At a growing number of companies, the answer is yes.
Kent State announced this week it has joined the ranks of employers providing “lactation rooms” for breast-feeding employees.
For KSU sustainability manager Melanie Knowles, this means she only has to walk down a hall and into a private room to express milk for her 15-month-old son, Arran.
“It’s great. Knowing it’s there takes one thing off my mind,” she said.
The federal Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 requires companies with more than 50 workers to provide a private place with a lockable door for mothers to express and refrigerate breast milk. Dee Keith, a board-certified lactation consultant in Cincinnati and co-chair of the Ohio Breastfeeding Alliance, said employers seem to be complying with the new regulation.
“People are doing their best to come online as word gets out,” she said. “It’s a cost benefit to them.”
Some employers provided retreats for breast-feeding moms long before it was required.
For example, Akron Children’s Hospital included five lactation rooms in the Reinberger Family Center that it opened in 2008, spokeswoman Holly Pupino said.
Employees, patients and visitors use the rooms about 1,300 times a month. The rooms are built for comfort, with TVs, refrigerators, juice and snacks.
Ohio State has 28 lactation rooms on its main campus and Medical Center in Columbus and plans to include more in new construction.
As about 10,500 faculty and staff on OSU’s main campus are women in their child-bearing years, the rooms are a valuable lure to recruit and retain employees, the university said.
The University of Michigan has more than 30 lactation sites, from lounges to private meeting rooms that can be commandeered upon request.
The Akron-based Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. has provided lactation rooms in its corporate headquarters and Innovation Center since 2006, spokesman Keith Price said.
“The rooms are open and available to associates during working hours,” he said. “Associates are encouraged to walk in when needed.”
Kent State opened lactation rooms for female employees this week in its Women’s Center, Harbourt Hall and the Schwartz Center. Each room is being equipped with a chair and refrigerator, and the Women’s Center is getting a breast pump.
“The rooms are cozy — not overly large,” said Michael Bruder, who oversees design and construction for KSU.
The university wants to have lactation rooms within a five-minute walk of each of the 100 buildings on campus. Three to five more buildings are being identified, with the library, the busiest building on campus, the next to get a lactation room.
The city of Akron does not have rooms just for lactating mothers in each city facility, spokeswoman Stephanie York said, but it does provide one if a woman needs one.
“I can tell you from personal experience, that such a room at the Law Department was provided to me when I needed it,” she said.
The University of Akron offers space for lactating mothers. Employees and supervisors also work together to find private space in individual buildings, and employees with private offices can simply close their door.
But all is not smooth in this brave new world, despite general agreement that breast-fed babies are healthier than their bottle-fed brethren and that lactation rooms can keep young mothers on the job.
Keith of the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition said she gets at least one call a week from a mom who says she’s getting a hard time from an employer about her need to lactate or whose employer won’t provide a private space.
One Akron-area woman complained that her employer didn’t want her to return to work until her child had moved on to bottles. Keith called the company’s law department and “accommodations quickly were made for her.”
At Kent State, breast-feeding mothers like Knowles once had to make do with makeshift accommodations — in her case, a large closet that she shared with files.
The current situation is much nicer, she said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.