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6 surprising things about breastfeeding and pumping at work

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space for employees to pump breast milk up to one year post-birth. But the Act doesn’t necessarily improve the pumping experience. Katie B. Garner, mom of three and the CEO and executive director of the International Association of Maternal Action and Scholarship, has interviewed 100 mothers across the country for research, and they all shared one opinion: “Every single mom I’ve talked to who nursed after returning to work said it was hellish,” she says.

Many companies don’t follow the mandates, she says, and even if they do, a stigma often remains. However she found that few people complain since they feel having a baby puts their career on thin ice already. “This leaves women sitting on floors of storage rooms, pumping milk while sitting on a toilet, or, as one teacher told me, sitting under her desk to get privacy while her students were at recess,” she says. To elicit change and promote acceptance, six executives shared what surprised them the most about breastfeeding while working.

There is often little support—or discussion

When Niki Hall, chief marketing officer at Selligent Marketing Cloud, became a mother in 2007 at 33, it was a happy time. Not only because she had a healthy baby but because she was a two-time cancer survivor who had an ovary removed when she underwent chemotherapy in her teens. Though she was able to be at home for six months, she wished the time could have been longer. Especially since, when she headed back to the office more than a decade ago, the topic of “pumping” was taboo. Today, the “mothers room” at her company is cozy and a stark contrast to the sterile room with a desk that she pumped in 11 years ago. 

Hall encourages prospective parents to scout their next career move with this lifestyle shift in mind. “Just as you’d interview the company for culture, growth prospects, and financial viability, also ask them about their maternity benefits and the ‘new mom culture’,” says Hall, who now has two children. “Don’t just take it from the recruiter; ask to speak with other moms who have recently come back into the workforce to get their firsthand perspective.”

It takes a lot of mental stamina 

As the founder and president of her own public relations agency, Jeneration PR, Jen Berson was able to work from home after she gave birth to her two sons in 2010 and 2012. While this allowed for more flexibility, it also meant she was back on email within a few days post-birth. She appreciated the freedom that came with pumping, allowing her to travel for meetings, see her friends, and allow her partner to bond with the baby, but said she was surprised with how much mental space thoughts about milk supply took up. 

“As a working mother, breastfeeding actually takes a lot of preparation, planning, and strategy,” says Berson. “You’re always thinking about the time in between feedings and how long you have before the baby ne to eat again, how many ounces they need each feeding, and what your actual yield is. . . . You have to plan to have your pump with you and have to scope out a place to pump, then clean the components and store the milk before you can bring it home. It was something that took a lot of mental bandwidth to execute.”