In talking to a lot of breastfeeding mothers over the years, personally and professionally, I have heard some horror stories. Threats from bosses, public embarrassment in meetings, unheated pumping places specifically chosen to discourage a new mom from continuing to pump; your worst fears realized, basically. However, even outside of the really terrible tales there are every day indignities and annoyances that are some of the cruelest things anyone can do to a mom pumping at work.
I'll admit that, when it came to pumping at work, my last job spoiled me. I worked for a large university and when I came back from (a generous) maternity leave I was welcomed with a plethora of breastfeeding and pumping support the likes of which most breastfeeding mothers don't receive. While we didn't have a lactation lounge in my building when I first started, we did by the time I left and it was bougie AF. The head of the HR department in my office connected me to the office of Work Life — who let me know about lactation rooms throughout the campus (equipped with hospital grade pumps) and list of lactation consultants who worked with my insurance if I found myself in need of their services — along with a breastfeeding support group they had started for new moms on campus. It was basically like living in a glorious feminist paradise and, guess what: the company continued to do beautifully and the workers routinely expressed not just milk but employee satisfaction. Whoa.
Alas, I know many if not most women are not so lucky. Here are some of the things they have to deal with on the daily, that are nothing short of unacceptable.
Tell Her To Pump In The Bathroom
In fact, if the company has more than 50 employees, you're not allowed to suggest that to a breastfeeding employe. In order to comply with Federal Law (to say nothing of state laws, which may provide additional protections):
An employer shall provide—
a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and
a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.
Give Her A Super-Crappy Pumping Space
Like I said: I get it. Sometimes it's really difficult to find a spot that fits all these perimeters because the space simply does not exist. As such, many a pumping mother has been sent to a cramped, unheated utility closet or storage space because that's the best a company can do. However, just because it's a company's "best," doesn't mean it's not the freakin' worst.
Food for thought here, upper management: if there's someone who has an office with a closing door and a pumping mother whose office does not, maybe offer to switch for 15-20 minutes so she can have a little privacy. My co-workers did that for me when the need arose, and it was very sweet and super appreciated.
Try To Make Her Feel Bad For Pumping
Maybe a co-worker feels a pumping mother is trying to "get out of working" by pumping and that's why she keeps it up, so they try to shame her out of it. Maybe they just resent having to accommodate her pumping schedule. I have heard both of these issues expressed (thank goodness not about me, because hold my earrings).
So let's start with the first point: I would most definitely rather do work than pump. I don't know too many pumping moms who enjoy pumping. It's inconvenient as hell and super boring and really time-consuming, but not pumping can actually hurt. Secondly, sorry not sorry my baby needs to eat, so I kind of have to do this, which means you kind of have to deal with it.
Be Weird About Her Storing Milk In The Staff Fridge
I have heard stories of co-workers complaining to HR departments about a pumping mother leaving breast milk in the fridge. You guys, seriously? It's breast milk. If you recognize Belinda in Communication's right to use the staff lounge fridge to store leftover fish tacos, you can deal with my sealed and unobtrusive bottles of breast milk.
Offer Your Opinions On How Long She Should Nurse
Oh, really Dan? You think the fact that I'm nursing my 11-month-old is "pushing it?" That's great. Now that we've established that we have the kind of relationship where we offer one another unsolicited opinions, let's have a chat about your tie, OK? OK.
Occupy Her Pumping Space At A Designated Pumping Time
This is where I will say that communication is very important. Maybe put pumping times on a designated shared calendar (you don't have to say you're pumping if you don't want to — just reserve the space). Or perhaps, if it's not inappropriate, you can have a sign on the door indicating when the space will be needed. There's nothing more disconcerting than heading over to ye old pumping place with tender, milk-swollen boobies, only to discover that the marketing department is using the space for an early lunch break.
Press Her On Why She Can't Do A Two Hour Long Meeting In The Morning
Seriously, dude, just put two and two together. No one should be ashamed to say, "I have to pump in that time frame." Personally speaking, I would talk about specific breastfeeding procedures and needs with anyone who asked (or, sometimes, people who didn't ask but I felt could use the information.) However, not everyone is as outspoken about their lactation needs because breastfeeding can still be viewed as "taboo." At the very least, it's pretty personal.
Plan An Off-Site Meeting
Goddamnit, you guys. I don't know what that space is like or where I can pump. Ugh. Now I have to call their office manager and figure something out. Thanks. Thanks a lot for the extra work.
(I know this can't always be avoided and it's not mean, it's just annoying to the point of cruelty.)
Ask Why She Can't Pump While Working
Some people can and I applaud those people. However, for some of us pumping requires every bit of our coordination and concentration. Trust me, I have a lot to do: if I could pump and work I totally would, if only to feel like a complete badass boss. Alas, I'm just me: limited and pretty unresponsive to a pump unless I kind of help it along via hand expression.
Schedule A Full Day Of Meetings Back To Back
BECAUSE MY BREASTS ARE GOING TO EXPLODE!!!!!!
Walk In On Her
It's just really embarrassing for everyone involved, because we're going to pretend it never happened, but we're both always going to remember that, yep, it definitely happened.