The Trouble with “Wellness Rooms”

Wellness rooms have made a big leap in popularity in recent years. These days, most companies and commercial architects are including it in office floor plans as a standard element. This is great for so many reasons. But, it’s exactly because wellness rooms are needed for so many reasons that they are actually failing breastfeeding moms.

NOT AVAILABLE WHEN NEEDED

With open office layouts & glass walls, wellness rooms are being used for all activities requiring privacy–prayer, meditation, phone calls, or just plain uninterrupted quiet time to get some work done. Women often don’t feel comfortable asking men, particularly those in a superior position, to vacate the room when they need to pump.

Recently I had a meeting at a company that employed approximately 50 employees. After the meeting was over, my contact was giving me a tour of their office space and proudly pointed to the door of their wellness room, which doubled as their mother’s room. There was a sign on the door that read “occupied, come back later.” But as I got closer to the door, I could hear male voices. Turns out, there were two partners in there taking a conference call on speaker. Now, this may seem trivial to some, but if you’re a mom whose breasts are about to start leaking, and you only have a small window in between meetings to pump, this ‘minor inconvenience’ can be the difference in leaking at best, and mastitis at worst–both of which come with a hefty dose of emotional distress.

EXPOSURE TO COWORKERS

Women must alter or remove clothing completely in order to pump. The vulnerability of knowing coworkers are right outside the door can be unsettling & stressful, hindering her ability to pump (milk is released faster when a woman is relaxed).

I had one woman, who was so thankful to enroll in Work & Mother because her office’s “wellness room” was located right off her company’s main work area. “I would’ve felt so completely on display if I had to carry a pump bag and milk into that room. And I just know I’d get knocks on the door by coworkers needing things from me or asking if I was almost done so we could go over X-Y-Z.”

REQUIRE USE OF COMPANY BREAK ROOM

Inappropriate comments & cases of bullying have arisen by coworkers who disapprove of women washing pump parts & storing breastmilk in company break rooms.

When I started this company, I was most surprised about the number of stories that came pouring in about women being harrassed in the break room while rinsing pump parts. I could not believe that grown ass men were so immature and freaked out about MILK that they would make comments like, “that’s disgusting, you’re are disgusting for doing that here,” or, “this is an office, not a dairy farm, get that stuff out of here.” Now, once again, these may seem ‘harmless’ to some, but the reality is that during the 4th trimester, particularly when a mom is trying her absolute best to prove to her coworkers that she’s back and better than ever, comments like that are a enough to break her down. Not to mention, it creates an workplace culture that undercuts women and families. Even joking comments such as, “hey, can you put a little of that in my coffee?” are totally unnecessary and tiring.

NEED CLEAN, SANITARY PLACE TO PUMP

People use wellness rooms when they are unwell–when they’re coughy and sneezy and sniffly. It is not recommended to pump food for newborns in an environment where people have been sick.

The good news, is that because you are breastfeeding, you are automatically sharing your immune system with your baby. The bad news, is that babies are still very vulnerable little things and the last thing you want to do is expose them to unnecessary germs. This is the same rationale behind the federal law that prohibits employers from offering up a bathroom as a “mother’s room.” Breastmilk is a food product. It should be collected and stored in a sanitary environment.