October 10, 2020

Sen. Tammy Duckworth was once told to pump breast milk in an airport toilet stall. Now she has unlocked funding to put lactation rooms in all of America's airports

Source: Business Insider


When Senator Tammy Duckworth had her first daughter in 2015, the then-member of the House found herself in a bind.

She was traveling back-and-forth between Illinois and Washington, DC for work, but also had to pump breast milk for her baby — and often couldn't find a place to do it.

"I was told to use the handicapped stall, the toilet, which is disgusting," Sen. Duckworth told Business Insider during a recent interview. "You wouldn't eat a sandwich in there. Why would you ask me to express breast milk for my daughter? That's not sanitary."

Her alternative locations included in the middle of the airport gate areas or on the plane, seated next to strangers.

But maybe you've noticed new lactation rooms or pods popping up in major airport terminals over the past few years. If so, you can thank Duckworth. 

In 2015, Duckworth sponsored a bill to help get lactation rooms into airports. That effort failed, but in 2018, the Duckworth-sponsored Friendly Airports for Mothers Act was enacted. The new law ensured that medium and large airports could use money from the Airport Improvement Program — usually earmarked for things like terminal building repairs or runway expansions — to add private lactation areas.

However, small airports — classified by the FAA as those that receive 0.05 to 0.25% of annual US commercial enplanements — were left out of the equation. That was a problem, Duckworth said, because many travelers start their journeys start at  small airports, before grabbing another flight at a larger hub, often with tight connection times.

"The best place [for those passengers] to express breast milk, it's really the initial flight," Duckworth said. "And those are the small airports."

Despite delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, Congress earlier this month passed the Friendly Airports for Mothers Improvement Act, which extends the use of Airport Improvement funding for maternity rooms to small airports, too. President Trump is expected to sign it into law. The bill should take effect as airports and travelers emerge from the pandemic. 

"When we start traveling again, moms who work outside the homes, and families that are traveling, are actually going to have this benefit," Duckworth said.

By:  David Slotnick