The first few months with a new baby are hard: you’re sleep-deprived, adjusting to a new normal, and getting to know a new family member. But for working and breastfeeding moms, the months after those first few months — when you’re trying to slip back into your career while also feeding your baby on-the-go — present even more challenges.
For many women, needing more support from employers around breastfeeding, including both time and space to pump, are the biggest barriers, according to a new survey by Medela, Mamava, and Milk Stork — the partners behind New Moms’ Healthy Returns.
Of course, making pumping while working more comfortable for moms is a bigger societal conversation too. “The basic crux of the problem is that we are told that if you can, you want to breastfeed your baby for 12 months. But in order to do that as a mom who’s working, you’re going to need to pump or be able to bring the baby to work,” says Lauren Smith Brody, founder of The Fifth Trimester. “If you only have 12 weeks of job-protected leave that is unpaid — which most people can’t afford to take anyway — those numbers don’t always sync up.”
So how can you make the most? Here, non-negotiables for working and pumping parents from moms and industry advocates that make the situation even remotely possible — including how to manage the pumping-while-working situation from home.
A Written Policy That You’re Aware of Pre-Baby
Four out of five women in the New Moms’ Healthy Returns survey want better breastfeeding support from employers. And while 54 percent of women in the survey felt comfortable talking about breast milk and feeding needs with managers, 30 percent still felt a bit shy and 9 percent said it was awkward. A productive conversation starts with a clear policy surrounding breastfeeding — and an understanding of that policy.
“All employers should have a written lactation policy that mom is aware of before she goes on maternity leave,” says Sascha Mayer, CEO and co-founder of Mamava. “Our research shows that not everyone is comfortable talking about pumping arrangements with their manager or human resources. A clearly articulated lactation policy can help normalize the conversation and eliminate discomfort.”
California’s new SB 142 law, which went into effect on January 1, actually requires employers to have such a policy in place, she notes. Ask your company what their policy is to start the conversation. If a policy or support is not available in your workplace, visit Medela’s New Moms Healthy Returns site, where there’s a letter you can print out to give to your HR manager to ask for time and space to pump.
A Private, Locked Room with Basic Requirements
According to the New Moms’ Healthy Returns survey, one in four women pumped in closets, bathrooms, in views of cameras, or not in a specific room set aside for pumping. “Breastfeeding moms need a dedicated space for pumping — not a shared multi-function space, like a wellness or a conference room, that constantly needs to be negotiated. Expressing milk is a physiological necessity and requires a space that’s available when moms need it. Period,” says Meyer.
A secure place to pump with a door that locks, access to a sink to wash pump parts, and access to a refrigerator to store breastmilk during the day should all be nonnegotiables, adds Amanda Glenn of Exclusive Pumping. “The law says ‘free from intrusion’ but lots of women still get walked in on if there is no lock.”
Unfortunately, these are not things every woman has access to at work. “I work at a Fortune 15 company and the ‘pump’ room is an old broom closet,” says Rachel, a 32-year-old mom in Boston, MA. Jill F., a mom of three based outside of Philadelphia, PA adds: “You wouldn’t believe how many times I would go to the communal fridge to put pumped milk and there was no room or my cooler or lunchbox would be moved or tipped over.”
Easy Access to the Space
No one’s complaining about a beautiful, well-designed, fully-stocked space to pump in but if it takes a long time to get there (read: it’s on another floor or five buildings away), it’s almost easier to not use it, says Smith Brody. It’s essential that lactation rooms be accessible.
In the New Moms’ Healthy Returns survey, 35 percent of women said limited time was the hardest struggle in producing milk at work. “My non-negotiable requirement is carved out time to actually pump,” says Lydia Stubbs, 30, a PR manager in Dallas, Texas. “I was grateful to have an incredibly supportive boss who made pumping a priority for me. I never felt judged or ostracized because I needed to feed my baby.”
It’s not just the number of breaks throughout the day (every three hours is ideal), but it’s the length of the pumping breaks that’s most important, explains Jacqueline Kincer, an international board certified lactation consultant for Holistic Lactation. “Many employers will give lactating employees 15 minutes for a pumping break. This doesn’t account for the time it takes to walk to the pumping room, set up the pump and supplies, clean up, store the milk, and walk back to their workspace. In my professional opinion, allowing lactating parents 25 minutes of time for pumping breaks is a non-negotiable.”
Flexible Work Setups
“Since becoming pregnant, I took advantage of my employer’s remote work option and have continued to since I went back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave,” says Aubrey Wessolowski, a 32-year-old in Jacksonville Florida. “I work from home most days, unless there’s a specific reason or meeting that requires me to go in. This makes pumping and storing milk so much easier.”
Wessolowski says she usually pumps at her home desk because it’s tough to be away from her laptop. “I’m usually wearing my pumping bra, attached by cords and switching between pump modes, answering emails or calls, writing contracts, checking my daughter’s daycare app for pictures.”
To this extent, Smith Brody notes that making a pumping space a space where a woman could also continue to work (i.e. there’s Wi-Fi or phone service) could “shake off some of the stigma that a lot of women feel taking time that is seen as a ‘break’ to go pump,” allowing them to feel more comfortable at work.
This article was created by SheKnows for Medela.