Family + Field — Mom Pods Ease the Transition Back to Work

Weather-ready lactation pods equipped with comfort conveniences will remove barriers to motherhood in the field.

She put up makeshift curtains in her car to secure what privacy she could on the construction jobsite. The cigarette lighter served as an electric outlet to plug in and power her pump. 
A cooler held breast milk until she returned home to her baby. This was the only way the young journeywoman could return to work and continue breastfeeding. 

Choosing family or the field is a struggle too many women in the construction industry face.  

“What a barrier there is for women to come back to work after having a baby if there is no sanitary place for them to pump,” says Julie Muller, executive vice president of SMACNA–Western Washington, who met the woman she describes here at an industry event. Muller had just taken the position, transferring from Southern California with her family, which included one-year-old twins. 

“We exchanged stories about motherhood, and she told me this was the only way she could continue to breastfeed,” Muller relates. “At that point, I instantly realized that it was much easier for me to return to work with an office job as opposed to working on a construction site. It shed light on a significant inequality.” 

Muller grew up in a construction family. She knows firsthand how far women can go, and the trades careers they can build that support a household. With construction industries across the country dealing with labor pains and a shortage of skilled trades workers, women are an untapped resource for recruitment — if the industry can provide benefits that acknowledge the balance of field work and family. Currently, less than 10 percent of sheet metal workers are women, Muller points out. 

She’s proud of the high retention rate among women and minority members of SMACNA and Sheet Metal Workers Local 66 in the Puget Sound region. 

“We’re focused on finding more ways to make working in the field work for women,” Muller says. 

Made for Moms
The aha moment happened in an airport.     

During a layover, Muller spotted a lactation pod. The Mamava self-contained, unobtrusive tiny room was equipped with everything a mother needs to breastfeed or pump. Inside were outlets, a place to sit, a refrigerator and soft lighting. Basically, it’s a private and simple alternative to using a restroom or other spaces. 

Julie Muller

Muller imagined how this type of unit would benefit women in construction. The pod is roughly the size of two port-a-potties at 26 square feet, and the accommodations are designed for comfort. 

After looking into the concept, Muller learned the only models available were not suitable for outdoor use. The next step was to identify a manufacturer that could produce a pod that would weather the elements, while providing a sanitary indoor experience. Portability was also key, because Muller envisioned a trailer-ready pod that could be delivered to jobsites upon request. 

She identified a manufacturer in Southern California and outlined the vision. Women can access the unit by remote entry and eventually an app. Inside, there are plug-ins for equipment, a refrigerator to store milk, air conditioning and Wi-Fi. There’s a place to sit, a sink with running water and cleaning supplies. The pods can be loaded onto a trailer easily and are the same shape as port-a-potties, but larger and more comfortable, with privacy mothers will appreciate. 

This summer, the first two Mom Pods for the sheet metal industry will be completed and dispatched to field locations. 

An integral partnership with Sheet Metal Workers Local 66 includes support from management and labor. Local 66 will store and maintain the Mom Pods — and make sure they are delivered to sites where mothers need them. The two Local 66 training facilities in Everett and Dupont will receive the Mom Pods, which will be batched out from there. Requests for the Mom Pods can be submitted online, with the website forthcoming. 

Construction workers will now have access to sanitary spaces to meet their health needs through Mom Pods. 

Including Industry 
Mom Pods will alleviate that awkward conversation — and last-resort pumping locations in unsanitary conditions (the car, a restroom, you name it). It’s a true benefit employers can share to attract and retain women to the sheet metal industry and construction trades. Not to mention, the concept helps promote diversity, equity, including and belonging (DEIB) initiatives that are increasingly important to general contractors who are also challenged with finding skilled labor. 

Above all, it sends a message of support. 

“This should be the new standard just like safety is a standard,” Muller says. “It can satisfy the need for a sanitary place for women to go. And if you think about it, there are workers with other medical needs who could utilize a health pod.”

Muller points to diabetes injections as an example. “This could really open the doors for people who might not have been able to work outdoors in the field if they can access a sanitary space to have their health needs met.”

She adds, “For me, it’s so important to be able to spread this concept, and it's my hope that we can show how successful it can be, so other industries can embrace it.” 


How Other SMACNA Member Companies Can Benefit From This Initiative


New mothers in the construction industry are now being afforded an opportunity to get back to work sooner and with more conveniences thanks to lactation pods on jobsites. Until now, they were forced to make do using provisional spaces (port-a-potties, vehicles, etc.), and it just wasn’t conducive to being a new, working mom. To alleviate this problem, a joint initiative between SMACNA-Western Washington and Smart Local 66 will be the first in the industry to make lactation pods available to mothers in need. The initiative started in April 2023.

Thanks to an exclusive partnership with a custom fabricator, the clean, sanitary pods will be digitally secure via an app, which translates to peace of mind. They’ll have a seat, sink, HVAC, electricity for the breast pump and phone chargers, in addition to a refrigerator to keep the breast milk cold during the remaining hours of the workday. The lactation pods are designed for comfort and accessibility and will keep women from the embarrassment of getting walked in on. They will also make it easier to keep breast milk fresh, reduce the difficulty of locating and getting to a private space and provide storage for their pumping gear.

“Working in an office, it can be quite easy to overlook the challenges of being a new mom in the field,” says Julie Muller, executive vice president of SMACNA-Western Washington. “After talking to Tammy Meyen, a journeywoman who’d had a baby around the same time as I had my twins, I was astonished at how different my experience was compared to hers. She and any of the tradeswomen mothers are all after the same goal — being good at their jobs while also being good mothers. Our goal is to make working in the field work for them.”

Another tradeswoman, a fifth-year apprentice, pumped in her car while at work as she was not provided with a space. Yet another made curtains to hang in her car for privacy purposes. “It isn’t always easy or time efficient for women to get to and from a remote, undesignated pumping location in the middle of the workday,” Meyen says. “Breastfeeding mothers need supplies, such as a breast pump, coolers, bottles and towels — not to mention access to a private, physical space and power.”

Four organizations partnered together to raise funds, bringing this groundbreaking initiative to the Pacific Northwest: Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 66 (The Leadership and Women’s Committee), SMACNA-Western Washington (DE&I/WIC Committee), the Northwest Labor Management Organizational Trust and the Western Washington Sheet Metal JATC.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more, contact Julie Muller, Esq. at 714-889-9472 or