Of all the curveballs I experienced during my first year of motherhood, breastfeeding was not one of them. Pumping, on the other hand, was a beast. Nothing about it felt natural. Not the uncomfortable suctioning, not the tubes that wouldn't stayed put, and certainly not the incessant hissing sounds.
My only saving grace was that, as a mom who works from home, I didn't have to do it every day. But I know I'm the exception, not the rule. Most nursing moms go back to work when their maternity leave is up -- usually around 12 weeks -- and have to decide to whether to continue breastfeeding. It's a choice I don't envy: On one hand, there are all the nutrients and health benefits breast milk offers your baby, the sweet opportunities to bond and, frankly, the money you save not having to buy formula. On the other hand, there's the bulky pump and storage containers you have to haul to work every day, the breaks you'll have to arrange in order to express milk, and as a report from the Huffington Post reveals, the potential pushback you'll get from a less-than-understanding boss. (As if mommy guilt weren't bad enough!)
The HuffPo article examined 105 complaints filed by nursing moms who were supposed to be covered under a March 2010 provision of the Affordable Care Act called "Break Time for Nursing Moms." Under the law, employers with a staff of 50 or more must provide a "reasonable" amount of unpaid break time and a private space other than a bathroom for moms to pump. But instead of offering nursing moms these most basic of necessities, the complaints show that a good chunk of managers are doing anything but that.
Consider the mom who worked at a McDonald's in Grand Island, Neb., and was denied access to a private room to pump. After being walked in mid-pump in the very open break room and enduring the restaurant's less-than-sanitary public restroom, she was forced to clock out and walk 30 minutes round-trip to a public library whenever she had to express milk. If that wasn't bad enough, her manager also refused to allow her to pump when her body demanded it, telling her instead to wait until the restaurant wasn't busy.
Then there's the nursing mom in Memphis, Tenn., who worked at a HealthSouth rehab center and who, while pumping, was "constantly interrupted by intercom pages that a certain patient's room needed her attention or she was needed at the desk," the complaint states. Because she was never given the time she needed to express milk, her body stopped producing it.
Yeah, it's not pretty out there.
Sometimes, higher-ups aren't trying to be difficult -- they're either unaware of the 2010 provision or simply uneducated about a nursing mom's needs. This, apparently, doesn't surprise the experts (or, I'd wager, many working moms). "What we've said for many years in the breastfeeding community is that it seems every mother has to fight this battle for herself," says Dr. Joan Younger Meek, a professor of clinical sciences at the Florida State University College of Medicine and a member and past chair of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee.
Still, there may be some help on the horizon. Right now, the 2010 provision only covers hourly paid employees, but there's new legislation that, if passed, will expand the rights to salaried workers as well. As great as that expanded coverage would be, even more is needed for nursing moms, especially in the way of education. As these new laws roll out, it's important that HR departments and managers are schooled in exactly what they need to provide so that no mother is forced to stop breastfeeding before she's good and ready.
Tell us: Do you pump at work? Did you work out a system with your boss beforehand, or was there a policy already in place?
Image of women in bathroom stall courtesy of Shutterstock