Note: This World Breastfeeding Week, while our immanent concern is breastfeeding, we’d like that ‘pumping at work’ as an equally important and related cause sees the light of day too.
If the ten-month-long fell swoop that happened to bring me a soft, squishy belly, spider veins, free-flowing designer stretch marks, and not to mention, the cankles on which I had to carry my post-baby body around was hard to reckon with, I learnt that the challenges were only about beginning. While my maternity leave made it easy for me to spew my hormonal rage about whenever I wanted, I didn’t know that going back to work as a mother of a four-month-old who was still on an exclusive diet of breast milk would make me angry like never before. And for good reason.
Image source: Flickr
You see – it is never easy to accommodate an appointment with a restless infant or a Medela pump whilst juggling meetings, brainstorms, IMs, emails, desk side chats, and of course, actual work. And yet, it is necessary for all working moms to organize their work about their breastfeeding/pumping schedule – for waiting too long to pump can cause mastitis and have adverse affects on the milk. This arrangement, then, either ends up upsetting work schedules or involves stringing about a train of apologies wherever we go – either for ending meetings early or reaching some late! My situation was no different. And in many ways, worse.
Image Source: Flickr
You see, when I went back to work, my welcome greetings were somewhat along the lines of questions that you shoot someone who’s returning from vacation! What was more, my husband, who sometimes drove our baby down to office, so I could directly breastfeed got some really sympathetic remarks for his ‘babysitting’ role! Amazing, isn’t it? Add to that the misery of pumping in the cold, damp basement of my office and the agony of issuing the HR department more reminders than my pumping breaks about giving me a place for my breastfeeding break! Breastfeeding in the car in the parking lot didn’t work for fear of a stroke and the cubicle breastfeeding stories are a pain to recount! What’s more, those haggling debates with the ‘family friendly’ HR officials got me a supply closet that they said would double up as my pumping room. Except it had a rather flimsy, weak steel lock that gave way to the most feeble of knocks when people realized that they needed napkins along with a ‘valid reason’ for locking the supply room!
I don’t know if it is the World Breastfeeding Week or the movement to normalize breastfeeding carried out on a large scale that exhorts me to write this today – but I do know that all the hullabaloo is bringing back the rightful anger directed toward all misogynist ba***rds who thought my maternity leave involved lying on a beach and sipping on cocktails whilst reading a romance novel, and those sexist freaks who thought that parenthood, in relation to my baby’s dad, was nothing more than a substitute job during the hours I was away!
Image source: Flickr
And I realized that no other time would bring more opportune moments than during World Breastfeeding Week to bring to light the essential problems faced by breastfeeding mothers at work. And the fact that my attempt to bring about awareness on the most universal, positive, and healthy aspect of motherhood stands among the notable attempts of celebrities who are, but mothers like myself, gives me the very push that I didn’t have when I was haggling with the ‘family friendly’ HR department at my ex-workplace or was tight-lipped about the repeated knocks on the door of my make-do pumping place there, my pump cones so strained under the pressure of willing the weak lock to stay strong that the milk-retrieval was basically up!
Breastfeeding is not only healthy for the mother and the baby but also helps the organization to benefit by saving the employers money in absenteeism and turnover, bolsters the health of the nation as a whole, and parks several wads that would otherwise be spent on healthcare!
As such, it is rather distressing to note that employees/coworkers of breastfeeding mothers, despite the laws passed by the state to provide them with a conducive environment to breastfeed/pump at work, see breastfeeding breaks as unfair, view the whole pumping at work process as shameful or perverse, and even end up messing with the milk bottles stacked in shared refrigerators. Some ‘well wishing’ coworkers would even be as audacious as to advise me to discreetly tuck away the bottles behind lunch boxes or ensure that my pumping machine was on mute so as to prevent the wheezing machine groan from giving away my ‘private appointment time’ to intrusive colleagues.
My problems with the system abound. First, there is nothing shameful about breastfeeding. It is a powerful and healthy aspect of motherhood. And it deserves to be treated as such. Second, employers are not only required by law to make appropriate provisions for nursing mothers but should also ensure that other employees are briefed about the same or at best, are kept informed through office mailers about the necessity, importance, and ‘normalcy’ of the whole breastfeeding and pumping processes. Ignorance of the kind that currently pervades in working milieus is really nothing close to bliss. At best, it makes me want to throw my wheezing Medela pump right in the face of someone who thinks my pump cones give me the pleasure akin to their cigarette breaks and that I am lucky to be entitled to way more ‘official’ time for my break! Ahh- the nerve! I do not expect the deep-rooted stench of the rut of patriarchal and sexist tenets in their dumpster-like-mind to be washed away but doing away with the piercing glances, sanitizing the condescending tone, and scrubbing off the blatant sexist remarks would be a good place to start.
