After Having to Pump in a Starbucks Bathroom, This Philadelphia Woman Is Fighting for Private Lactation Rooms in DC’s Union Station

After Having to Pump in a Starbucks Bathroom, This Philadelphia Woman Is Fighting for Private Lactation Rooms in DC’s Union Station
Photograph by Caroline Cunningham.

Lacey Kohlmoos usually works from home, which has made finding a private place to breastfeed her ten-month-old a non-issue for the Philadelphia resident. That is, until June, when she was headed to Washington on her first business trip since giving birth. Kohlmoos planned to take the train from Philadelphia to DC’s Union Station—a destination with which she had some familiarity, having previously lived in Arlington before moving to Pennsylvania five years ago.

Going into her trip, she figured it’d be pretty easy; she’d pump before she left, then pump again as soon as she made it to Union Station. Kohlmoos has experienced mastitis—a painful infection that can occur when breast milk isn’t expressed—so she knew she’d need to stay on schedule. But when she arrived in Union Station, she couldn’t find a lactation room and ended up huddling in a Starbucks bathroom that happened to have an outlet where she could plug in her pump.

Though Kohlmoos is the online organizing strategist for Care2, an online petition platform, it didn’t occur to her to turn her anger about the lack of resources for nursing mothers at Union Station into activism right away. It wasn’t until August rolled around—which is National Breastfeeding Month—that Kohlmoos decided to use her story in her own petition.

The petition is directed at the president of Amtrak, which is headquartered at Union Station, along with the US Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, and Jones Lang LaSalle. Due to the fact that the Department of Transportation is involved with the ownership of Union Station—it oversees the Federal Railroad Administration, which owns the building—and Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation and Jones Lang LaSalle (none of these three immediately responded to Washingtonian‘s request for comment) have worked with the station’s retail leasing, Kohlmoos targeted all four entities to try to increase her odds of getting a response. After explaining her frustration with her experience (“It was, in a word, gross”), Kohlmoos asked that Union Station add one private lactation room or Mamava suite—a mobile lactation pod with a locking door and outlet—on every floor.

The DC Code gives women the right to breastfeed “in any location, public or private” (the Code does not specifically address pumping in public). Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods says the transportation company upholds this rule. Woods, who says Amtrak is aware of the petition, says, “We respect the rights of mothers to breastfeed their children on trains and in stations. Therefore, Amtrak will not ask a mother who is breastfeeding to cover up nor to move from her seat.”

While this is the case, Kohlmoos didn’t have an issue with finding a place to breastfeed at Union Station. Kohlmoos says she likes breastfeeding and is comfortable doing it in a public place. Pumping, however, is another matter.

“I don’t know any woman who really enjoys pumping,” says Kohlmoos. “It’s uncomfortable, it looks like out of a scene from a Mad Max movie, and it makes a really loud noise.”

Not only is it hard to be discreet, but there’s also the practical matter of needing an outlet to plug in a pump, unless you use a manual device or happen to have a battery-operated pump. But while DC Code states that employers are required to make a “reasonable effort” to provide a private, safe place other than a bathroom where an employee can express her breast milk, the same requirements don’t exist for public venues.

That said, some local public spaces have taken it upon themselves to build lactation rooms. All three Washington-area airports have private lactation rooms: BWI has invested in Mamava pods, Reagan National has three dedicated spaces, and Dulles has eight nursing rooms. And in the case of Nationals Park, a petition led to the venue adding a room for nursing moms. Nationals Park used to rely on family restrooms and a conference room to accommodate nursing women, but after an Arlington mom created a Change.org petition, the stadium unveiled a swanky new nursing lounge in 2015.

Kohlmoos’ petition currently has over 35,000 signatures. While Kohlmoos says Amtrak hasn’t so far heeded the petition, she’s planning to follow up with online and in-person demonstrations as necessary. In the meantime, she’s hoping that the petition raises awareness about the need for private places for women to pump. While she calls herself “one of the lucky ones” for her freedom to work from home, she knows that a lack of lactation rooms can make it hard for women to travel.

“Without these types of facilities, it really limits some women,” she says.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Kohlmoos had lived in Alexandria, rather than Arlington.

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Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.