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Build a better nursing lounge

“Why don’t more moms use nursing lounges provided in public places, like malls, churches, and other businesses?”

I read this concern in a comment thread regarding public breastfeeding. A man stated he saw lounges but didn’t think women used them. His evidence was seeing women breastfeeding near the lounges but not in the lounges.

Moms are legally protected to nurse whenever and wherever they want. Some lactivists fear public nursing lounges make nursing in public more taboo because women are expected to use them. I welcome them, however. If a mom nurses longer because she knows there will always be a comfortable, clean, private place available, it’s a good thing.

I have some thoughts about public nursing lounges and why they could be under-used.

1. They are often inconveniently located. Many nursing lounges are built near far-flung bathrooms or in empty hallways. If malls or other public venues have the space to build a nursing lounge, they don’t exactly give away the prime locations first. Location seems to be an afterthought. Build the lounges where moms want to be. If that means sacrificing 100 sq. feet of space, make that sacrifice.

2. The chairs are uncomfortable. Sorry, nursing lounge designer. Straight-backed chairs with wooden armrests do not make for a comfy nursing session. Benches are more comfortable, so that’s where mama and baby have parked themselves. Moms appreciate comfort. Wide chairs with soft cushioning make everyone happy. Even better? Glider rockers and footrests! Make the lounge seem like a haven of comfort, not an Oil ‘N Lube Center waiting room.

3. The lighting is annoying. A nursing lounge is not a bathroom without toilets. Ditch the florescent ceiling panels. Invest in soft lighting. Natural light is best. Lamps make lounges seem homey and comfy, too.

4. Where’s the table? Nursing moms get very, very thirsty. It’s nice to have a table next to the chair so water bottles and cups can be handy. In fact, it would be nice to have a filtered water cooler with cups just in case sudden thirst strikes. A table would be a nice spot for a lamp, too. (see #3)

5. No decent place to change diapers. I know they are handy and save room, but I loathe diaper deck pop-down changing tables. They are never clean. They never feel entirely sturdy. Include a real changing table that doesn’t look like it was last sat upon by an incontinent chimp.

6. No place to wash hands. If you are going to have a coveted nice changing table, have a sink with nice soaps and lotions. Moms wash their hands a lot. We universally agree rough, dry hands are a bummer. A sink would be a welcome spot to rinse bottles, binkies, and freshen up a bit. It’s still not a bathroom, though. Don’t even think about putting a toilet in there…

7. Older children are forgotten. Many moms shop with more than baby in tow. Older kids, particularly toddlers and preschoolers, have a hard time waiting while mom feeds baby bro or sis. Outside on a bench or at a food court table kids can find distractions and people to watch. Inside the glorified phone booth of a nursing lounge, not so much. Why would a mom want to take her hungry baby, her active toddler, and her busy preschooler into a room with a chair and little else? She wouldn’t. Bead puzzle boxes, funny mirrors, books, chalkboards, and other hands-on activities can occupy little ones effectively.

8. You don’t have a real door?! When I was visiting my hometown this summer, I decided to check out the local mall’s nursing lounge. It seemed like the best location to feed Teddy at the time. The nursing lounge was okay. Comfy-enough chair. But the door was a bathroom stall-style door. Consequently, Archie kept darting under the door. Back and forth, under and under and under. Nursing moms can’t leap to their feet to chase after escaped toddlers. I’m not sure why they thought a half-door would be welcome or smart.

9. No place to put a stroller? Invest in enough space so that a stroller will fit comfortably in the room. Also, use doors that aren’t heavy/industrial/difficult to open. There’s a lot to wrangle. Doors that open with the push of a button are a godsend.

10. Unclean! I’ve seen nursing lounges with dirty furniture, trash on floors, general grime. Obviously, some nursing moms are disgusting pigs and I apologize on their behalf. But it would be nice for the cleaning crews to pop in and make sure all is well in the comfy nursing haven of my dreams. Maintenance is essential.

