Planning a Conference? Add a Lactation Room to Your Checklist

lactation room symbolby Tamar Snyder

This week, my baby boy is celebrating his first birthday. And I’m celebrating a milestone of my own – the fact that I no longer need to lug around a heavy breast pump with me wherever I go.

I am grateful to my employer for providing me with a private space to pump and the flexibility to do so when I needed to. However, finding similar accommodations while attending conferences or in the airport when traveling for business were far more difficult.

One bright spot was at Slingshot Day, the annual gathering of the stakeholders of Jewish innovation, which took place in May. Slingshot designated a guest room on the third floor of the Brooklyn Marriott (where the conference was taking place) as a de facto lactation room. This offered at least three attendees (there may have been more) the ability to provide nourishment for their young children from the comfort of a private space equipped with numerous outlets, a sink, a refrigerator and several chairs.

Over the whir of the breast pumps, the three of us shared horror stories about our experiences trying to pump while attending other conferences, when such an accommodation wasn’t available. Each of us had experienced the “yuck factor” of pumping in a public bathroom, struggling not to spill this “liquid gold.” I personally will never forget the time I had to sidestep a large cockroach while pumping in a bathroom stall.

There’s a reason that the Affordable Care Act requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide a place, other than a bathroom, for employees to express breast milk. Think about it – would you want to feed your child in a cramped public restroom stall? [These images of women doing just as part of the “When Nurture Calls” ad campaign bring home the idea that “a baby should never be nurtured where nature calls.” The same concept should apply to expressing milk.] There’s also the practical point that many breast pumps need to be plugged into an outlet. The outlets in many public restrooms either do not work (I’ve tried!) or are so far from a stall, you would need an extension cord.

I want to commend Slingshot’s Will Schneider and Julie Finkelstein for having the foresight to provide the lactation room, despite the additional cost. It’s a shame though that this struck me as innovative rather than business as usual.

In fact, the events coordinator at the hotel told Julie that this was the first time she had ever received a request for a lactation room. Hard to believe, isn’t it, considering the hundreds of conferences the hotel hosts each year. [It’s possible that conference organizers have asked for a private space but didn’t specify the purpose for which it would be used].

Regardless, I believe that it is important to publicize the existence of the lactation room, if only to remind conference organizers that this is a very real need. My hope is that a lactation room will become a standard accommodation at Jewish and secular conferences – as well as airports, malls, and other public spaces. Until that happens, though, it is important for working moms who require the use of a lactation room to advocate for themselves and request one ahead of time. [Props to UJA-Federation of New York, which has a lactation room on the fourth floor that has proven convenient when attending conferences and meetings in the 59th Street building].

For a Jewish community that speaks so often about the values of Jewish continuity and inclusion, it’s especially important that we practice what we preach.

Tamar Snyder is the Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives & Communications at Jewish Communal Fund, the donor advised fund of the Jewish community of greater New York.