When Rep. Tammy Duckworth began traveling with her infant daughter, frequent flights from her congressional district in Illinois to Washington, D.C. presented a new challenge: finding a suitable space to breastfeed in airport terminals.
After realizing that many airports fell short in providing breastfeeding mothers with privacy and comfort, Duckworth is now leading the fight for mom-friendly airports—recently introducing a bill that would require all major U.S. airports to provide private “lactation rooms.”
“We made progress in recent years by requiring employers to provide new mothers a private place other than a bathroom for nursing. This is a crucial step, but what about the breast-pumping mother who travels?” Duckworth, a 2016 Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, wrote in a recent op-ed.
The Friendly Airports for Mothers (FAM) Act would require all medium and large hub airports to provide a designated breastfeeding location that meets federal minimum requirements – a room out of public view that can be locked and provides seating, a table and an electrical outlet. The legislation also requires that the areas are accessible for moms with disabilities. If passed, the mandate gives airports two years to comply and would allow the use of funds from the Airport Improvement Program.
“Moms shouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to breastfeed while they’re traveling, they already have enough to worry about,” said Duckworth in a statement. “Unlike other public spaces, travelers have little control over the amount of time spent in airports. It’s not uncommon for moms to be directed to a bathroom to breastfeed their child. We would never ask our fellow travelers to eat their meals in bathrooms stalls, yet we ask new mothers to feed their children while sitting on a toilet seat.”
An October 2014 study reported that while 62% the country’s 100 largest airports identified as “breastfeeding-friendly,” only 8% of surveyed airports provided suitable breastfeeding accommodations. Duckworth’s mandate aims to hold all major airports to the same federal standard of privacy, comfort, safety and convenience.
Some states have already addressed the often overlooked challenges facing traveling mothers. Last year, California passed legislation requiring its large airports to offer private rooms, separate from restrooms, for mothers to breastfeed. Last month, the Illinois legislature followed suit—passing a bill to require private breastfeeding rooms in its major airports by 2017. On its website, Chicago O’Hare International Airport notes that a “Mother’s Room” is scheduled to open in spring or summer of 2015.