There’s a Place for Us: Workplace Nursing

M.B. Sanok

Due to my children’s spring births, I spent two summers of my life with an infant burrowing into my chest. My limited choice of clothing consisted of short-sleeved cotton t-shirts with a rotation of maternity overall shorts because, beyond my usual summer perspiration-drenched state, I accessorized with a sweaty baby clamped to me. Thick, polyester nursing bras ended up soggy; flimsy, cotton ones collapsed under the weight. I ended up wearing cheap, supportive and easily accessible sports bras.

With each child, I nursed for six months, which felt comfortable and suitable. Breastfeeding is a very personal choice, and, besides, I was afraid of teething! One thing I do not regret is working away from home during that time. I imagine I risked destroying expensive work clothes or failing to find easy to manage post-natal wear with an emphasis on nursing. What a superficial concern! However, I applaud and marvel at any woman who either had to work and/or wanted to work while they nursed. Had my career trajectory or financial state led me to stay employed within the corporate environment, I wonder, would I have chosen to nurse?

Mothering Room

All this pondering resulted from my husband telling me about his company’s efforts to provide a mothering room for their employees. The private room contained a comfortable chair and table near an outlet as well as a small refrigerator. Sounded pretty ideal for a working mother until I read that the extremely large work facility with multiple buildings and thousands of employees only housed two rooms. My first thought: How will one woman hoist not only a breast pump but lug a cooler packed with milk? Would the rooms be convenient enough to quickly pump and return to work without much disruption? I never fully realized how stressful and complicated working and nursing combined could be. Were there better alternatives or was this it?

Back at my first post-college job, I recall walking to the bathroom and a co-worker stood guard while another pumped inside. She asked me to please use another bathroom. I didn’t mind because walking to a further location extended my time. Also, even though I was single and far from marriage and children, I planned to nurse mine like my mom did. It seemed a given that I may need a future friend to cordon off a conference room or barricade a bathroom to pump.

When I asked my working mom sister how she managed this now and will once her second son arrives, she told me she used her car, the bathroom and her husband’s office in the same building. And this is about 15 years later when technology allows people to telecommute and women continue to successfully stay in the labor force without much interruption and in increasing numbers. There’s legislation that requires companies to provide a place to pump, but they don’t necessarily have to pay an employee for that opportunity. Sometimes, it appears as another roadblock for moms who work and parent their children. If I chose to work, I’d want to raise my infant the best way possible for me, too. If that meant nursing my children, then I’d hope my employer would provide me with better alternatives or meet me halfway.

Is Telecommuting an Option?

As I suspected, after perusing La Leche message boards, they do encourage and support businesses to provide lactation rooms for nursing moms. I agree with them, but I don’t know with the tight economy and businesses constantly downsizing and consolidating that most would make a concerted effort to designate and design a room for pumping milk. Telecommuting appears to be an alternative for moms fresh back from maternity leave, but many businesses really require face-to-face interaction or don’t find it cost-effective to set up a home office for an employee. Am I wrong in making this assumption?

The working moms’ strategic planning to pump on a schedule determined by workload and other nursing moms; babies’ necessity and moms’ milk output; and other outside stressors impresses me. Again, it demonstrates another reason why the job of mom should stand as another profession on the resume. Even when moms struggle to find a place to pump and may face unsympathetic co-workers and balance everything else, they persevere and try to raise their children as best they can. And this is coming from a stay-at-home mom who simply worried about finding the most adequate nursing bra.

M. B. Sanok is a South Jersey mom and a blogger for JerseyMomsBlog, where this post originated.

Categories: MomSpeak