Last summer I took a short trip to Canada, and one of the key takeaways from the holiday for me was how family friendly the place is. This was the beginning of my spending FAR more time than I ever anticipated analysing the toilet facilities around me, and wondering whether they were even sending out subliminal messages!
But back to the beginning of the story… I noticed the differences in family-friendliness quite early on in our trip, when we were still in Toronto airport and spotted the first Family Room. Sometimes airports have facilities which you don’t find anywhere else (I know Heathrow is also quite good in many respects), but it didn’t take me long to realise that Family Rooms are quite the norm over there, and I can’t believe how much, such a small thing, made such a big difference to us! Being able to access a Family Room meant that I could be in the same large room TOGETHER with my 2 boys AND the baby in the pushchair – it meant I could change his nappy, use the toilet and assist my 2 boys using the toilet in the same place, and without having to worry about leaving anyone out of sight! What often happens when I’m out on my own with my boys is that I either have to take them all into the Ladies with me (but my oldest son is nearly 7 and starts to not like this very much) or I have to send them separately or together to the Gents while I wait outside, relying heavily on my nearly-7-year-old to help his nearly-4-year-old brother. I’m told that at times this has meant that the little one had to stand on big brother’s back (which isn’t exactly what I had envisaged when I asked big brother to help) to be able to reach the sink and wash his hands! Not to mention that when I need to use the baby changing facilities, it also often means having to go a separate room to do that, so that’s 3 different facilities we may need to use to go to the toilet – Ladies, Gents and Baby Changing (if this is a separate room, which is often combined with the disabled toilets).
Of course being able to use a Family Room is the answer for me and my family, but I’m sure a Family Room pretty much works with any other family combination you may have, as these are normally large rooms with disabled and pushchair access, baby changing facilities, a sink and often even chair that can be used by the parent to feed or just to put your things down. You can have all your children in the room with you regardless of their gender, and so I see this as something that definitely makes life a lot easier for families with little people on toe.
This then led to a little challenge I set myself to start paying more attention to how the majority of businesses and public places I’ve visited in the UK address this matter, and what I’ve started to notice when I was looking at where the baby changing facilities were is that, as a general rule, they can be found in one of 3 places:
- In the Ladies;
- In the disabled toilets (with or without free access – sometimes access is restricted);
- In a separate room, which is accessible by men or women (at times this may be combined with a nursing area).
Very rarely (and so far I’ve found this in one place only), baby changing facilities are also in the Gents!
That in itself is a bit of an issue which I know many dads have raised, and hopefully things are starting to change with changing facilities being available in the Ladies AND Gents or being available somewhere where both parents can go.
As I was busy taking photos of baby changing facilities signs to remind myself of where I had spotted any interesting set ups, I started paying attention to the signs and icons as well, and soon realised that some of them are also gender specific! So we don’t just assume that it’s the mums changing the babies’ nappies and therefore put changing tables in the Ladies only, but we go as far as reinforcing this message by showing a LADY / a MUM changing the nappy. To me that feels even worse when the changing facilities are in a ‘gender-neutral’ area (like the Disabled toilets) and yet, it’s a woman being shown as changing the nappy.
I know there are bigger issues to tackle in the world, but as far as baby changing signs go, it’s time we acknowledge that men change nappies too!
And one company who seems to have acknowledged this is Ikea. The Ikea store in Wembley has family and nursing rooms (as well as nursing areas and a number of facilities for baby feeding within their restaurant), and truly comes across as a very family friendly place.
But it’s not just that – on top of family rooms, they also place baby changing facilities in the Ladies AND in the Gents, and their signs reflect this:
However, forgive me for this one, but has anyone else picked up on the position of the female and male icons changing the nappies? Like I said, there are definitely bigger things to worry about in the world than toilet signs (!), but what I see here is a mum changing the nappy, facing the baby and attending to the baby, and then I see a dad who has his body away from the baby, with one hand on baby to stop him from falling, but the sign is certainly showing more of a distance between the man and the baby. I thought that perhaps, without the dress used to represent mum, if they put dad in the same position, from the side he’d just look like a stick, but I’ve since seen another example of a dad (or just a person without a dress, which could be mum or dad) in the same position, so it can be done, or there are signs available for this.
My only other tiny objection (to be taken in the context of a very fair approach being taken towards the genders here) is that their Nursing Room only shows mum changing a nappy – couldn’t a dad want to use the room to bottle feed the baby and then change them? Technically they can, so why not make that explicit so that a dad going in there doesn’t feel like he’s not welcome there? If you’ve gone as far as showing both mums AND dads changing nappies, why not extend that approach to other facilities too?
I later extended this little challenge of paying attention to baby changing facilities to my fellow Natal teachers, and collectively we haven’t really found many men-specific or gender neutral signs which suggest that dads can change nappies too! We have however noticed that a lot of businesses and public places are using a more generic icon of a baby in nappies to indicate where changing facilities are – the focus is on the facilities, not on who changes the baby, and perhaps this is a more inclusive approach to take?
“Signs are just signs” – I hear you say – and you most definitely have a point, but all these things, as tiny and insignificant as they might appear, send messages to us! They may be subliminal, innocent and inadvertent, but they are still messages, and the bottom line here is that it’s about time that facilities, in the way that they are set up and who and how they’re accessible to parents and carers, change too. And if and when they do, we need to start changing the signs and icons (and therefore the language) to reflect the times we’re in.
Because men change nappies too!
Sara is a mum of three and BabyNatal teacher for West London.