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Art by (breastfeeding tech supermom) Chelsea Larsson.

Hello there, CEO! Or maybe you’re the CFO, or the head of HR, or the office manager — heck, odds are, your job encompasses all of these things because you work at a startup. You pride yourself on being scrappy, on ruthless prioritization, and on making the most of your limited resources. It works because you’ve got a team of rock stars, and one of those rockstars just told you she’s pregnant.

This is good! It’s good. You’re going to crush this like you crush your quarterly growth goals, and by the time Rockstar Susan has returned to work, you’ll have done more than retain your valued employee; you’ll have widened and deepened the pool of experienced talent who will consider working for you.

For real, though. There are thousands of qualified, high-performing women working in tech, and your investment in creating a welcoming space for new moms will pay off big-time when they come to work for you instead of your competitor.

There are lots of resources for you to look at when it comes to building a welcoming environment for parents — a generous parental leave policy, for example, or ways to manage career advancement as your employees begin to build families. The badass women behind Moms in Tech will have lots of advice for you on those subjects in the coming months. Today, I’m here to talk to you about creating space for returning mothers to pump breastmilk. Eek!

I know this is daunting, because it involves breasts, and also the annexing of limited space when you’ve already got the engineering team warring with marketing over your two coveted conference rooms. I promise — you’ve got this.

So, let’s begin! Here’s what you need, condensed into 3 easy steps because we know how busy you are.

1. Start by understanding that Susan will likely need to pump several times a day for at least a few months, and possibly up to a year (or more!)

This is the most important part. You don’t need to ask her about how long she plans to pump, or how often she’ll need to do it every day, or whether she’ll be able to hop on Slack while expressing milk from her breasts. Just create space for her (literally and metaphorically), and trust that she’ll know how to do her job well in between pumping sessions. Or during them, if she so chooses.

2. Create a designated and private place.

By “designated,” I mean one place Susan can reliably use to pump. It doesn’t have to be solely dedicated to pumping, but it must be easily accessible, and your company should be able to function without it for 15–30 minutes at a time, several times a day.

At a minimum, the space should have room for a somewhat comfortable chair that’s situated reasonably close to a power outlet.

It could be a repurposed supply closet, or that one tiny conference room that nobody wants to use, or maybe you sacrifice your corner office a few times a day (although if you have a corner office, you are not my target reader). Whatever you decide, it needs to be clear that when Susan is using the space, only Susan is using it.

By “private,” I mean nobody can see inside — either through a window or by accidentally barging in. If it’s got windows, cover them up semi-permanently so that Susan doesn’t have to tape paper to them every time she needs to pump. The door should be lockable from the inside; a simple hook and eye latch will do the trick. Print out a “Do Not Disturb” sign so it’s clear the room is in use and the milk is a-flowing.

Note: It should not be a bathroom. In addition to being unpleasant, uncomfortable, and — yes — illegal, if you’ve got individual bathrooms other people will be waiting 15+ minutes to pee while Susan sweats and stress-pumps inside. Not good for anyone.

Got it? Designated, private, chair, power outlet. If you can deliver those things — congratulations! You’ve achieved the bare minimum to enable Susan to pump during the day. And this shouldn’t cost you more than a couple hundred bucks.

3. Plan for storage, cleaning, and supplies.

Once she’s pumped, Susan will need somewhere to put the milk. This should be easy; you’re a startup! You’ve got some kind of mini-kitchen situation going on, don’t you? So you’ve got a fridge, right? Clear a little space for Susan to store her breast milk. She’ll keep it in clearly-marked bottles or baggies, so don’t worry — nobody’s going to accidentally put it in his coffee.

If you can spare the expense, and you’ve got the room for it, squeeze a mini-fridge into the designated space so Susan can store the milk someplace private, and you can be 100% sure that no one will accidentally put it in his coffee.

We’ve established that you’ve got a kitchen, so I’m sure you’ve got a sink, right? Great. Susan will need to rinse off her pumping apparatus periodically throughout the day and let it dry. Try to make sure everyone’s mature about this, because nobody is more uncomfortable about publicly airing out her pumping supplies than Susan.

A small thing that makes a big difference: add disinfectant hand soap and pump cleaning soap, and/or pump cleaning wipes, to your regular Amazon order for office supplies. If you want to win the HR Director of the Year award, keep some spare milk storage bags on hand, as well as spare pump parts in case she runs out or something breaks. It’s a very small investment (perhaps $100 for the year), but it’ll show Susan you care about her comfort and hygiene.

Adding a fridge and a few supplies might add a few more hundred dollars, keeping this whole room under $1k for you for the year.

Art by Chelsea Larsson.

OK! We made it! Susan’s got a nice, quiet supply closet with a chair, a latch and a power outlet. She can pump in peace, and Larry has promised he’ll stop putting her breast milk in his coffee, and ever since that one unfortunate incident no one has tried to wear breast flanges over his eyes like funny goggles. Pat yourself on the back, and stop here if you’re only ready to provide the basics.


