Breastfeeding & the workplace

Going back to work, breastfeeding & pumping

There I was, sitting on the stairs right next to the feces stained toilet seat while pumping so I wouldn’t get mastitis again. I still remember that day I had to pump in the non-air-conditioned office bathroom I shared with three male colleagues. It was midday in the middle of a hot summer and I was still breastfeeding my daughter, which meant I needed to pump as I was back to work.

My pumping routine consisted of placing lots of paper towels on the stairs in case I needed to lay down any part of my pump kit. I would wash my hands as soon as I entered the bathroom and right after I collected my things before exiting. Then, I would organize the storage of the milk, go back into the bathroom and wash my hands once more. Mind you this was pre-Covid, I don’t want to imagine what it would have been like dealing with all of that plus a life-threatening virus.

I have to say, I sort of felt lucky to have a “private” space for me to pump freely and maintain my milk production. In a previous employer, my fellow womban colleagues had to pump inside a small storage room without a lock, so they had to place paper announcements on the door to inform others not to barge in. I guess you can say we were pretty lucky to at least have a space available, whether it was a shared bathroom or even a lockless storage room. This is just an example of what we’ve had to deal with when deciding to breastfeed our children and be a working womban altogether.

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Now I have to be honest, in Europe, it is a little bit easier given the fact that there are less taboos around breastfeeding. Regardless, there is an overall lack of clean and comfortable pumping stations. In the US things have been quite different, from feeling guilty or persuaded to not nurse in public and having no available stations like the one I once found at an IKEA in Europe. While I was on a shopping spree with my nursing son, I wanted to go to the bathroom before I sat somewhere I could find to nurse him. As I was approaching the bathrooms, I saw a door that read “Sala de Lactancia” (Breastfeeding Room). I think at that time my eyes flashed wide open in awe at what I was seeing! I mean, I had never seen a room dedicated solely to breastfeeding. So I rushed to get my son and opened the door to a beautifully decorated room with an armchair, changing bed, faucet, and mirror. This was my preferred place to be when at IKEA, plus it played soothing music! Ahhh, those were the good ol’ days.

After, while back in the US, I went to an IKEA thinking that I would find the same experience I had abroad and to my surprise there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s when I realized, the States had a long way to go to get to that level of inclusion. Fast forward some years and I discovered Mamava. I wish they were around when I needed them. Heck, I wish I had come up with the idea! Anyways, it is still a company I applaud because they have identified a need for working women who breastfeed. Nowadays every womban, in the US, who breastfeeds can demand their employer to provide a space for them to pump. In fact, since 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requiring employers to provide breastfeeding women reasonable break time to express milk plus “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.” It’s very important to know your rights because this way you won’t allow anyone, who clearly does not know the laws around breastfeeding, to tell you to “cover up,” “go to the bathroom” or any disrespectful comment about your right to nourish your children with the healthiest and most beneficial nutrients found in breastmilk!

How was your experience going back to work while still breastfeeding? Are you one of the lucky ones who’ve been able to breast pump in comfortable, clean, and secure environments? Share with us your story in the comments below.

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