Considerations for the professional breastfeeding mom

“Is it 6:45 already ?! I still haven’t packed my bomb bag!” I rush to fill the diaper bag with backup clothes, bottles for my five-month-old son, and a juice box and fruit snacks for my two-year-old son, all for the fourteen-minute trip to daycare.

I finally manage to put on boots, coats, and hats, and the girls and their fully stocked diaper bag in the car. It is now 6:55 and I rush back to the kitchen to put the ice packs in the pump cooling pack, fill it with empty pump bottles, and put it in the bag with the pump and all the tubes, flanges and necessary accessories. There’s no time for breakfast, so I take a quick sip of water to try and calm my roaring stomach. I run to the car, start the engine and the green digital clock on the dash confirms it; It’s 7:05 and I’m officially twenty minutes late. I curse my pump bag for slowing me down and think life will be so much easier when I no longer have to pump. But that thought also makes me a little melancholic; I don’t want my youngest to grow up so fast! My two year old daughter snaps me out of my thoughts as she yells “Mommy! Mwah! Bye!” And I just have to laugh. Well, twenty minutes late is better than thirty minutes late!

I am one of many working mothers who struggle to balance my family life with my work life. I really enjoy my work as a lawyer in the health field. In my current position, I am fortunate to be surrounded by other working moms who understand that most mornings it is almost impossible to be on time. They also understand (because everyone has been there) that there will be some times during the day when I will have to step away from my desk to express my milk. I appreciate my current “pump-friendly” work environment even more because I haven’t always been so lucky.

When I had my first child and went back to work after a nine-week maternity leave, I was working in a small financial organization made up mostly of men in their forties and fifties. None of them could relate to having young children at home, nor could they understand what it was like to balance work life with the demands of a family with two working parents. And when it came to the subject of breastfeeding and pumping, I had absolutely no patience during the time I needed to be away from my desk.

Fortunately, federal law has recognized the need to establish minimum standards for employers in this area. My employer was required to provide me with enough rest time and a private place (not a bathroom) to express my milk, and to do so for up to one year after the birth of my child. Generally speaking, any employer covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) must provide this reasonable accommodation to breastfeeding working mothers. If the employer has fewer than fifty employees and is not subject to the FLSA, it would have to show that meeting the nursing time-off requirement would place undue hardship on its business. As with my first employer, which was not subject to the FLSA, I daresay that it is easier to simply provide space and time for pumping than to try to argue undue hardship. However, compliance with the law does not mean that the professional environment is friendly to nursing mothers.

When I returned to work after my first child, I was pumping three times during the workday, and one of those times was during lunchtime. I felt incredible pressure to rush through each of those pumping sessions, even though I usually only needed 15 minutes at a time. However, when my then boss saw me grab my pump bag to go to the empty office to pump, I could see the general expression of annoyance on his face. It was incredibly frustrating that my professional work and reputation were tarnished (in the eyes of my co-workers) by my decision to breastfeed my baby after returning to work. I felt guilty about not being home with my son and guilty of being away from my desk to express milk!

Rather than simply tolerating the stress, I broached the subject with my boss and found that much of it was due to the fact that there was no understanding of my extraction needs. I chose not to offer a detailed explanation on the mechanics of breast milk delivery (we would both have been uncomfortable with that), but instead went over with him the actual time I was using to express my milk, illustrating that in total it was less than a hour per day. . Also, I pointed out that for me, that hour really was a wash, as I had long since stopped taking a proper lunch break. I found that by setting expectations for my daily (pumping) time needs and for the overall breastfeeding schedule (I chose to wean at 6 months, which is another very sensitive issue under which I encourage all mothers to do the right thing for themselves and their child), we were able to clear up any misconceptions about my approach to work.

In light of my experience, I would offer the following recommendations to all working and nursing mothers:

1. Be firm with your employer regarding your space and time needs and remember that the law is on your side;

2. Don’t compromise your decision to breastfeed or your decision to breastfeed for a period of time;

3. Get comfortable with the fact that taking time during the workday to express milk allows you to maintain the breastfeeding bond with your baby while you are away from home;

4. Whenever possible, pack the diaper bag and pump bag the night before!

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