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Breastfeeding at Work

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You glance down at the right hand corner of your desktop. You know it’s almost that time. Your Outlook alarm reminded you 13 1/2 minutes ago that you have 15 minutes until your next pumping session.

And you’re dreading it.

You start making compromises with yourself. “Let me just answer this email and then I’ll start pumping. It’ll only take 5 minutes. Ya, 5 minutes – that’s not too long. And then I’ll go back there and pump.” Never mind that there is an abandoned cubicle with a misshapen chair, a table, and a few free magazines you grabbed to try to give the place a ‘homier’ look.

There are thousands of Moms that are pumping at work both in the public and private sector. And, to put it frankly, it sucks. I know, I know—you may be shocked to hear a Lactation Consultant not sing the praises of doing everything and anything to give breastmilk to babies. Of course, I am a huge advocate for the healthiest start for children. However, if you work full time, then you must also pump full time. And a new light has been placed on the pumping arena. Due to the Affordable Care Act, places of work are required to provide adequate space for their employees, not including a bathroom. However, unfortunately, according to a recent study, only 40% of workplaces actually do so. Research also supports that mothers who intend to return to work are 150% more likely to cease breastfeeding early.

Those these statistics are grim; what is encouraging is that there is a lot a workplace can do to improve a woman’s outlook and create a culture of support for motherhood.

  1. Create a warming environment. For mothers, they need an environment that not only meets needs but also is welcoming and inviting. As described above, pumping is NOT a fun, free-for-all time. Ask any mother that pumped for any duration for their child—not a part of their day they look forward to. Combat the dread by providing a private room with nice, comfy furniture. Ideally, there will be a small fridge to store breastmilk and a sink nearby. Then get creative! Add a mirror, hang up some beautiful pictures that scream tranquility (the less stressed a Mom is, the more milk she will make). A really cute idea is to put in a photo album where a Mom can put in a picture of her child with the birthdate if she so chooses.
  2. Get leadership on board. It’s sometimes hard for leadership to understand the importance of providing a private and calm place for breastfeeding mothers. The best option is to have a discussion with management discussing the benefits of prolonged breastfeeding not only from a health aspect but also from an employment aspect. The Business Case for Breastfeeding has a lot of great resources that can be used to help get leadership on board.
  3. Communicate to others. After leadership is on board, you need to communicate with the rest of employees. Think of this as the trickle down effect: if the managers and supervisors are not aware of the benefits of breastfeeding mothers, the only thing that will come out is negativity. Create a burning platform to push the agenda.
  4. Create a culture of support. This means implementing work-life supports that help mothers and families manage dual roles in their lives. This starts with a great lactation facility, but quickly can extend to more such as flexible work time, working from home, etc. Whatever the agency deems appropriate. But by managing work-life balance for families, everyone succeeds long term.

Petra Colindres is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Shannon

I would also suggest offering a way for moms to continue working while they are pumping. If you have an office with a door that closes, this is totally a possibility if you have a hands-free bra. But if you need to go somewhere, perhaps having laptop computers available on desks would be helpful. I know it took me twenty to thirty minutes to pump each time for 2-3 times a day for nearly nine months after I went back to work. If I weren’t able to continue working while pumping, it would have taken way too much time out of my workday and would have had to stop pumping much earlier.

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Lori

That was my situation. I went back to work after 2 1/2 months. I did not have the fancy motorized pump, (we had only my salary) so using the hand pump obviously took my ability to work away. This meant that pumping 2-3 times for 20-30 minutes added anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes to my work day – more time away from my baby. And yes, I had to pump in a bathroom stall (this was early 2000’s). It was extremely stressful. From 3-6 months my daughter gained only a few ounces of weight. We had to put her on formula immediately. It was crushing.

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