Recently, the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine completed a room exclusively for new mothers. Called "Nursing Mom Room," this space is reserved for any USARIEM employee or guest who needs to lactate for their new baby.
The Nursing Mom Room provides nursing mothers a private, comfortable and clean space to express milk. Mothers also have a designated refrigerator to exclusively store their milk throughout the day without fear that it could be contaminated.
USARIEM created this room in response to a new law under the Affordable Care Act that says employers are required to provide a space to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother, for up to one year following the birth of the employee's child. The space provided by the employer cannot be a bathroom, and it must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by co-workers or the public.
Capt. Michelle Mastrobattista, USARIEM military detachment commander, who is expecting her second child later this summer, helped to make this room happen. She said it was the updated law plus requests from other USARIEM mothers and personal experience that led her to spearhead this project.
"When I first took command, I heard a few people asking about where their lactating guest could go; we didn't have a space other than the bathroom," Mastrobattista said. "I remembered my own personal experiences of having to use a bathroom and how uncomfortable it was. When I found out that providing an appropriate non-bathroom space was a law, I recommended to the institute command team how we could be in compliance."
The room has two private stations, each with a comfortable chair, foot stool, side table and electrical outlet. Each station has its own privacy door. In the common space, there is a new refrigerator to store expressed milk and there are hooks to hang garments or jackets on. Mastrobattista said she personalized the room based on what she knew that a new mother would need.
"As far as design, I had a few requirements based on my experience, as well as feedback I received from other mothers in the organization," Mastrobattista said. "One thing many people noted was that the color should be soothing instead of plain white. The color is a spa sea-green hue, and I've only heard good things about the color.
"Two other small details of the room which may not seem obvious which we included were the foot stools and electrical outlets," Mastrobattista said. "Most pumps which nursing mothers use are electrical, not manual, so we needed each station to have that. As far as the foot stools, they add an extra level of physical comfort to the mother. Most nursing rocking chairs come with stools, which add to the relaxing environment."
Mastrobattista said that the room was created to support new moms so that they may continue to successfully meet the organization's mission while ensuring their personal needs are being met during duty hours.
"The room is important because it shows USARIEM civilians and military members that we care about them," Mastrobattista said. "USARIEM has afforded the space and resources for this project because becoming a new parent, whether for the first or fifth time, is a joyous time which requires support not only from family and friends, but also from employers and supervisors."
Although the Nursing Mom Room was Mastrobattista's idea, she commends the USARIEM command team for supporting the project.
"The law doesn't state we need a nice and inviting room," Mastrobattista said. "It doesn't say that we need a permanent room at all, but that we need to provide non-bathroom space as needed for mothers. I think the level of commitment the command has to its employees is reflected in this room."
Mastrobattista is proud of the mark she has left on USARIEM and hopes mothers use it for years to come.
"The room is a permanent fixture in the building," Mastrobattista said. "Instead of waiting for a nursing mother to raise her hand and request special space, USARIEM has already provided such a space so that mothers may use it at will during their duty day. "