Nursing mothers who work at St. Paul City Hall will soon have a dedicated space to pump and store breast milk.

The city will convert a cramped closet into a private mother’s room, with comfortable seating, storage space, a sink and refrigerator. The new room will be about twice the size of the old space, which had only an uncomfortable office chair and no place to clean a breast pump or store milk, said Deb Calvert, one of the city Office of Financial Services staff members who are the leading the effort.

“It’s hard enough just to leave your baby,” Calvert said. “It just takes some of the stress out of the whole process.”

A $700 Workplace Wellness grant from the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and Ramsey County will help pay for upgrades, which were designed in-house and are happening in tandem with office renovations. Construction is expected to continue another four to six weeks.

“When we say ‘mother’s room’ right now, what we actually have is a storage closet in the back corner of our office that’s been used for at least a decade or more by nursing moms, employees who need to pray during the day or folks who just need a quick break to make a private phone call,” Interim Finance Director John McCarthy said at a City Council meeting Wednesday. “And it’s really inadequate for any of those functions.”

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to accept the $700 grant.

U.S. workplaces are increasingly providing onsite lactation rooms. In a 2018 report from the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly half of surveyed workplaces reported that they had designated lactation rooms, up from less than a third of workplaces in 2014.

Local governments are following the trend. Minneapolis has lactation rooms for employees throughout its network of city buildings. Boston installed a public lactation booth at City Hall last year.

St. Paul financial services staff said they’re hoping other departments and workplaces across the city will follow their lead. The city’s equity work, a focus of Mayor Melvin Carter’s administration, “has to start at home,” Calvert said.