The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium has welcomed more than 3.5 million visitors in the past 20 years, many of whom are families with young children, to enjoy animal and history exhibits that tell the story of the Mississippi River and America’s waterways. As the River Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2023, staff members on the Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) Team acknowledged its multiple inclusive initiatives since opening in 2003, but felt fostering an inclusive space for visitors had a missing piece: a dedicated comfort space for nursing parents or visitors needing a sensory break.

This is how the Comfort Room, located between the Makerspace and Boat Shop in the Mississippi River Center, came to life.

“As a family destination, we want to encourage our visitors to stay as long as they need to experience our campus, and we never want a visit to be cut short because there is no private place to nurse or take a sensory break,” said Kristen Leffler, Staff Resource & Engagement Manager. “A space like this has been a request by staff and guests for quite some time, so we are pleased to have made this a reality.”

The process took nearly two years as the team worked with the museum and aquarium’s facilities staff and leadership on logistics to create a private room for this space. Early renderings suggested portable lactation pods that could be moved on campus, but the DEAI Team felt there needed to be a permanent solution. A bathroom that had rarely been used provided that space and the River Museum’s facilities staff transformed the space into what would fit the organization’s needs.

The room has a sink and is equipped with a comfortable recliner for nursing or bottle feeding, outlets for electronic lactation products, granola bars, fidgets, noise-canceling headphones, a sound machine, and most importantly, privacy, that guests and staff can use.

The Comfort Room is one of the first of its kind at a public facility in Dubuque. It’s one of many steps the River Museum has taken to provide a more accessible and inclusive experience for guests. Since the start of the year, the River Museum has also created Spanish-translated campus maps with the help of Gisella Aitken-Shadle, Chief of Equity & Human Rights at the City of Dubuque, and is working on a gluten free and allergy aware menu at the Harbor Grill.

The River Museum debuted the Comfort Room on its social media channels on Wednesday, February 15 and received an outpouring of support.