Is the seat of a toilet in a public restroom anywhere to prepare your kids' lunch?
Two local working mothers don't think so, and a lot of people agree with them.
Samantha Matlin and Lacey Kohlmoos, both Philadelphia residents, have put up online petitions protesting the lack of clean, private lactation areas for nursing mothers to pump their breast milk at Amtrak's 30th Street Station in West Philadelphia and Washington's Union Station.
In less than two weeks, the petitions, posted this month on the activist networking site Care2.com, have together gathered over 51,000 signatures, from as far away as Europe and South America.
"No woman should be forced to sit on a toilet while she produces milk to feed her child," Matlin and Kohlmoos each wrote in their separate petitions.
The numerous health benefits of breastfeeding for children and mothers are widely recognized. In hospitals throughout the United States, mothers of newborns are urged to nurse their babies with the mantra, "Breast is best." Authorities including the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly encourage breastfeeding for at least the first year of a baby's life.
For working mothers like Matlin and Kohlmoos, breastfeeding beyond the usual several weeks of maternity leave requires pumping their milk at least every few hours to keep up their supply and avoid painfully swollen, leaky breasts. Federal labor law says employers of more 50 people should allow women to take work breaks to be able to express their milk and a private place other than a bathroom to do it.
But what about commuters and other travelers? According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 80 percent of women start out nursing their babies but only 16 percent are still doing it exclusively by six months.
For the women determined to continue, they may be looking at a toilet bowl.
That's what happened to Matlin, 36, the mother of two breastfed children and a psychologist with the Scattergood Foundation.
In her petition, Matlin describes asking an Amtrak employee where she could pump on a train and said she was told, "We don't accommodate for that." Another employee told her she could "use the handicapped bathroom." When she had looked for somewhere to pump in 30th Street Station that had an electrical outlet for the pump, and was also private and clean, nothing fit the bill.
Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly D. Woods said the company does not provide designated lactation facilities but women are free to nurse.
"Amtrak respects the rights of mothers to breast feed their children on trains and in stations. Therefore, Amtrak will not ask a mother who is breast feeding to cover up nor to move from her seat." Woods said.
"Please know Amtrak makes every effort to provide a safe and comfortable environment for all of our passengers and employees," added Woods, who urged people with complaints to call 800-USA-RAIL or use the "Contact Us" function on Amtrak.com.
Many women are accustomed to nursing their babies discreetly in public when they need to. But pumping, which requires using a noisy, cumbersome electric device connected to a container by a tube, is another matter.
Kohlmoos, 34, who posted her petition first and works for Care2.com, said she got the idea for it after a June Amtrak trip from Philadelphia to Washington.
"When I arrived at Union Station, breasts aching, I couldn't find a private, clean place to express my milk," she wrote. "The public restroom was crowded, dirty, and didn't have anywhere I could plug my pump."
She said workers at the information desk told her there was no lactation room, and suggested she use a nearby restaurant's restrooms.
In the end, Kohlmoos turned to a Starbucks restroom, where, she said, she tried to keep her equipment from touching any surfaces and kept getting knocks on the door "from people in need of their own relief. It was, in a word, gross."
Kohlmoos, who is still nursing her baby son, put up her petition Aug. 4. Matlin, who happens to live in the same neighborhood as Kohlmoos, heard about it through a community listserv.
Philadelphia International Airport has nursing facilities in Terminals B and A-East, according to its website.
"If this was a man's issue, you know they would have something," said Matlin, whose boss, Joe Pyle, was one of her first petition signers. "They would have a car with pumps."