IBM makes it easier for nursing moms with rooms, shipping service


Working breast-feeding mothers of Austin, get ready to be jealous.

Earlier this year, we visited one of two mothers’ rooms at IBM’s Austin offices and met with Carlie Bower, who is program director for cloud platform development. When she returned to work, Bower pumped breast milk for her son, Elian, who is now 1, as well as milk she donated to Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin. She plans to do the same for her daughter, who is due in July.

The Affordable Care Act requires any company that is covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act to provide a place, not just a bathroom, for new mothers to pump breast milk and the time to do it. The room had to be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public and which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” (We couldn’t find any references to breast-feeding in the proposed American Health Care Act.)

Before the act, we had mothers like myself pumping in nasty bathrooms, or makeshift spaces in conference rooms or closets. The room I pumped in after both of my pregnancies (13 and 16 years ago) was a single bathroom with a shower across from the photo department. I would stand in the hallway outside of the room waiting for the room to be free. When it finally was, it smelled, and then I got to hear my male co-workers pounding on the door while I pumped. They couldn’t understand why anyone would take that long to use a bathroom.

Now offices have dedicated spaces, though many not as nice as the ones at IBM. The new mothers’ rooms in Austin opened last fall as part of a renovation of the Austin offices, but the company has them at its other locations, too.

Before the mothers’ rooms opened, Bower used her office to pump, because she’s lucky to have an office with a door. But she didn’t have a sink for cleaning pump parts and washing her hands. She also would have to kick people out of her office to pump, which made for some awkward situations, like having to announce that “we need to continue this meeting by conference call.”

“Breast-feeding is wonderful, but it’s a huge commitment for any mom, and once you add working mom dynamic, it adds that much more challenge and complexity,” Bower says.

What does IBM’s mothers’ room have that makes me so jealous?

• Three different smaller rooms with an outlet, dimmable lights, a comfortable chair, a side table and a lockable door. One of the rooms also has a desk for working.

• Lockers for storing pumps and larger supplies.

• A refrigerator with individual bins for storing milk. Each bin has a combination lock.

• More bins with locks for storing extra pump supplies in the cabinets.

• A sink and counter for keeping everything clean.

Some of the IBM mothers’ rooms at other locations also have provided breast pumps. Workers just have to store their pump parts like hoses, bottles and suction attachments on-site. Some even have extra parts employees can use if they forget theirs. IBM’s health insurance also pays for a pump for each new breast-feeding mom.

Not all the mothers’ rooms have multiple rooms inside, but when it’s just one big room, employees can use the conference room reservation system to reserve their time.

Bower, who has had to travel for work, has used the rooms at other locations as well. She’s also been able to take advantage of IBM’s concierge-style breast milk shipping system.

Traveling IBM employees can use an app to arrange for the breast milk they pump to be shipped home. IBM sends a cooler and shipping materials to an employee’s hotel, one cooler for every day she will be at that location. With the push of a button, the coolers keep the milk cold for up to five days.

All an employee has to do once she gets to a location is pick up the boxes when she checks into her hotel, fill the coolers with milk, and then give the labeled boxes to the hotel’s business office to be overnighted to her house.

Before IBM began the concierge service, nursing moms either didn’t travel, or they would need to bring baby and a caretaker with them, or they would have to figure out how to keep milk cool and travel with it through airport security or how to keep it cool and ship it home.

IBM also has a program to reward people who volunteer in the community. Bower and two other IBM employees were able to turn their time pumping and donating milk for Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin into a volunteer team. IBM rewarded their volunteer hours with a $2,000 donation to the bank.

Kudos to IBM and companies like it that make working and breast-feeding easier.



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