by Mary Jessica Hammes
November 17, 2011
A campaign to establish lactation rooms at the busiest airport in the world started with a simple post on Facebook.
Sojourner Marable Grimmett—an Atlanta mother, blogger at Married With Two Boys, and author of a study about balancing work and motherhood—is known for her breastfeeding advocacy. So when she posted a question on Facebook (Did her friends think it was appropriate to ask if companies have a lactation room during a job interview?), friends were eager to chime in. One left a comment mentioning that the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport had no designated lactation rooms for customers or employees. And with that, her next project was born.
“That really sparked something inside me,” says Grimmett, who works as a program administrator at the Southern Regional Educational Board.
Reflecting on her own breastfeeding experiences, she recalls being unable to pump at her former job. Without the ability to pump breast milk five days each week, she was unable to maintain her milk supply. Ultimately, she stopped breastfeeding her older son at just over 4 months of age—well before she was ready. “That was really hard for me,” she says. When she was pregnant with her second son, she helped establish a lactation room at work and was able to breastfeed him for 15 months. That lactation room, she says, made a huge difference.
Grimmett thought of not only airline employees wanting to pump, but of the 89 million passengers that pass through the airport each year. Far less busy airports have established lactation rooms. Perhaps Atlanta could look to the example of the Hong Kong International Airport, which boasts over 30 rooms with changing and feeding facilities.
Travelers need an easily accessible room to breastfeed or pump milk. Yet at the moment, Atlanta’s airport offers only use a private room at the airport that must be reserved in advance.
(As an aside, finding that “private room” is near to impossible. A search for “private rooms” on the Hartsfield website yields only a list of 12 approved smoking areas. Besides that, the notion of reserving a private room before traveling is ludicrous to breastfeeding mothers, who know that “babies feed on demand,” says Grimmett. “Sometimes, you don’t know if you’ll need a private room ahead of time.”)
Grimmett decided to do two things: contact the airport directly to encourage them to create lactation rooms, and build online support for the idea. She does both with Table for Two, a campaign which “seeks to make the lifestyles of breastfeeding mothers seamless and build public accommodation for lactating mommies,” says the website.
“We deserve a safe, clean, and private area to express milk,” says Grimmett.
Table For Two campaign
Grimmett’s campaign focuses on the common comeback to all breastfeeding-in-public-naysayers: “Would you eat in the bathroom? Then why would you expect a baby to?” Her website features attention-getting photos of adults and children dining in bathrooms: a man eats pizza by a line of urinals; a couple enjoys a “romantic meal” while another man uses the facilities beside them.
“I wish this campaign would go viral, like planking!” she says, laughing. She’d love nothing more than to see other people eating in the bathroom and encourages people to send in photos of themselves doing so in support of the campaign. (More information on how to do that is below.)
The models themselves are primarily African-American, which was intentional as breastfeeding literature and promotional materials often lack an African-American presence thus ignoring an audience whose breastfeeding rates lag behind their white and Hispanic counterparts. But let’s face it—breastfeeding rates amongst all women need to be improved. Currently only 1 in 3 U.S. babies are breastfed exclusively for three months.
Breastfeeding advocates agree that in order for breastfeeding rates to rise, breastfeeding must be seen as a normal part of life. In other words, it needs to be part of the public scene. Grimmett says that she isn’t encouraging lactation rooms so that breastfeeding and pumping will be hidden away, behind closed doors. She just wants to provide a comfortable place for those mothers who prefer privacy when breastfeeding or pumping.
“I believe that women should nurse wherever they please…but I’m also about inclusiveness,” she says. “Some women don’t mind breastfeeding in public. Some women also pump in public…but for those women who don’t feel comfortable with that, [a lactation room] is another option.”
“I feel very optimistic about the possibilities of designated lactation rooms being established at Atlanta’s airport,” says Grimmett.
The airport officials she has contacted have been receptive, if not exactly forthcoming with information. Grimmett has asked for a timeline on when a lactation room might be created, but has not yet heard back. She hopes that Table for Two will create enough momentum in social media to encourage the airport to act quickly—and in the meantime, get people thinking about establishing lactation rooms everywhere.
“I’m such an optimistic person,” says Grimmett. “My dad always said, ‘Always speak truth to power’—speak up for what you believe in. That’s what I’m doing.”
Mary Jessica Hammes is an Athens, Georgia-based writer, trapeze instructor, knitter, gardener, comic book enthusiast, and hula hooper. She is mom to Tommy.
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