Harvard has had lactation rooms on both the Cambridge and Harvard Longwood campuses for more than a decade, but over the past few years, the number has grown.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

New support for nursing mothers

4 min read

Harvard adds on and upgrades rooms for privacy

As a new mother, Houghton Library cataloger Christina Linklater knew how important breastfeeding is to mothers’ and infants’ health. But as she prepared to return to work, she wondered where she would be able to express milk. She didn’t have a private office, and the closest lactation room was a 15-minute walk. So she contacted Anna Anctil of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Human Resources and asked whether a new lactation room could be created right in Harvard Yard.

“I saw a new lactation room as a small but real thing I could do to soften the experience of leaving an infant to come back to work — for myself and other new moms,” said Linklater.

Anctil took on the task of finding space. “I felt it was important to respond to the needs of new mothers,” she said. “I wanted to find space that would provide them with a comfortable, private area that would allow them to continue breastfeeding.” The new room in Widener Library opened in January.

Harvard has had lactation rooms on both the Cambridge and Harvard Longwood campuses for more than a decade, but over the past few years, the number has grown.

“We have developed two new mothers’ rooms, and we have upgraded three others,” said Nina Dickerman, work/life program manager for the Harvard Longwood campus. “Of course moms can use private offices if they have them, but many open-plan workspaces do not allow for privacy.”

The number of rooms equipped with a pump has also increased. Since 2008, the Office of Work/Life has placed eight hospital-grade pumps in mothers’ rooms from the Harvard Kennedy School to the School of Public Health to the Observatory to the Harvard Forest.

There’s no cost to use them, but individuals must provide their own auxiliary kit, available at pharmacies, specialty stores, and online.

Such efforts have gotten a boost from recent changes in federal law. In 2012, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) updated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) with a requirement that employers make available an appropriate space for mothers to express milk. (The act specifically rules out bathrooms.)

The Office of Work/Life works with Harvard Schools and departments to help them understand the requirements, and the office provides guidelines for the creation of lactation rooms. “We’re always looking for partners to develop mothers’ rooms,” said Beth Faria, of the Office of Work/Life. “And we’ve provided guidelines to Campus Services, so that they can proactively integrate space into new and renovated buildings.”

The FLSA also requires employers to provide nursing mothers with breaks, so Harvard recently formalized its guidelines for nursing mothers, which emphasize a “common-sense framework” for meeting breastfeeding women’s needs while also meeting business-unit goals. “The guidelines call on both supervisor and employee to be reasonable and creative when setting up these breaks,” said Nancy Costikyan, director of the Office of Work/Life.

PPACA also contains a provision that requires insurance companies to cover the costs of purchasing or renting a breast pump and of receiving support from a lactation consultant as part of babies’ basic preventive care. With most insurers, a mother needs a prescription and must obtain the pump from a list of vendors.

With so much energy surrounding support for breastfeeding, a new partnership between Harvard and Isis Parenting, a provider of childbirth and early parenting education, is timely, according the Office of Work/Life.

“Isis Parenting offers Harvard employees access to education and guidance, from prenatal education to postpartum support,” said Faria. “Perhaps as important is access to a community of new mothers through classes, events, and drop-in support groups.” Harvard ID holders receive a 50 percent discount on a one-year membership. (Visit Isis Parenting and enter code: HARVARD12 at checkout, or visit an Isis location and show your Harvard ID.)

“Recent improvements are good news for mothers and infants, and good news for the workplace,” said Costikyan. “Harvard wants all of these talented people to be able to meet their families’ needs while they continue to give Harvard their best work.”

For a list of lactation rooms on campus and for more information.