Sarah Harris, a hearing education services teacher in Queens, travels among eight to 10 different school buildings each year. So when she returned to work in the fall of 2018 after giving birth to her second baby, finding a secure place to pump breast milk wasn’t always easy.
“It was like ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Pump,’” Harris remembers. “One room was off the side of another teacher’s classroom and I put a chair up against the door because there was no lock. One school closet smelled like dead rodents. I said, ‘I’m not pumping in here.’”
Although Harris says the staff at her schools tried to make accommodations for her, most of the time “I ended up pumping in my car, because I knew that was my space. Not one school had a designated lactation room.”
At IS 61 in Corona, Queens, thanks to a collaborative effort, that has now changed. With the help of the school’s principal and parent coordinator, Harris and Hearing Education Services Chapter Leader Raquel Sepulveda worked to transform a “dingy” space into one that’s “calm, quiet and clean,” says Harris. Staff members donated a rocking chair, an ottoman and decorative artwork.
“We scrubbed the room and redecorated,” says Sepulveda. “Everyone worked together to make it happen.”
New York City law requires employers to provide a secure space for nursing mothers to pump that has a flat surface on which to place a breast pump, a chair, at least one electrical outlet and nearby access to running water and a refrigerator in which to store pumped milk. Bathrooms are expressly prohibited for use as pumping spaces.
“The No. 1 thing is sanitation,” stresses Harris. “You’re producing something from your body and doing everything you can to sterilize the equipment; you want to make sure you’re in a room that’s healthy and clean.”
Now that the room at IS 61 has been refurbished, Sepulveda says staff members at the school who are pregnant are looking forward to using it when they return from paid parental leave.
“Nursing is a really hard thing to do in general, and going back to work and wanting to make sure your baby has enough milk is emotionally and physically stressful,” says Liz Guttman, an occupational therapist at IS 61 who uses the lactation room twice a day. “Having a safe place that’s stress-free to help you produce as much milk as you can is really important.”