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Third, breastfeeding at work is a really difficult thing. Not only does it require unwavering commitment but also involves juggling with a lot of internal conflict over and above the pressure of office work. Nursing mothers, if not given a conducive environment, might relapse into anxiety, guilt, and even depression about returning to work when there’s a baby to feed at home. This will, in turn, affect their health, the newborn’s diet, and needless to add, their productivity at work. And last, a better insight into the plight of breastfeeding mothers at work might perhaps make employers a tad bit more proactive in providing them their due:
1. Breastfeeding moms at work are torn, extend the understanding before expecting it
It takes a lot for a breastfeeding mother to decide to leave her newborn at home and return to work. As such, the best we can do is to provide them with a conducive environment to continue to nurse their baby until about six months from birth and more, as they see fit. The law allows for such provisions to extend until the child in question is one year old. And the most human thing to do is to give them that without any judgment or fuss. We, as employers/colleagues/coworkers, need to understand that for a breastfeeding mother to return to work is a potent token of the premium she places on her work. As such, we should ensure that we do not lose out on such a committed individual by helping her fulfill her commitment as a mother. All it would take is, perhaps, a few slip-ups on five minutes of meeting time! But your accommodation will push her to achieve those deadlines!
2. Breastfeeding moms at work need normalization, those who pump privacy! Give them that and RESPECT it
Breastfeeding is a natural thing and is beautiful. However, there’s so much fuss about feeding one’s infant in public that even discreet, modest breastfeeding attempts with a cloth draped over the infant’s head is seen as unacceptable by many. I remember that my own attempts to breastfeed my child at work caused many of my colleagues either embarrassment or some rushed urge to walk away and give me the ‘privacy’ they thought I should have done well to resort to. While I do not believe that there is anything shameful about breastfeeding, there is still a long way to go until people begin to view it as a normal part of life. And now is as good a time as any to begin. Pumping mothers, on the other hand, are dealing with a different deal altogether. There’s equipment that needs to be assembled, disassembled, makes noise, needs to be cleaned, and it needs some privacy. And it is high time we allow them that. My own horrifying experiences of pumping in an unacceptable space are enough to root for the necessity.
Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License
3. Breastfeeding moms need their fair share of time to breastfeed/ pump, allow them those ticks
The oxytocin-induced relaxation, almost comatose state of allowing the baby to suck or the difficulty of getting the baby to take the nipple – all needs time. Similarly, pumping needs about 20-25 minutes – including cleaning of parts and storage of milk. Shifting a few not-so-urgent things to accommodate these nursing breaks isn’t going to hurt anybody. Not allowing nursing moms to breastfeed/pump may result in drying up their milk supply or infections that will adversely affect their health and consequently, the infant’s too.
4. The milk trickling into the bottle gets larger benefits trickling right in for one and all
Katrina Alcorn lists out the following benefits of breastfeeding on her site and it sure can get all employers thinking why they’d been withholding such a symbiotic process all along (crude to think in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, but nonetheless):
Lower risk of stomach viruses, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and meningitis
Lower risk of various conditions later in life, including type 1 & 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease
Improved cognitive development
Lower risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes
Mitigation of stress and postpartum depression
Joyful bonding with baby
Cheaper than formula (although breast pumps aren’t cheap)
Business benefits (from The Business Case for Breastfeeding)
Retention rates for companies with lactation support programs are 94%, versus the national average of only 59%
One-day absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often for mothers of formula feeding infants
Lower medical insurance claims
For every 1,000 babies not breastfed, a study found there are 2,033 extra physician visits, 212 extra hospitalization days, and 609 extra prescriptions for three illnesses alone–ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infection
Improved productivity & morale
Employees at companies that support breastfeeding report improved morale, better satisfaction with their jobs, and higher productivity
And last but not least, if 90 percent of families were able to breastfeed exclusively for six months (as doctors recommend), the United States could save $13 billion annually.
Image source: Flickr
Breastfeeding at work is an enabling process – not only does it help new mothers to return to work but in an optimal environment, it gears them to manage and juggle with maximum efficiency. Studies have shown that the newly-directed focus on time management, work organization, and motherhood responsibilities makes them place a premium on all activities that need their attention, keep them tracked, and thus, accomplish project goals better.
Image source: Flickr
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As such, it hurts me to even ask people to be accommodating toward a process that was integral to their own start in life, is a key component of human life, and on a practical level, is beneficial to all parties involved. Then why the fuss, why the judgment – and for whom – a mom who wants to take care of her hungry infant? Really? REALLY?
So, this World Breastfeeding Week, make an oath to replace that conservative mindset with a healthier one that aids all mothers to spread those healthy smiles all over!
Featured image source: Flickr