Breastfeeding Moms Who Pump At Work Deserve More Support

by Jorrie Varney
Originally Published: 
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It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are, motherhood is hard. You just never know when you’ll be reduced to tears over a missing sock. Or maybe it won’t be a sock, maybe it will be a baby who won’t sleep, a toddler who refuses to eat, or a teenager who thinks they know everything. The hard parts of motherhood aren’t universal. Some women breeze through pregnancy, while others are miserable. Some love the newborn phase, but struggle with toddlerhood. Some of us even rock the teenage years. We’re all amazing in our own right.

I’ve spent seven years as a mother and I still can’t tell you what my area of specialty is. What I can tell you is where I’ve struggled — breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding was my first major hurdle. I really wanted to crush it, because breastfeeding was important to me. I made it for seven months with my firstborn, and while I’m very proud of that, it was shorter than I’d hoped my breastfeeding journey would be.

There were a lot of factors that impacted my experience—being a first-time mom, postpartum depression and anxiety, latch issues, nipple shields, and stress, just to name a few. The stress came from all over, but when I returned to work, I noticed a definite uptick. My daughter was 10 weeks old and still nursing at the time, so pumping breastmilk at work was required in order to make her bottles and keep my supply up.

When I asked where I could pump on my first day back, I was provided with an old bathroom that wasn’t in use. It was clean and not actively being used, but it was still very much a bathroom–with one toilet, one sink, and no chairs. Um, no thank you. I advocated for something a little less disgusting and received an upgrade to an unoccupied office. This would have been lovely if the office wasn’t also housing the printer used by both male and female staff members.

More times than I can count, and despite the occupancy sign on the door, people would burst into the room mid-pump session. I made sure to always face away from the door, because despite the process being completely natural, I wasn’t trying to share my goods with Todd from accounting. My only joy was watching many of them panic the moment they realized what I was doing. Hi, yes, my boobs are out, here’s your spreadsheet.

Finding a place to pump wasn’t the only problem I encountered at work. Some people appeared to be annoyed by my pumping. I used my allotted break times, and never asked for special treatment, but that didn’t stop the eyes from rolling at the mere mention of pumping. One coworker even suggested I switch to formula, because it “seemed a lot easier.”

Between the less-than-private accommodations and shitty comments, I felt like I was inconveniencing everyone, when in reality the only people truly being inconvenienced were me and my baby.

I’m not the only one who’s experienced this type of pumping-related treatment. I’m not really sure what to call it, but the word bullshit springs to mind, because it really shouldn’t be this difficult. It’s easy to blame the laws, because it’s no secret that maternity leave in America is a joke. If women were allowed longer leave, we would likely face fewer issues when we returned to work, but this is about more than just laws.

Laws allow us to breastfeed wherever we wish, but that doesn’t stop people from making it difficult for us. Asking us to cover up, leave public places, or publicly mock and humiliate us as we try to feed our babies. Laws also dictate that employers must provide a place for a woman to pump when she returns to work, but I can assure you that is made unnecessarily difficult for us as well.

And to answer your next question…yes, we could bring these issues to our superiors, maybe lodge a complaint, force them to provide the accommodations that the law says we deserve—but at what cost? Those of us who have been in situations like this know that it’s not that simple. If you request different accommodations, or file a complaint you could be labeled as a trouble maker or considered difficult to work with, even if you’re only asking for what the law says you deserve. Good times.

The unfortunate truth is this: you are either lucky enough to work in a supportive environment, or you’re not.

Laws are great, but I assure you, people can obey them, or not obey them, begrudgingly. The latter is what many new mothers face when they return to work. It’s the “I’ll do it, but only because I have to” mentality, and it’s gross and unacceptable.

Early motherhood is hard enough, without unnecessary challenges. Some of us are forced to return to work, not because we want to, but because our finances won’t allow us to stay home. We literally have no choice but to return to work with our pump bag on our shoulder, doing our best to be a good mother and a good employee. Many of us don’t want to leave our infant. We would rather be home, nursing our babies in the comfort of our living room, than pumping in a closet and being treated like an inconvenience. Employers need to do better. The laws about breastfeeding and pumping are there; now we need the support.

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