Creating a Pumping Room at Work Gave Us Something Even Greater

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I was terrified the first time I ever pumped breast milk at the high school where I work. Huddling over my pump in the girls’ locker room, I desperately waited for milk to trickle into bottles that hung from my pointy Madonna-style bra.

There was only one other colleague on campus who had pumped before (we were a new school). She advised me to time pumping between when the students changed into their uniforms and when they returned from the gym. Naturally, my timing was off. As my milk finally let down and the bottles began to fill, the volleyball team pounded on the doors, shouting, “Let us in!” Needless to say, I didn’t get much out of that pumping session—or the others that followed.

Couldn’t we do better than this? When I began chatting with colleagues who were moms or expecting, I began building a community of parents who wanted to support each other and see this thing through. “You’re our advocate!” one woman said, long before I’d even figured out the first step to establishing a space for us. I felt like I could barely advocate for myself, but when others expressed appreciation, I became motivated to step up.

As preliminary research, I spoke to my friend in corporate America to make a list of what her deluxe pump room included:

– Couches and recliners
– Refrigerator
– Sink, sponges, paper towels
– Bookshelves with breastfeeding resources
– Tasteful art and lamps that could be dimmed
– A hospital-grade pump designed to be sanitary for communal use so parents could lighten their loads

When I reviewed the list, I felt encouraged. We could get most items donated, and all we really needed was a private room with a door that locked. However, even that was a challenge. “We don’t have much space here,” my principal said, “But let’s talk about what your dream room would include.” I continued working on design ideas with a team of volunteers, creating a Google spreadsheet to organize donations. We were making progress!

When I had the big meeting with my principal, my union chapter representative accompanied me for moral support and to share information about New York state law, which requires employers to provide a private space that isn’t a restroom as well as a “reasonable” amount of time to pump. The three of us debated for a few minutes before concluding that the locker room didn’t meet those standards (one could argue that a changing room across from toilets was satisfactory, but the gym schedule wasn’t conducive to giving teachers “reasonable” time).

It was helpful to have the law in front of us and to have a neutral party in the union rep—a fellow teacher who wasn’t a mom herself and didn’t have a personal investment in the outcome, so was less emotional about the topic than I was.

Fast-forward to the grand opening of our Lactation Room: a sky-blue oasis with a black IKEA recliner, framed Georgia O’Keefe print, mini-fridge, and photo collage of all the breastfed babies born to the staff. The lactation room had been a former utility closet, but who cared? The space was private and quiet at the end of a long coordinator, blissfully separate from the rest of campus.

I posted signs on the door that read, Lactation Room: Do Not Disturb. Speak to Jess Hinds if you need a key. One of the most fun parts of the project was soliciting and collecting adorable baby pictures, and learning about the staff’s little ones. It made us all so much closer.

For a decade now, I’ve proudly held the (unofficial title) of lactation coordinator at school. This means that I check on the room regularly, hold orientations, and help multiple lactating people set a schedule so everyone has their own private time.

Every semester, I send out emails reminding everyone of my role and letting them know they can ask me confidential questions about anything baby-related. I’m delighted to say that newly pregnant moms often knock on my door now—and not just for pumping room access. I love being a port in the storm for new parents and holding a magical key that helps moms feed their babies. It continues to feed and nourish me, too.

Jess deCourcy Hinds ( is a writer and librarian. Sign up for her free quarterly newsletter, I’m an Open Book: On Love, Libraries and Life-building.

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