Awesome — you’re ready to take it to the next level. That must be why your company is doing so well. As your team grows and you’re able to invest more resources into your workspace and culture, think about how those can help your mother’s room. Here are some bonus features that’ll win you employee retention points and that stellar review on Glassdoor, or maybe inclusion into the next edition of this list.

GOALS.

Here we go.

  • A sink. If you can swing it, consider installing a sink and drying rack directly in the mother’s room. And please ensure that it’s an actual sink capable of washing dishes, and not one designed for washing hands.

This, apparently, is less obvious than it may seem. When I worked at Facebook — arguably one of the most parent-friendly companies in the world — I returned from my generous maternity leave and found that our brand-new super-luxury mother’s room came equipped with a sink that had an automatic hand sensor. Imagine trying to wash your dishes in a public bathroom under a thin, sporadic stream of lukewarm water. Also, you’re late for your meeting and you’re freaking out about not pumping enough milk that session to feed your kid for the next day. Maybe you stress-cry a little bit while cursing the sink every time the water shuts itself off and promising yourself today is the last day you’ll put yourself through the agony of pumping at work. Now you know how I felt, and how Susan will feel if you don’t have at least one functional sink for her to use. Cool? Cool.

  • Cubbies: Designated spaces within the designated space for Susan to store all the accoutrement that go with pumping, and maybe a few other things that make the space more comfortable for her, such as pictures of Susan Jr.
  • A hospital-grade pump: An investment for sure, but a high-powered pump makes the entire experience faster and more efficient, and, more importantly, means Susan doesn’t have to schlep her milk motor to and from work every day. This will set you back between $200 and $2,000 depending on the model you choose, but there are also options to rent them that may be even more economical.
  • Privacy curtains: Your company is doing so well, and is now so popular with experienced, talented professionals of child-bearing age, that before long you’ll have multiple women vying for that nice dedicated space. It’s a great idea to add privacy curtains — the kind with tracks on the ceiling, like in a hospital — so that they can pump alone, together. So sweet, right? Check with your state’s laws to see exactly how many stations you need to provide based on the size of your company.

Pro tip! When you add these curtains, make sure you also add another chair, and that there is at least one accessible outlet per chair/curtain combination. Otherwise it’s pretty much useless. If you’ve got a fridge in the room, make sure you account for it when doing the math on outlets.

  • Comfy chairs: Get something like this (but maybe you can find one that’s less heinous to look at). If she wants to work, she can use the desk for her laptop, but it actually works perfectly as a resting place for the pump while Susan lies back and takes a nap. Just kidding. She’s probably Slacking furiously on her phone, trying to make it seem like she’s at her desk.
  • Ambience: It costs almost nothing to make the space feel less corporate or clinical and more like a cheery dairy factory. The walls might be painted a pleasant color; maybe there’s some art on the walls, or pictures of your employees’ kids. Calm lighting (maybe with a dimmer?). Climate control for that specific room so that it’s not freezing or humid. You get the idea.
  • Security: If you want to get fancy, and your company already uses a key card security system, you can put a card-activated lock on the door and only enable nursing mothers to have access to the room. Make sure Susan’s card is activated on her first day back so she doesn’t have to find the security team to let her into the room that day.
  • A reservation system: If you have multiple nursing moms but only one pumping station, you’ll still want to have that “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so you don’t have nursing moms interrupting each other. You might also create a calendar system so that all these amazing nursing moms can coordinate with one another about who uses the room when.
  • Predicting the future: Any founder worth his salt knows that it’s not enough to think big; you also have to think ahead to outsmart the competition. Anticipate that even before your own Rockstar Susan needs space to pump that at some point, you will have an employee who needs to. Even if you don’t have any female employees yet (but you should, dude), it sets the tone that you’ve got the kind of workplace parents or wannabe-someday parents want to join.

Also, you may have more breastfeeding moms than you think if you’ve ever hired, or plan to hire, a consultant — or if a key investor or partner is a woman. Imagine your breezy smile as you show her to the modest mother’s room you’ve already set up. Nice!

Before we wrap this up (and we are almost done — I swear), a cautionary tale: ignore this advice at your own peril. Apart from the potential legal implications of not creating a space for pumping moms, if you don’t put at least a little bit of effort into your mother’s room, you could end up losing Susan. From a frustrated mom who recently returned to work at a startup:

I currently work from the office about 2 hours a day, and the rest from home. My manager wants me to spend more time in the office but there is no pumping room. The lack of understanding and amenities at work is causing me to look for other opportunities.”

But this isn’t going to happen to you, is it? You’ve put that scrappy startup attitude to work. With a little bit of effort and creative planning, you’ve transformed your office into a welcoming space for new moms. What a rockstar! Now we can all get back to achieving hockey stick growth.


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