Broward Circuit Judge Stacy Ross attorney Madeleine Mannello. Courtesy photos

The Broward County Courthouse will soon begin providing a private lactation room for nursing mothers.

On Monday, a formerly vacant room on the Broward courthouse’s 12th floor will open for nursing litigants, attorneys and judges alike to feed their children as well as pump breast milk in total privacy. Broward’s nursing mother’s room — which has been repainted and refurbished with furniture donated by City Furniture — follows the recent creation of similar areas in the Miami-Dade and Palm Beach courthouses.

Hinshaw & Culbertson attorney Madeleine Mannello told the Daily Business Review the efforts to designate a room for this specific use began roughly a year ago.

“I had approached the [Broward Circuit] administration to ask them about putting a lactation room in the courthouse,” Mannello recounted. As president of the Broward chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, Mannello explained that it has been a priority of the statewide organization to establish lactation rooms in courthouses throughout the state.

Noting that there have been incidents in Florida where attorneys were denied breaks to pump during trial, Mannello asserted the room will not only help to directly alleviate some of the challenges nursing mothers face in the legal system, but also foster a culture of “respecting mothers” and “acknowledging the different needs of other attorneys in this profession.”

“Unfortunately there are a lot of litigants who don’t have the benefit of childcare, will need to bring their children to court and will need to nurse in those situations, whether in trial or in-between hearings,” she said, adding that these challenges affect any mother who walks into a courtroom.

The push was aided in part by Broward Circuit Judge Stacy Ross. Ross, citing her own experience with nursing in court in addition to her work with teen mothers, said such a room was “long overdue.”

“I’ve been in this courthouse for 20 years and we’ve never had anyone — as far as I know —broach the subject,” she said.

Ross emphasized that Broward Chief Circuit Judge Jack Tuter was “extremely cooperative and willing to facilitate” the creation of a private lactation room upon her involvement in the initiative.

When speaking about her own challenges nursing in the courtroom, Ross singled out one particularly stressful example.

“I was in trial on an extremely serious case and I told the judge I had to take breaks because I was a nursing mother — he looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about,” Ross recounted. According to her, the judge only relented once she began explaining the details of breast feeding and pumping milk before the court in graphic detail.

The judge said that when she began practicing law, women were more reluctant to speak about the unique challenges they faced.

“Women want to be seen equally. We don’t want to show that we have limitations and to … ask for special accommodations,” she said. “I don’t know if we were that progressive and if it felt comfortable enough to do so then. A lot has changed since, and people are a lot more open-minded.”

Speaking on the possible ripple effects of the room, Mannello said it affirms the Broward legal community’s commitment to securing a comfortable environment for mothers.

“Opening a room like this and having the info about its availability prominently displayed in the halls of the courthouse sends the message that the Broward Circuit Court takes it seriously, and therefore, other lawyers should take this seriously,” she said.

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