Some of you are probably wondering why I am writing this blog about what it’s like to be a pumping mom since the focus of my blog is largely on simplifying and decluttering your home. I wanted to do this so that I could get to know what other mom’s experienced, how they made it easier for them, and hopefully shed some light on how co-workers can help make this easier for moms. Also – I breastfeed because it’s simple ;). No bottles or anything.. just boom you’re fed! Anyway.. I interviewed several moms and got to know what its like to pump at work and got some really cool insight into what different employers, HR departments and moms have done to make this easier and to essentially simplify the process for themselves.
I want you to know first of all that every single mom had the same motivation behind doing this work – and that was to give their child what they felt was best and to have a continued nursing relationship. Believe it or not, it was not so that they could get a paid 15 minute break to go hook themselves up to a pump like a dairy cow.
If you are a mom you have likely tried breastfeeding, or pumping or a combination of the two. It’s something that I have done for all three of my kids and have been really lucky and blessed to have a really easy experience with that. My first daughter I was able to stay home with until she was about 8 months and when I did return to work it was a job that I was able to bring her with me and nurse on demand. It was the ideal situation for a working mom wanting a continued nursing relationship.
With my second I had to return to work much sooner, and under less ideal conditions. I was a Head Start teacher so the first 3.5 hours of my day were spent teaching a class of 20 preschoolers, and the second half was spent driving around town doing home visits for families. It was probably the least ideal situation because taking thirty minutes out of my class time to pump just wasn’t something I could realistically do. I did attempt to drive and pump while going to my home visits.. but that was just also not a realistic scenario.
I was obsessed with the clock. Tracking every two hours and watching those two hours come and go. I was obsessed with ounces out, and ounces into my baby. I was sad that I didn’t make enough. I felt guilty for not making time during my work day. I felt like I failed at breastfeeding because eventually my supply tanked, and that’s just how it is when you aren’t able to nurse or pump on demand.
I was lucky in that scheduling and actually finding the time was my only real obstacle. Many moms struggle with supply before they even begin pumping at work. Some deal with mastitis, or blebs (look it up), or thrush or worse. They take supplements to boost supply. They follow strict diets for sensitive baby bellies. They undergo surgery to drain infections. Then show up at work still ready to strip down and pump some more in between projects, meetings, calls, and deadlines. Then store, clean, and sanitize parts hoping and praying they didn’t leak or spill onto their work clothes.
If you have pumped you know that it first of all, takes time. Second of all there are a lot of moving parts – literally. You are hooked up to a pump that is extracting milk from your body. There are tubes, flanges, bottles, and milk. Then there are your parts (breasts people, I mean breasts), and special bras, and shirts. That in itself is awkward. Lastly, I was caught in the middle of this really weird area where modesty and professionalism overlapped. Like when (not if) someone opens that closet door looking for supplies are they going to be cool like “Oh your shirt is off because you forgot to wash your nursing tank top last night, I didn’t even notice”. Or is it going to be something I will never live down because they director is a guy and no matter what anyone tells me.. its embarrassing to be walked in on while hooked up to a pump and milk flowing from your body, and its extremely uncomfortable to be in a room that doesn’t lock while you do that even if no one happens to walk in that day. Even though you put a sign on the door to please wait until I am done pumping.
My personal experience was one that offered a false sense of support. I was told I could have regular breaks for pumping and when I tried to get a regular break from my classroom I was met with eye rolls, and dramatic sighs as if I were the lucky one getting a break from my duties. I was also told I would be given a private space to pump, and I was. But it was a hall closet jam packed with school supplies and furniture dangerously stacked and shoved inside. I tried pumping in there but it was uncomfortable and people barged in all the time looking for paper or markers or whatever else, and yeah.. just didn’t work.
So I then would run to the bathroom to pump during the teacher’s thirty minute break and just deal with the knocking and asking “who’s in there?” or “you’re still in there?” fully understanding that other people needed to pee and whatever… but I wanted to pump for my baby and I was engorged and in pain and usually choking back tears just hoping I could pump enough and not make the rest of the staff hate me for taking breaks and taking over the bathroom during out breaks.
I tried really hard to maintain my supply and carve out time for pumping.. but ultimately wasn’t able to with him. I had a lot of guilt about that in the moment, but looking back am proud of how far I made it.
Looking back I wish that I had more true support from my co-workers and supervisors. I wish that there were very clear guidelines in an employee handbook or from our HR department. I wish that I had more confidence to advocate for what I needed from my workplace to help make my pumping journey successful.
As I started talking to other moms I was pleasantly surprised to learn that many moms have had incredibly supportive work environments! The ones who have been most successful have advocated for their rights and demanded that their workplace step up and support them. Some made changes for others so they could have an easy and supportive workplace, some just walked into a supportive environment.
My friend Tatiana works for a large wedding dress retail chain who actually came in and installed an outlet for her so she could pump privately in one of the fitting rooms, and even purchased a refrigerator specifically for her to use.
My friend Summer struggled at first with getting her pumping breaks but ended up making some impactful changes by sticking up for herself and communicating with her HR department and demanding they give her access to her rights as a breastfeeding mother.
My friend Lucia has been able to pump and maintain an extended nursing relationship with all of her children, and her company has made it easy for her to work while she pumps and not have to worry about clocking out or worrying about taking too many pumping breaks. As long as her work gets done, she can pump as she pleases.
My friend Julie has probably the most positive and determined attitude I have ever seen, and mixes in some humor while she takes her breaks to pump even though her co-workers may be slightly annoyed.
My friend Shara works from home and is able to pump freely, without clocking out! While these are all supportive and positive experiences for breastfeeding moms, there are also struggles.
Many of these moms feel as though their desire to have a continued nursing relationship with their child is a nuisance to the work place. Many sacrifice the “social” aspect of work like heading out to lunch to stay back and pump while they catch up on the work they missed during their morning pump break. These are extra stressors that moms just don’t need as they try to sit and relax, bare chested hooked up to a machine trying to relax enough to get a letdown.
Not only are they doing this at work though, they are waking up at night often to pump or nurse so that their supply maintains. It is a 24 hour job, on top of their 9-5.
If you are a co-worker, supervisor or part of any team with a working mom – support her! Understand that she is trying to work and make a living to support her child AND she is trying to give her child what she believes to be the best nutrition for her child.
Breastfeeding is a special part of motherhood. It’s something that so many struggle with already. She doesn’t need your annoyance or side eyes. She needs you to high five her for doing what she thinks is best. Or for you to step in and cover her fifteen minutes with nothing but a smile. Let her know her effort is recognized and that she is doing something truly wonderful for her child.
If you have some power in the work place – advocating and supporting these moms is huge! Make a pump room. Bring in fridges for storage. Buy some water bottles or snacks. Let her know she’s doing a good job and this season will be over for her before she realizes. One day she will get to go to lunch with co-workers instead of hanging back to pump half naked and alone while at work. It’s 2018 – it’s time to not only normalize breastfeeding, but to normalize pumping mothers in the workplace and giving them the support, space, and resources they deserve.
If you are a working pumping mom I got some tips from all the moms I interviewed and they helped me create this resource for you to help simplify your pumping process. It links you to your rights as a pumping mom and some of their favorite tips and tricks they have learned during their pumping journey.