These U.S. Airports are Breast-Pumping Friendly (The Rest? Not So Much.)

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For a working mother, pumping on the road can be tricky at best, and sometimes it’s downright miserable. I was once forced to pump in a handicapped stall — the only private space big enough to accommodate me, my pump, and all its parts — only to come out 15 minutes later and find a woman with a walker waiting for her turn in the space. She couldn’t have been nicer or more patient, but really, should she have had to wait? And should I have had to pump while sitting on a toilet?

While laws require that employers provide their employees a private place to express milk other than a bathroom, there is no such requirement for airports or other public spaces where working moms who are just passing through might need to pump. And while 62 of the top 100 passenger-volume U.S. airports consider themselves “breastfeeding friendly,” according to a study released yesterday in the journal “Breastfeeding Medicine,” only 37 reported having designated lactation rooms. In the study, “Airports in the United States: Are They Really Breastfeeding Friendly?” the researchers found that of the 37, a full 25 airports considered the bathroom (unisex, family or ladies room) to be their lactation room. Only eight airports offered rooms other than bathrooms that met the Workplace Lactation Accommodation Laws’ minimum requirements for a lactation room — a table, electrical outlet, and chair.

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Pumping moms at the following airports should consider themselves lucky: San Francisco International, California; Minneapolis–St. Paul International, Minnesota; Baltimore/Washington International, Maryland; San Jose International, California; Indianapolis International, Indianapolis; Akron-Canton Regional, Ohio; Dane County Regional, Wisconsin; and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional, Florida. Of the top 100 busiest airports, they were the only to provide actual designated lactation rooms. It should be noted, though, that at Baltimore/Washington International and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional, those rooms are located outside of the security zone. (And once you’ve waited 15 minutes in the security line to essentially empty out your entire suitcase and strip down, it’s going to take a lot more than engorged breasts to send you back out.)

“I was actually surprised to see that any airports have designated lactation rooms outside of the family restroom,” Joan Ortiz, study co-author and President of Limerick Workplace Lactation Program tells Yahoo Parenting. “But we know there is a lot more education that needs to occur.”

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In email responses to the researchers, some airports acknowledged that there was still work to be done. “We do not have a dedicated room for a lactation facility,” wrote an official from New York’s LaGuardia airport. “However, a family restroom located pre-security is designed for one person and can be locked from the inside. While this is less than ideal, we continue to seek alternatives.” Others thought their bathroom option fit the bill. “Through the use of one of the family restrooms we can provide a safe, clean and private environment for lactating mothers,” said a representative of Spokane Airport.

While breastfeeding at an airport gate might be tricky, pumping there is pretty much impossible. (For me, the task involved being shirtless, in a bra with holes at the nipples, with the deafening motor ringing in my ear as milked spewed out like a fountain. Not exactly what I want to do in front of the customers at Hudson News.)

“The pumping mom tends to have the most challenges,” Ortiz says. “What if she is a reporter out on the road, or a woman on business trip? Keeping up with breastfeeding will be significantly harder for her.” 

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Ortiz hopes that lactation rooms will soon be required as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, since the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act requires employers to accommodate employees with pregnancy-related “limitations”, included pumping. “That would remove huge barriers for the working, breastfeeding mom,” she says. And women passing through airports (which have employees, after all) could stand to benefit greatly.

When I tell Ortiz about that pumping-in-the-handicap-stall incident, she isn’t surprised. “You shouldn’t have to be pumping your milk in the bathroom,” she says. “If lactation rooms become a requirement, it will help pumping and breastfeeding become a cultural norm. We need to remove the obstacles facing breastfeeding moms, and help them feel supported no matter what decision they make.”

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