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Lactation Rooms on Capitol Hill

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The New York Times has a cool story today about the lactation rooms for people who work in Congress.

There are four lactation suites throughout the Hill — two in House office buildings, one that is undergoing renovation in a Senate office building and one in the Capitol itself — along with several health stations. All are clean, private areas where mothers can nurse their babies and pump their milk. They are also one of the few truly bipartisan spaces left on the Hill, neutral zones amid partisan warfare.

“I definitely got to know Republicans who I wouldn’t have otherwise known,” Ms. Walsh said. “Especially with all of the limitations on travel and trips and everything like that these days, there’s not a lot of camaraderie up there, there’s not a lot of room to meet people on the other side of the aisle.

“You all have something very significant in your life in common,” she said, “and you can all relate to each other and sympathize” about the difficulties of motherhood.

The first suite specifically for lactating mothers on the Hill was opened in the fall of 2006, by Congress’s Office of the Attending Physician. But after taking up the gavel in 2007, Nancy Pelosi, the first female House speaker, was instrumental in making that chamber what she called “family-friendly for new mothers.” She opened the first nursing-only rooms on the House side, and others soon sprang up.

“It is good for our country — more young moms in Congress, pretty soon more women leaders in Congress,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference in 2009. “And, who knows, maybe one of these new young moms will be the president of the United States.”

The rooms, which can be entered only through doors with electronic locks, are similar to those in many large corporations, with hospital-grade breast pumps, comfortable chairs and couches, a sink and a mini-refrigerator. There are also a smattering of magazines, telephones and a television often used for watching floor votes — this is Congress, after all.

Besides bottles filled with mothers’ milk, they have also yielded unexpected job opportunities, moments of quiet reflection amid the bustle of Congress and some unlikely friendships.



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