I’m so excited to be blogging over on The Bump, one of the largest online communities for expecting and new moms. My latest: http://blog.thebump.com/2015/05/27/working-mom-breastfeeding-goals/
My wonderful friend Ellie Stoneley, a popular blogger based in the UK (and a Bruce Springsteen fanatic, which won this Jersey girl’s heart straight off), wrote a piece this week that has gotten love from both HuffPo and UNICEF. In essence, Ellie notes a recent study that found that PPD “is more than double in women who planned to breastfeed and then were unable to, whereas the women who planned to breastfeed and then did are 50% less likely to be affected.”
Ellie goes on to talk about how essential it proved to be that she prepared for breastfeeding, through classes and reading, before the birth of her lovely little sprite Hope, and how important postpartum support was. She advocates strongly that every woman, in every country, have ready access to ongoing support in the early weeks and months of her baby’s life, because, let’s all say it together: BREASTFEEDING MIGHT BE NATURAL, BUT IT AIN’T EASY.
Ellie’s piece resonated with me on a lot of levels, and I am so proud of her for advocating for something that ALL women and babies, of all socio-economic levels, everywhere, need and deserve. But it also got me thinking that something continues to be missing from this conversation. (I can say this, knowing that Ellie will have my back!)
I admit it: I am often first in line to complain about businesses that do not proactively support employees who need to pump breast milk at work. …and then, through a friend, I met Megan Wesley – a small business owner and mom herself. Megan walked me through the financial and operational implications of having a pumping employee on her staff of two (in other words, half of her workforce). And while I still believe that things need to change on the business and legislative levels (not to mention culture overall), hearing Megan’s story and point of view was really eye-opening for me. So, without further ado: Megan’s story:
Two years ago, I was a new mom heading back to work, ubiquitous black Medela pump bag in hand, ready(ish) to tackle the challenges of pumping on the job. Turns out, I didn’t really have any challenges compared to most other women. Yep, I was lucky. As a lawyer at a big law firm, I returned to work after a lengthy paid maternity leave. In my firm’s fancy-schmancy downtown office, there was a dedicated lactation room stocked with a mini-fridge, comfortable lounge chair, a guest chair (for…spectators?), sink, electrical outlets, WiFi, side table, the whole nine yards.
Zip forward two years. I am no longer a big firm attorney. After years of doing mergers and acquisitions for the firm’s clients, I bought a small company. I now have two employees and run a business.
One of my employees recently had a baby and was out on an unpaid maternity leave. I know I know I know…I shouldn’t have had the privilege of a paid leave and then provide only unpaid leave (while my own child is still in diapers nonetheless). It’s not fair. But the tables have turned and I am now the employer with a budget to consider. Maybe someday I will run a company that’s large enough that a paid maternity leave doesn’t increase my payroll expenses by close to 50%. Until then, here a few thoughts I’ve had about pumping on the job from an employer’s viewpoint:
When was the last time you talked to your boss about your breasts?
Breastfeeding and working is no longer an exception for new mothers. It is no longer a valiant few women, secretly locked in closets with breast pumps: it’s the new reality of an America where women are all at once breadwinners and, for the first few months to few years of a baby’s life, milk-makers.
American workplaces need to catch up with this reality. They need elements both hard (rules, policies, and infrastructure) and soft (culture, rigorously protected by HR and executives) to ensure that every working mother has the tools at her disposal to make this situation work. Today, even in companies with lactation-friendly policies, many women are at the mercy of their particular manager (or HR team). Support can make all the difference to a successful, productive return to work that empowers a woman to continue to feed her baby breast milk. Cultural and physical hurdles often mean a premature end to breastfeeding – which has implications on not just the baby’s health, but on the mother’s attitudes toward her employer.
Welcome to the reality of modern working motherhood. But while we wait, advocate, and push for the world to catch up, working women need solutions now, even if they don’t quite get us to the holy grail of universal support for working and breastfeeding. Like it or not, your boss is going to be either your greatest ally or your biggest hurdle in your quest to breastfeed after you return to work, so it’s time to figure out how to talk to him or her about this.
If you have a best-friends-forever relationship with your boss, you can bypass the awkwardness and go straight into planning. For the rest of us, while the anticipation of the conversation is often the worst part, it is worth planning for. Here’s a five-step plan for you and your newly gigantic bosom:
In a recent post, I covered the six things you should do for pumping prep while you’re still on maternity leave.
Next up: analyzing your work situation and putting a plan in place.
While pumping might seem relatively straightforward in the comfort of your home and bathrobe, navigating a workplace – and the people in it – while using a machine to extract milk from your body is a whole different ballgame.
1. Understand your rights at work.
The U.S. federal system means that you have a mixture of federal and state laws to consider when figuring out whether you have any legal rights and protections to pump at work.
The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) provides federal protection for women pumping at work – but only for wage-earners (not salaried workers) and federal employees. If you’re either of those things, your employer has to provide “reasonable break time” for up to a year, and “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
If you’re in neither of those categories, check out your state’s laws (some have great laws, others have none). Start with The National Conference of State Legislatures’ list of state laws relating to breastfeeding in public and lactating at work.
If you’re out of luck with federal and state laws, check out whether your employer has its own policies. If a policy exists, that’s usually good – it means your employer is thinking about this and some sort of plan is in place. If it doesn’t exist, don’t panic just yet. You might still find that you have a supportive HR department and/or boss – or that you can make allies at work to help you go rogue if you don’t have official support.
Back-to-work pumping Prep
Before your maternity leave ends, prepare your body, your baby and yourself for becoming a working — and pumping — mom.
For many working women, ending maternity leave (if they get it) and leaving a new baby to go back to work is one of the hardest days of their working life (I would recommend waterproof eye makeup). This one day combines guilt, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, and stress – all while trying to prove that we’re “back.”
Making it harder? For those of us who choose to (or attempt to) continue breastfeeding our babies while working, we have a third job: making milk for the baby during the work day. Planning for the time, space, awkwardness, and physical and mental effort of hooking up to a machine several times a day can be completely, paralyzingly daunting.
The survival strategies for working and pumping – and the hilarious and surreal stories of real working women – could fill a book. In fact, they are; I’m writing one. I’ve learned that preparation is half the battle….and I’ll cover the basics of the other half — you know, the actual pumping at work — later this month. But in the meantime, there are some steps you can take during maternity leave that will make your first day back at work — with your breast pump in tow — easier.
1. Establish your milk supply early.
Every breastfeeding book under the sun can tell you how to do this, but it is especially important for back-to-work moms. I can’t promise that you will be able to maintain perfect supply while working; some women do, and some simply can’t. But getting a great milk supply in place weeks before you go back to work will give you the best head start possible.
2. Get to know your pump through “Pumping School”
Unless you had to pump in the hospital, you might find yourself wondering who the hell is going to show you how to use this thing. And while a Lactation Consultant can show you, I highly recommend inviting over an experienced friend for a glass of wine and what I like to call “Pumping School.”