Stephanie Boms and Della Leapman lead Nessel, a company that designs and builds wellness room furniture — such as lactation stations for breastfeeding employees — while advocating for change to the culture of support for lactation accommodation in the workplace.
“When a pumping employee returns from maternity leave, it is arguably the most vulnerable time in her life,” Boms said. “Not only is she now responsible for nurturing and nourishing another life, but she also resumes a full set of work responsibilities.”
In addition to their beautifully designed lactation room furniture, Nessel’s mission is to change the narrative around how work and parenthood can better align. Their consulting services help organizations create the proper accommodations so that breastfeeding employees do not have to choose between work and family.
The problem: inadequate lactation space at work
According to the US Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health, employers are legally required to “provide a private space for lactation that is not a bathroom. ‘Private’ means that other people cannot see an employee while she is pumping breastmilk.”
Pumping employees also need access to electricity for personal equipment, refrigeration for proper storage of breastmilk, and running water for sanitation.
Yet, some workplaces remain inadequately equipped to meet new mothers’ needs. A lack of proper accommodation can create high-stakes pressure and place needless stress on lactating employees.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researcher Alison Stuebe, MD, has found direct associations between breastmilk and health outcomes for infants. “For infants, not being breastfed is associated with an increased incidence of infectious morbidity, as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome,” she writes.
“For mothers, failure to breastfeed is associated with an increased incidence of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, myocardial infarction, and the metabolic syndrome.” For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly encourages breastfeeding for up to two years, if possible.
“If the new mother feels they are struggling to be productive at work or failing to be able to pump at work (if this was the choice she selected), there can be long-term emotional consequences that are sometimes irrevocable,” Boms explained. “For example, if she feels she can’t provide adequate nutrition for her newborn, there can be a significant impact on her ability to succeed in the workplace.”
The good news is that cost-effective solutions exist that employers can quickly implement to ensure their success.
Setting up an effective lactation room.
Setting up a room for pumping mothers is much less complicated than some employers may fear. As lactation space is not legally required to be permanent, Nessel’s portable lactation stations make it easy for employers to provide everything pumping employees need.
Designed to make implementing lactation space as easy as possible for employers, Nessel’s lactation stations can simply be moved and stored when not in use. Rental options are also available.
“Breastfeeding employees need to pump during the workday,” Boms said. “Creating space to do this in a safe and sanitary environment is key to them doing this successfully. The biggest worry many working mothers have does not have a clean place to wash their equipment. Post-Covid, the need for sanitation is front and center.”
Requiring no installation, Nessel’s lactation stations include integrated power outlets, a built-in refrigerator, and a portable, plumbing-free sink. Additional features are designed to support productivity and comfort for pumping employees, such as a sliding desk and an ergonomic lactation chair.
“No new mother wants to store her breast milk in a public refrigerator and risk someone accidentally moving her breast milk or spilling it,” Boms explained. “Pumping can be difficult and taxing for new mom employees. Breast milk is liquid gold, and it needs to be protected the best it can. It needs to be stored at 40 degrees, so having a fridge that is private and set at the perfect temperature is very important.”
Employers still need to create a culture of inclusion for breastfeeding employees in the workplace. “Organizations should acknowledge pumping employees and provide them with the tools they need to succeed,” said Boms.
About the author: Elizabeth Galewski got her start in communications during a summer internship at the White House during the Clinton administration. Working in the Media Affairs office awoke her passion for media relations, so she went back to D.C. the next summer and interned in the US Senate. In between the two years of her master’s program at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, she spent her summer in D.C. as Assistant to the Press Secretary for a US Representative in the House. Upon graduating from Penn, Elizabeth served as a research assistant to Stephen Hess at the Brookings Institution. She then became the Media Relations Coordinator at the National Association of Counties (NACo), a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. After that, she left D.C. to pursue a doctoral program in Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. For the next 12 years, she taught rhetoric at the college level, even winning Teacher of the Year in 2016.