Supporting Breastfeeding Through Design and The Built Environment

August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, a month dedicated to advancing advocacy, protection, and promoting breastfeeding. We here at Marmon Mok support our employees in their breastfeeding and parenting journeys and encourage our clients to do so as well through our designs. Our hospital designs promote breastfeeding relationships by providing new parents the spaces they need to bond with their baby. Beyond healthcare settings, we include dedicated and flexible spaces for a person to pump breastmilk or feed their child in a quiet and calming space. This empowers parents to work or take part in other activities without sacrificing their choice in how to feed their children. 

Benefits of Breastfeeding

The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend six months or more of exclusive breastfeeding for infants. It’s easy to understand why when breastmilk provides easily absorbed nutrients, antioxidants, enzymes, immune properties, and live antibodies to the baby from the mother. But there are also less tangible emotional benefits. Many are aware that when holding and cuddling your infant, particularly skin-to-skin, oxytocin is released, causing the reduction of stress and increasing bonding for mother and child. Breastfeeding provides frequent opportunities for this to occur. But what isn’t always a part of the conversation is the sense of empowerment and connection mothers can feel by being able to provide breastmilk for their child.

For the working mother, pumping breastmilk can continue a sense of connection to their baby when transitioning from maternity leave to work. It can also ease a mother’s pain if their baby is sick and hospitalized by feeling essential in their child’s care. Research has shown the benefits of breastmilk for medically complex infants are even more pronounced than for healthy babies and can even be life-saving.

Couplet Care

UHS_MM-Patient Room

One of the current best practices in postpartum and newborn care is Couplet Care where mom and baby are not separated after birth unless necessary. Research shows Couplet Care improves mother-baby bonding, breastfeeding relationships, and reduces lengths of stays in the hospital. University Health (UH) in San Antonio practices a robust Couplet Care program. As a result, when we designed the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital with partner firm ZGF, the Well-Baby Nursery was reduced in size compared to historical examples. UH intends to use their nursery to perform X-Rays, circumcisions, draw labs, and provide bilirubin light treatments to infants when needed, but not to house the babies away from mothers. Reducing the Well-Baby Nursery size released a significant amount of space to be reallocated to Postpartum patient rooms and much-needed support space enabling better patient care and incorporating the latest evidence-based design.

Breastfeeding Challenges & Solutions

Babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) face many unique challenges, but almost all of them share one challenge: feeding. While all babies can benefit from their mother’s breastmilk, it is the gold standard for premature and medically complex babies who are already vulnerable. Working closely with lactation consultants, encouraging skin-to-skin contact, bonding, and receiving speech and occupational therapies while in the NICU, can help improve breastfeeding success for the baby. UH is providing private NICU rooms in the new Women’s and Children’s Hospital to give babies and their families the space to bond, heal, and learn the complex skills required for eating, and Marmon Mok is proud to be part of the forefront of this family-centered advancement in NICU care. Mothers will feel less exposed when breastfeeding in private rooms, reducing stress and improving their milk supply.

If the baby is receiving expressed breastmilk through a feeding tube or a bottle, the mom can easily remain at the baby’s bedside while pumping, without the need to go to a separate space or arranging mobile dividers for privacy, also reducing her stress and improving milk supply. Having a newborn in the NICU can leave parents feeling helpless. Being able to provide breastmilk to their baby, either directly at the breast or expressed from pumping, engages the mother in the baby’s care, helping them both heal and bond.

Mother’s Room Design Elements

Supporting breastfeeding through the built environment occurs across all building types. The most obvious of these is the workplace, but spaces for breastfeeding and pumping are needed anywhere a mom and baby will be. Building types where a Mother’s Room should have consideration include:

  • Offices / Places of Work
  • Conference Centers
  • Convention Centers
  • Athletic Venues 
  • Shopping Centers / Malls 
  • Places of Worship
  • Airports 
  • Theme Parks 
  • Zoos 
  • Museums 
  • Libraries 
  • Hospitals
  • Colleges / Universities 

While women are legally allowed to breastfeed in public, there are instances in which a mother or baby may prefer privacy. And not only for breastfeeding. A baby may need a distraction-free environment to eat an adequate amount by bottle. Or the baby may continue receiving their nutrition through a feeding tube once discharged from the NICU, and the parents need to prepare the feeding set and pump. A Mother’s Room can support all of these feeding methods. The space can be dedicated for feeding or flexible spaces used for additional activities but still provide privacy when needed. At the minimum, a Mother’s Room needs to be a private place, not a bathroom, shielded from view, and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public; but there are more amenities to consider to improve the experience:

Essential Breastfeeding Mother's Room Design

  • Handwashing sink to wash hands, rinse pump parts, or prep a feeding set pump
  • Refrigerator to store breastmilk away from coworker’s lunches
  • Comfortable chair one that is easy to wipe down when spills happen
  • Microwave for sterilizing pump parts after use
  • Shelving a place for mothers to keep their pump equipment
  • Adjustable lighting to help with relaxation or a distracted baby
  • Changing table if a room’s use is for nursing in addition to pumping
  • Cleaning Supplies paper towels and disinfecting wipes to clean up spills 
  • Acoustics minimize outside noise
  • Mirror 
  • Side table
  • Power Outlet 
  • Wi-Fi 

Deciding how to feed one’s baby is a parent’s personal decision made with the guidance of their medical professionals. Many factors impact that decision. The built environment around us should support these decisions, whether it is breastfeeding, bottle feeding, a feeding tube, or a hybrid approach, not make these activities harder when appropriate support spaces are absent. Through our designs, guidance with clients, and the support of our own employees, Marmon Mok encourages the promotion and protection of breastfeeding in all spaces.