Lactation rooms now a requirement for airports

As I arrived at the Los Angeles airport yesterday, I was pleased to see a designated nursing room in the boarding area. It was located near the women’s bathroom but it was separate. This made me happy for all of the traveling families. This makes breastfeeding and pumping accessible and normal. This creates the expectation that there should be accommodations.

This month, the United States Senate approved a Federal Aviation Administration bill that requires major airports to provide lactation rooms. LAX is ahead of the curve.

I went back after my trip to the bathroom to look inside the lactation room but it was locked. Although disappointed that I couldn’t get a closer look, I was happy for two reasons: 1) it was being used, and 2) it had a lock.

As a mom, volunteer La Leche League Leader, and a private practice lactation consultant, I know too well the struggles families have while traveling with a baby. Add on a baby who relies on pumped milk or a mom traveling without a baby but who has a baby back home who relies on pumped milk, and the challenges are multiplied. Finding a clean, private place to pump milk on the go can make travel challenging for all moms, but especially for employed moms. How many have sat on a toilet seat to pump engorged breasts? How many have hidden in a corner to nurse a babbling baby? How many have tried to throw a blanket over their babies or pumps to try and hide their breasts from public examination?

While I am not a fan of closeted nursing, I do understand that sometimes one just needs a quiet place to nurse a distracted baby. Many moms are comfortable nursing out and about, but many are not. Until nursing becomes completely normalized, there will be those who feel they need a private area to nurse their babies.

Separation of mother and baby is one of the biggest reasons for premature weaning. With more than half of American women with children under the age of one in the workforce, we need to support them to keep nursing. Breastfeeding should not be a career-buster.

Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to miss out on work as their babies are less likely to get sick. When a mom is supported in balancing parenting and employment, she will be happier in her job and have greater job performance. The more we do to support moms and babies, the happier and healthier population we will have.

Many moms are exclusive pumpers with babies who do not latch, so they need a clean space to pump. Another population that is often forgotten are those who are pumping milk to donate because they make extra milk; they are surrogate moms or they are offering a gift for sick babies. These women need support too!

Another bonus about these designated areas is that it’s less likely for parents to get harassed for traveling with breast milk. I have had to listen to the horror stories of moms who called the airline ahead of time and were assured they could carry on their insulated bag of liquid gold, only to be told they had to dump it out when going through security. Lactation rooms not only help normalize breastfeeding and pumping, but also educate airport staff on breastfeeding rights.

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About Leigh Anne O'Connor, Bundoo Lactation Consultant

Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, is a private practice lactation consultant in New York City.

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