Physical environment influences breastfeeding outcomes

A laboring mother is assisted onto a cold examination table under harsh, fluorescent lights. With her partner and nurse gripping her knees and heels into makeshift stirrups, she welcomes her precious new life into a soulless environment: white walls, shiny tiled floors, stale drapery, countertops cluttered with metallic tools.

The new mother and her infant are soon wheeled into another lifeless room. Surrounded by drained tones, they initiate breastfeeding on a strange, electric hospital bed. Her partner sits close by in a brown recliner across from a Similac poster. A nurse comes in, tightly swaddles the new baby, places her into a plastic bin and advises the mother to “get some rest.”

The family is discharged from the hospital. Six weeks quickly pass. Although devastated to leave her tiny infant, the new mother must return to work. Breast pump in hand, she is determined to supply her baby with her milk, but her employer does not provide proper lactation accommodations.

Moreover, ignorance about “the life-sustaining value of human breast milk and stigmas surrounding the female body” prompt unfriendly responses to this new mother breastfeeding in public. [Retrieved from:]

New moms everywhere encounter these glum circumstances and ridiculous barriers that inhibit us from supporting the wellness of our babies. Recently, a mother even reported pumping in 106 degree conditions atop a floor full of dead bugs.

Fortunately, The MomFriendly Network is on a mission to promote breastfeeding acceptance and support by connecting breastfeeding moms with companies that have made accommodations to enable mothers to breastfeed or express breast milk in their facilities.

inverse_logo2-214x152In conjunction with the Institute of Patient-Centered Design, Inc., The MomFriendly Network presents The Lactation Design program consisting of research and outreach projects that will enable the Institute to contribute design resources to facilitate improved accommodations to support breastfeeding. [Retrieved from:]

The multi-phase research project currently collects information and case studies that will enable further investigation about the impact of the physical surroundings on a mother’s decision to breastfeed. Information is shared monthly with the public in their free Lactation Design webinars. The Institute also offers the public other ways to get involved with the project including sponsorship, partnership and sharing your experience. {Retrieved from:]

In addition, the Institute recently sponsored Lactation Space Design: Supporting Evidence-Based Practice and the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a research paper which assumes that comfortable lactation spaces promote lactation in healthcare facilities. [Read more about Design Impact on Breastfeeding Rates here.]

mailWhile systematic change is often difficult, Institute of Patient-Centered Design, Inc. founder Tammy Thompson, NCARB, EDAC, CLC says that by conducting design projects for hospitals, administration is generally open to research-supported change.

Thompson reports that having the opportunity to wear and breastfeed her baby on demand throughout her work days is the most exciting part of her job but also represents the capacity of the working, breastfeeding mother.

“I can’t think of a better way to practice what we preach than by exposing other designers, some who find breastfeeding a foreign concept, to my working environment,” she says. “I want to help normalize breastfeeding by encouraging other professionals to embrace the fact that a working mother should not have to choose between an active career and breastfeeding her baby.”

“I am fortunate to have this opportunity,” she continues. “I hope to influence more company leaders to allow flexible options for mothers who wish to breastfeed after returning to work. I must also say that no matter what demographic I present to, I have not encountered a sneer or negative response.”

Thompson was prompted to take Healthy Children’s The Lactation Counselor Training Course to learn more about evidence-based breastfeeding practices to inform the design work that she and her organization do.

“Professionally, the most valuable thing I learned was how to provide resources, education and support to new mothers,” she says.  “I use this information as I work with other professionals who wish to support new moms.”

In particular, Thompson says she and her colleagues believe lactation design research is especially interesting and helpful to facilities seeking Baby-Friendly status.

The challenges hospitals face when creating lactation spaces are often rooted in budget and designated physical space.

“Many employers fear the unknown when they consider this type of project,” Thompson explains. “They think it will cost them a fortune to provide this space.”

But the Institute helps quell concerns by showing examples of lactation room projects of varying sizes and budgets to provide ideas for even small companies to comply with amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

When it comes to designated space, Thompson explains that many companies do not have any available real estate within the facility to designate as a lactation room.

In these cases, the Institute often suggests creating space with multiple uses.

For instance, The University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) provides a lactation center that is used for postpartum mothers returning to the hospital for consults and is also open to staff, Thompson says.

“We also encourage employers to develop creative solutions, like allowing a lactating mother access to a manager’s office for private milk expression when no other facilities are available,” she explains.

Thompson’s Institute created the 2013 Patient & Family Centered NICU project on a quest to find a solution for hospitals to accommodate the patients’ need to have their family engaged in their treatment and care.

PCDESIGNThe project started with a design competition where teams from across the world submitted space ideas that empower families to remain with their patients.  The panel of judges including  neonatologist Dr. Robert White, NICU design researcher and architect Mardelle McCuskey Shepley, NICU parents and clinicians and designers, selected the top three design submissions to inspire a full scale NICU patient room model on site at the 2013 Healthcare Design Conference.

The Patient & Family Centered NICU model will be used in a learning lab comprised of more than 20 workshops where design professionals and hospital stakeholders will engage in dialogue for improving NICU environments and outcomes through facility design, Thompson explains.TTHOMPSON

“This model is sure to inspire better accommodations for NICU families and to promote breastfeeding,” she says.

Thompson adds that she is proud to be working with Lifespan Healthcare to provide accessories that support breastfeeding and kangaroo care especially in the NICU.

To learn more about the Institute, please visit

To register for the upcoming free Lactation Design webinars, visit

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