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Moms who return to work after having a baby have a lot on their plates, but they shouldn't have to struggle to maintain a breast milk supply. Since 2010, federal law mandates that employers must provide a clean, private place that is not a bathroom where a mother can pump milk. They also must allow her reasonable break time to do so.
A disturbing investigation
Unfortunately, not every employer has gotten the memo. Huffington Post journalist Dave Jamieson reviewed 105 closed cases of complaints that were made to the U.S. Department of Labor, and the findings were sobering. Jamieson found situations where mothers were forced to pump in dirty bathrooms or were walked in on by co-workers or even customers. Some faced workplace tension as a result of a lawful request to pump, and others reported that they never had enough time to pump, which possibly led to early weaning.
I spoke with several of my mama friends to get a feel for a variety of environments working moms face. Not all experiences are bad, of course — Erika's experiences are examples of top-rate pumping policies. "I have pumped in two different professional positions, at a health system and a university," she shares. "Both had dedicated, locking, clean and comfortable pumping rooms with sinks and refrigerators. One even supplied a hospital grade breast pump for use by the moms if they had the Medela Lactina system. My employers always supported me in taking the time I needed and they were understanding about leaving meetings or scheduling around my pumping schedule when necessary."
Not a proper pumping environment
This is exactly how it should be. However, not all work environments are ideal. "I work in an office that is breastfeeding friendly," explains Becky, mom of three. "I work in an office of all women who are not." She says that she was limited to two, possibly three, 15-minute sessions each day, which wasn't enough time to get everything done. Other employees complained about her if she went over her allotted time, and if she took an actual break away from the office, she would hear that pumping should be counted toward that break time.
"Our nursing room, however, was great," she shares. "The company I work for itself has wonderful policies in place for nursing mothers. They provide an insurance plan that offers free breast pump rental, 24-hour access to lactation consultants and rules regarding time needed for pumping. Unfortunately, not all employees are are aware of these and complain/find ways to sabotage those rules and regulations."
And a mom of two who wishes to remain anonymous had an even sorrier tale to tell. She went back to work just six weeks after the birth of her youngest baby and struggled to find time and support to pump. "I was relegated to a private bathroom to pump," she remembers. "It did have a lock on the door, but it was honestly the last place I would choose to prepare a baby's food. It was gross. The sink leaked, the temperature wasn't comfortable and I had nowhere to sit besides the toilet." She also shares that her employers gave her a hard time when she requested breaks and negative comments were made by other employees within her earshot about pumping and breast milk. She resigned a few weeks after her return and never looked back.
Proper breast pump support is essential
It's unnerving that proper support isn't in place for mothers to succeed at pumping at work. Medical professionals, social health experts and society in general emphasizes breastfeeding, but when a mom returns to work after giving birth, the support isn't always there, even when federal law says that it must be.
With more awareness that investigations like Jamieson's, I hope that more moms have experiences like Erika had that allow them to maintain their breast milk supply while they work outside the home.