In summer 2016, Samantha Matlin was about to board an Amtrak train from Philadelphia to New Haven, Connecticut, for work.
At 30th Street Station, Matlin, who was breast-feeding her second child at the time, needed a place to pump. She asked employees at the station if there was a pumping room and was told no. She then asked on the train if there was a place to pump, and was told the same thing.
Amtrak employees said she could use the bathroom on the train — a location where she would never consider eating, let alone setting up a complex machine to pump breast milk.
“I’ve breast-fed both of my children on the train … but pumping requires a little bit of quietness because it’s not natural,” Matlin said. “You kind of have to feel relaxed to do that.”
After Matlin returned from her trip, she wrote an email to Amtrak officials about the lack of a private, quiet place to pump while traveling.
It’s an issue Lacey Kohlmoos, another working mom in Philadelphia, experienced while traveling to Washington, D.C., this summer for a work trip.
When she arrived at D.C.’s Union Station, she struggled to find a place to pump before running to a meeting. Since the station has no lactation room, the first place she looked was the public bathroom, which was dirty, crowded and had no outlets to plug in her pump.
She ended up pumping in a Starbucks bathroom nearby.
“That experience made me furious,” Kohlmoos said. “I didn’t think to do anything right away because I think so many women just kind of shrug it off and say, ‘Hey, this is just one of those inconveniences you have to deal with as a working, lactating mother.’ ”
Kohlmoos said her job makes it easy to pump since most of her meetings are online, but she’s run into issues like this when she travels for work.
As an online organizing strategist for Care2, an activist social network, she decided to create her own campaign during national breast-feeding awareness month in August.
In her online campaign, she requested that Amtrak provide lactation facilities in D.C.’s Union Station.
“I feel like there’s been more movement in airports to provide those facilities, but trains are far behind,” Kohlmoos said. “Amtrak is far behind when it comes to supporting breast-feeding and pumping women. We need a clean space to pump that is secure to pump and where women can plug in to pump.”
Kohlmoos then put out a call to women through her neighborhood email list to share their stories and create more petitions. Through the email listing, she met Matlin.
Matlin decided to petition Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, and, between the two efforts, they’ve received nearly 60,000 signatures.
Amtrak officials said they hope to have a “viable solution” at their largest stations in the next few months, but declined to comment further.
Awareness surrounding breast-feeding in public has increased, and Kohlmoos is excited about that. Now she’d like to hear more about creating spaces for women to pump outside of their homes or workplaces.
“I know a lot of women have trouble breast-feeding, but I also know that a lot of women love breast-feeding,” Kohlmoos said. “I don’t know a single woman who loves to pump and loves pumping in public.”
Part of the issue, she said, is that people unfamiliar with pumping often equate it to breast-feeding — assuming that since a women can breast-feed almost anywhere she wants, then a woman can pump wherever she wants.
“It’s very mechanical, it’s loud, it’s uncomfortable, and, as my husband says, it looks like something out of a ‘Mad Max’ scene,” Kohlmoos said. “I’m not comfortable pumping in public, and I also know there are women who are not comfortable breast-feeding in public … this campaign is about providing options.”
Matlin said there’s a clear, tangible solution for Amtrak: create lactation rooms in all of its train stations. It could be something as simple as offering up one private room with a chair and an electrical outlet. She also would like to see pumping options on trains for trips that are longer than four hours.
Some public spaces in the city are moving toward better accommodation; the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Philadelphia International Airport both now provide lactation pods. But many take issue with the fact that there’s only one pod in the Convention Center, while the airport offers just one pod in Terminal B that can be used only for 30 minutes.
“Women should not have to feed their child, whether it’s nursing or pumping, while sitting on a dirty toilet,” Kohlmoos said. “We are asking for a room, a clean room with a lock and an outlet. I think most places can provide that for women if they are serious about meeting women’s needs.”
Kohlmoos added that she hopes one day to see lactation rooms or pods in all of Amtrak’s more than 500 stations in the country.