Nursing lounges can make all the difference to a mom who is on the fence regarding breastfeeding. She could be fearful of nursing in public, so they are an important option to give to women. The “if you build it, they will come” school of thought doesn’t apply. It won’t work. Designers of nursing lounges need to grasp this truth:

If a park bench near Cheezee Pretzelz is more inviting, you are doing something wrong. When the scorching hot minivan seems alluring, you are doing something wrong. If a mom teeters over a toilet with her howling newborn baby because you decided to locate the lounge down two levels by Men’s Jumpsuit Hutch, you are doing something wrong.

I’m sure I’m forgetting other elements of a dream nursing lounge. What would you include?

9 comments to Build a better nursing lounge

  • Great post, Gretchen! I’d add that a mirror would be nice. It doesn’t have to be full-length, but something just to double-check that everything is, uh, put back where it needs to be before jumping back out into the fray. 😉

  • I’ve been to that dream room! A mall in Connecticut that we lived nearish. Okay, so it was about an hour away, but I had a friend to meet there! Also, it did have a bathroom connected and that was nice, a separate one stall bathroom with a full door!

    And have you seen where a store that rhymes with Mikea has a “nursing space”?! In the corner of the food court with curtains hanging around it. Curtains that never quite close. So, if it’s privacy you’re looking for? Not gonna happen. But they tried!

    We’d love to have your brood!

  • The hospital where I work has a pretty awesome nursing lounge. Great chair and a nice love seat, lamp (in addition to the standard hospital lighting) and a sink and mirror. So I really can’t complain, but I was always wishing for a telephone – since I pretty much only used it for pumping and had to return calls when my pager went off. My cell phone had pretty bad reception in the depths of the hospital. I also would have enjoyed a radio or tv or something to entertain me while pumping. When I actually nursed Judah at work, I usually went to a lounge the residents can use since it was bigger and my husband could hang out with me. I don’t think I ever shopped anywhere with a nursing lounge. Such is life in a smallish town. But I like the suggestions. A sink is a must. As is a comfortable chair. Oh and my lounge at work had a boppy pillow which was also nice to use.

  • Eugh the first time I used a “nursing lounge” was when I had a starving 6 three weeker… I wish I had thought to scout them out when I was pregnant, when all I was thinking about was labor. It was so revolting, so filthy, so grotty… and a cleaner sweeping up dirt from under the plastic chair I was sitting on. I vowed not to venture out until I had mastered nursing in public. I started going to the fanciest store’s change rooms… lovely lounges and plenty of women to oohhh and aahh over your baby!!! It stood me in good stead… 14 years later and kid #8 I can’t begin too imagine how many hours in revolting nursing lounges I saved myself from by just nursing whenever we needed to, wherever we were!!!

  • Our church in Houston has a new building with a very nice nursing room with couches and the service on a TV. But in the old building, which was a community college during the week, it was in the back of the sanctuary behind a big window with miniblinds so that you could still see & hear the service. Therefore, in order to keep it private, it had to be dark in there. So you go in there…sit down…in the dark…you’ve been up all night with a newborn….it’s dark….there’s a preacher’s voice droning…the oxytocin kicks in….hopefully you’d wake up BEFORE you dropped the baby on the floor!

  • Monica

    The nursing lounge at the Nordstoms in Broomfield, CO is the nicest one I have ever used. It doesn’t have toys for older kids but it is big enough for strollers, has comfy chairs and couches, tables, a nice changing area with a sink and mirror and is separate from the bathroom and general lounge area. When I was a new mom and didn’t have the whole dance of nursing and stsying covered figured out this place meant I could still get out of the house and not worry about nursing. I wish every public place had a lounge that nice.

  • Even though I am no longer nursing, the Nordstrom nursing room at Flatiron Crossing was the best. AND! Wait, I just took a photo a week ago of the nursing room at the Whole Foods in Boulder, it’s beautiful and I was so impressed I had to take a picture of it. I’ll email it to you, it may just have everything you wanted including fresh flowers.

    • Gretchen von Lifenut

      That would be great! Could I post it here as inspiration for nursing lounge designers who trip upon this post?

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