baby was still in the hospital, worrying that all this work of pumping wasn’t enough. But, in this space, she was able to have a friendly conversation, talk about her baby, and find support and advice.

Encouraging breastfeeding has been a goal of the Obama administration and, while there is still room for improvement (that second chair would be nice) in their own space, they are doing a great job of helping young mothers. I hope more places will make their nursing rooms as welcoming as this one. We need more spaces and more villages.

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