Going back to work after having a baby is full of challenges
Adapted from a story by The Washington Post’s Julia Beck, Alexa McMahon and Amy Joyce.
For moms who choose to breast-feed, the conditions around pumping at work can impact their day-to-day experience significantly.
When The Washington Post’s On Parenting team put a call out to momsabout where they pump, they got some startling (and illegal) responses. Here are a few:
Germaine Schaefer, of Alexandria, Va., who pumped from 2001–2002 and again in 2004
The “pumping room” … was a single-stall bathroom that they stuck a chair in. Because I had an office, I pumped in my office, then I’d clean my pump in the kitchen. There were occasional comments. Had to store my milk in the communal fridge. Once on a business trip, I was in a convention center and stopped by their business office to see if there was a conference room I could use for pumping. They told me “we don’t allow that here.”
I was lucky to have a friend at work who was three months ahead of me. She and I were “lactavists” before it was cool.
Writer did not want to use her name in fear of retribution, of Portland, Ore., pumped from 2011–2012 and again from 2013–2014
[Pumping has been] horrifying. I had a decent, private space, but I was only allowed my break times and lunch to pump. Any time beyond that I took would be without pay. Because I chose not to have my pay docked, I had 15 minutes to get from my desk, across the building, fully set up, pump, store milk and get back to my desk or face being written up for using too much break time.
Elizabeth Heering, of Biloxi, Miss., pumped from 2016–2017
I pump at my desk, by a door with a window to the hall. It is an old school so there aren’t many outlets. My classroom is connected to another classroom, so kids occasionally wander into my class while I am pumping. My colleagues also come in during the time I pump since I share the room with one female assistant and one male assistant. We also have cameras in each classroom recording. My only other option is to pump in my principal’s bathroom. I can’t use our staff bathroom, which is closer, since there isn’t an outlet in there. Besides, I wouldn’t want to pump there since there have been large roaches spotted. When I do get to pump, I usually pump once a day at work for about 20 minutes. I am at work for almost 10 hours a day. Some days I have meetings scheduled for my planning time and I don’t get to pump. This has caused my milk to decrease. My daughter is almost 9 months old and I am hoping I can continue to produce for three more months without giving her formula.
Theresa Teel, of Idyllwild, Calif., pumped from 2011–2012 and 2015–2016
When I came back from my 12-week maternity leave, I found out that I had been moved out of my private office with a locking door (where I had been planning on pumping) and into a shared office with a male co-worker. I pitched a fit and was told that a lactation room had been set up in our Health Center (I worked at a boarding school) and I could go there to pump. However, that building was halfway across campus and I had to walk there (sometimes in snow and rain) to a room that didn’t lock, and I was walked in on several times. After seven months of this, I was reprimanded by my supervisor for not being in the office eight hours a day (because I had to walk across campus to pump two to three times a day). I quit after being employed there for 14 years. The Employment Development Department didn’t think I had a case because the man I spoke to at the EDD said how lucky I was that I was allowed to sit and have a peaceful break from work three times a day, and he would give anything for a break like that. I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about because pumping is definitely not a peaceful break.
Christy Askins, of Fort Worth, still pumping
Let’s just say they had no room for pumping. Thankfully, my manager for our department has her own office in our area and told me I could use it when I needed. Having to pump in an office/somewhat storage area wasn’t ideal. There’s no sink to wash any of my pump parts or anything, and what makes it a bit uncomfortable is guys from our shop when they pass by, they sometimes like to bang on the door, so not exactly very private either. But I suppose I’m thankful that I get somewhere to pump that’s not a bathroom.
Nicole Streeter, Pflugerville Tex., still pumping
I have an upstairs training room/office that I pump in 75 percent of the time. If someone is using that area, then I have to use a fitting room in my store that I have rigged with an extension cord. I use the common area fridge to store milk and my tailor shop sink to wash out my pump. But I can only do it during my lunch as I work in a busy retail store. So I feed my little one before I drop him off at day care, I take my lunch to power pump as much as I can, and then I feed my baby as soon as we get home.
Lauren Kern, Wadesville, Ind., plans to pump for all of 2017
I just came back to work on Jan. 3, 2017, and have been pumping three times a day at work ever since. I was told I could use my office to pump, but I would have to bring in my own refrigerator if I didn’t want to use the one in the break room. My office has a glass door and wall. Blinds were installed for me, but no one else has blinds and I was recently asked why mine are always shut. The walls are very thin and I can often hear co-workers speaking on the phone. This hasn’t deterred me yet, as much as being annoying. I am one of two pumping moms I know of at a manufacturing site with over 1,200 employees at a very large company. I expected them to handle this better, but I’m not surprised.
Plenty of workplaces offer working moms a safe, clean and accessible place to pump, but these anecdotes show us we have a long way to go.