“It’s already 6:45?! I haven’t even packed my pump bag yet!” I scramble to get the diaper bag filled with back up outfits, bottles for my five-month old and a juice box and fruit snacks for my two-year old, all for the fourteen minute drive to daycare.
I finally manage to get boots, coats and hats on, and the girls and their fully stocked diaper bag into the car. Now its 6:55 and I rush back to the kitchen to get the ice packs into the pump cooler pack, fill it with empty pump bottles and shove it into the bag with the pump and all the necessary tubes, flanges and attachments. There’s no time for breakfast, so I take a quick gulp of water to try and calm my growling stomach. I rush to the car, start the engine and the green digital clock on the dash confirms; it’s 7:05 and I’m officially twenty minutes behind schedule. I curse my pump bag for slowing me down and think how much easier life will be when I don’t have to pump anymore. But that thought also makes me a little melancholy; I don’t want my youngest to grow up so fast! My two-year old snaps me out of my thought as she shouts “Mommy! Mwah! Go bye-bye!” and I just have to laugh. Well, twenty minutes late is better than thirty minutes late!
I’m one of the many working moms that struggle to balance my family life with my work life. I truly enjoy my job as an attorney in the healthcare field. In my current position I’m lucky to be surrounded by other working moms who understand that on most mornings it is next to impossible to be on time. They also understand (because they’ve each been there) that there will be a few times during the day that I need to step away from my desk to pump. 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 returned to work following a nine-week maternity leave, I was working in a small financial organization comprised mostly of men in their mid-forties to late fifties. None of them could relate to having young children at home, nor could they understand what 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, there was absolutely no patience for the time I needed to be away from my desk.
Thankfully, the federal law has recognized the need to set minimum standards for employers in this area. My employer was required to provide me with sufficient break time and a private location (not a bathroom) to pump, and to do so for up to one year following the birth of my child. Generally speaking, any employer covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is required to provide this reasonable accommodation to nursing, working mothers. If the employer has less than fifty employees and is not subject to the FLSA, they would have to show that compliance with the nursing mothers break time requirement would impose an undue hardship on their business. As with my first employer, who was not subject to the FLSA, I venture to guess it is easier to just provide space and time for pumping than to try and argue an undue hardship. Compliance with the law, however, doesn’t mean the professional environment will be friendly to nursing mothers.
When I returned to work after my first child, I was pumping three times during the work day, with one of those times being over the lunch hour. I felt incredible pressure to hurry through each of those pumping sessions, even though I typically needed just 15 minutes each time. Nonetheless, when my then-boss would see me grab my pump bag to head up to the empty office to pump, I could see the general look of annoyance on his face. It was incredibly frustrating to have my professional work and reputation colored (in the eyes of my co-workers) by my choice to breastfeed my baby after returning to work. I felt guilty not being home with my child and guilty for being away from my desk to pump!
Rather than simply tolerate the tension, I broached the subject with my boss and found that much of it stemmed from the fact that there wasn’t an understanding of my pumping needs. I chose not to offer a detailed explanation about the mechanics of breast milk supply (we both would have been uncomfortable with that) but instead reviewed with him the actual time I was using to pump, illustrating that altogether it was less than an hour per day. I further pointed out that for me, that hour really was a wash since I had long ago given up taking a proper lunch break. I found that by setting expectations as to my daily (pumping) time needs, and for the breastfeeding timeline in general (I chose to wean at 6 months, which is another highly sensitive topic under which I encourage every mother to do what is right for themselves and their child), we were able to clear up any misconceptions as to my focus while at work.
In light of my experience, I would offer the following recommendations to all working and nursing mothers:
1. Be assertive with your employer as to your space and time needs and remember, the law is on your side;
2. Don’t compromise your choice to breastfeed, or your choice to do so for any length of time;
3. Take comfort in the fact that taking time during the work day to pump allows you to maintain the nursing bond with your baby while you’re away from home;
4. Whenever possible, pack the diaper bag and your pump bag the night before!