What is a Family Restroom and Who is it For? (And NOT for?)

To some, the glorious one-room family restroom is a spacious opportunity for a cushy, private bathroom. To others, like those who really need the privacy, have a family, or have a disability, it is a complete necessity. Who should be able to use the family or all-gender restroom and who should not?

Plus, what are these like abroad and how do you find them?

Here’s everything to know about family bathrooms/restrooms.

What is a Family Restroom?

family restroom denver airport
The family restroom at Denver airport

Family restrooms are a larger restroom, typically located between the typical male and female restrooms in many airports and major transit centers, particularly in the US. Family restrooms have changing tables, but all gender restrooms don’t necessarily have them. Either way, the family restroom is meant for families or anyone who needs extra privacy or extra time due to a disability.

Before having a baby, I could not have understood the joy, the sheer elation, of coming across a family bathroom that is unoccupied. It is so much easier taking care of everybody’s needs at once, including having two people changing a baby, as opposed to taking turns taking him out of the carrier or stroller, figuring out where the heck to put the diaper bag other than on the floor, heading into the restroom, deciding who gets to change him, etc. It’s just so much easier doing it as one family unit.

It’s kind of ridiculous how stoked we get about finding them.

I also could not have understood the audacity, the incredible selfishness of using a family bathroom when you’re not one of the few people who actually need it or who it is intended for.

Who Is the Family Restroom Intended For?

family nursery
The family nursery at SFO

Although they are a godsend to find, they can be popular. There are many times when the bathroom was occupied for so long that we had to figure out another solution. And my blood would boil if I saw someone come out who the bathroom was clearly not meant for.

I’d argue there are only THREE types of people who should use family bathrooms:

  • Families (obviously): For families with babies and young children, it is so much easier to use a family bathroom. There’s a reason why they exist in the first place! Being able to go in as a family unit where everyone gets to use the bathroom, change the baby, help the little ones go, and any combo of those scenarios, saves so much time and sanity.
  • Those who need more space or assistance: The family bathroom is large enough to make navigating with a wheelchair or other big equipment much easier. I’m not talking about suitcases, but rather devices that are necessary for keeping people healthy and alive. Family bathrooms also often have emergency assistance buttons, so if someone needs additional assistance, or needs a family member to come in with them, it’s much easier to do.
  • Transgendered or Nonbinary people: For some individuals, using a gendered restroom can be a major source of anxiety or even unwanted confrontation. Many family bathrooms are also designated as all gender bathrooms, but even if they’re not, I’d argue nonbinary persons are welcome to use them. That said, I did notice that many of the family bathrooms in the San Francisco airport have been transitioned into all gender bathrooms with the changing tables removed. I did see nurseries that had the changing table and a chair, but no toilet.

The family restroom is NOT for someone who just feels like taking a dump in peace while scrolling on their phone.

It is not for someone who doesn’t feel like waiting in line for the normal bathroom.

I also urge nursing and pumping moms NOT to use the family restroom for feeding or for pumping. I’ve been there, and I understand privacy is good to have. But nursing and pumping can take a while, and restrooms are really meant for changing diapers and for those who really need to, well, go.

There are Mamava lactation pods and sometimes nurseries scattered throughout airports for this purpose. I see Mamava pods all the time in just about every terminal in the US. Download the app, get a code to enter, and you’re golden. I also loved my portable pumps, which I could easily slip in and cover with a jacket or scarf and go about my travels.

How Do You Find a Family Restroom?

family restroom

Although you won’t find them at every set of restrooms in an airport, there’s almost always at least one or two family restrooms in a terminal. They are typically located near the other standard restrooms.

Sometimes there are two, but often there is just one. That’s why I advocate only using it if you need to, and then vacating quickly, because for those who really need it, if they are in a rush, it can be a big problem not to have it available

Do Family Restroom Exist Abroad?

Japanese family restroom
A Japanese family restroom

In many countries, particularly in the developing world, don’t expect to find a lot of changing tables or family bathrooms.

But in some countries, like we found on our most recent trip to Japan with our baby, there are family bathrooms everywhere, and they are amazing! Pictured above, this is a typical family/handicapped restroom and they always came with all the bells and whistles. I’m serious, there were so many different kinds of contraptions in there, I had no idea what half of them actually did.

I also loved how clean they always were. And how plentiful. They were almost always at least two of them at any major or even smaller train station, tourist destination, mall or airport and people really respected not using them unless they needed to. I never had to wait to use a family restroom in Japan!

Final Thoughts

Although I disagree with the idea that traveling with a baby has to be difficult, in fact I have found it rewarding and I have learned a lot on how to make it easier traveling with a baby, there are certain things that just add an extra layer of stress and difficulty. The bathroom situation doesn’t have to be one of them if people respect the family restroom etiquette.

Do you agree? What is your experience with the family restroom?

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