I recently had a debate happen in my household that left me feeling raw and exposed, as if someone had slapped my face on both cheeks.
I was hurt and angry and I decided to give it a few days and see how I felt about it. It has been over a week, and I have to say it is still bothering me. The debate started off as a conversation about working, with a comment being made about a new co-worker who, as the breast feeding mother of a 4-month-old, was utilizing her mandated breaks for expressing milk. This was causing resentment to breed among other co-workers, saying that the company was not staffed accordingly to allow her breaks for this purpose, that she shouldn't be allowed to take so many breaks for this purpose, and that her co-workers were defining her as lazy due to these breaks. As a nursing mother, who had previously believed that there was support in this from this particular source, I was offended at the lack of understanding and empathy.
What happens when a breastfeeding mother returns to work? She has a few options. She can choose to wean completely, feed her child formula during the hours she is working, or she can choose to express her milk to feed to her baby at a later time. Most mothers who choose this option invest in a pump of some kind to help them with this as hand expressing is not very effective and is time-consuming.
For women who choose to continue breastfeeding by pumping at work, there are very few laws in place that protect them. The federal laws mandate that employers with more than 50 employees are required to allow breaks, and provide a place free from intrusion from co-workers and customers that isn't a bathroom for a reasonable amount of time. An employer is not required to compensate the employee for such breaks, but is required to allow them for up to one year following the birth of their child.
So for one year, I get to listen to complaints about a "lazy" woman at work who is making the best decision for herself and her family, and I am sure she is relishing the fact that she is spending her breaks hooked up to a machine that is treating her as if she is a dairy cow. I field frustrations about companies cutting back on the staff and expecting non-nursing mother employees to pick up the slack created by nursing moms. Is there really slack created by nursing moms?
If there is slack created by the breaks that moms take to express milk, why are there no repercussions for those few people who take intermittent smoking breaks throughout the day? Shouldn't they be classified as just as "lazy" as nursing moms in the workplace? Or that coworker we all have had to deal with at one point or another that spends their time completing work at a pace that rivals molasses in winter, stopping to check their phone, eat lunch, stop by the water cooler, and just generally procrastinate?
It is suddenly really very clear to me why there are no protections out there for nursing moms, especially those who decide to return to work for whatever reasons they have chosen.
I don't want to get into an argument on the merits of breastfeeding, or on the fact that some women have a difficult time with it, or choose not to do it, or aren't comfortable with doing it in public. I don't want to start a Times Magazine worthy online forum debate about it, because that isn't what this is about. I know that some women would like to and can't, I know that some women don't want to. However I am interested on in hearing your thoughts about these women returning to work. Have you ever worked with a woman who used her breaks to continue to breastfeed? What are your thoughts?