Welcome to the latest edition of “The Faces of Pumping & Working” where we learn about the triumphs and challenges of the increasing number of women working to provide breast milk for their own child(ren) while contributing their unique skills to the paid workforce. Many women experience a lack of support across three key areas when integrating breastfeeding into their paid work.
- Access to private & secure space
- Clear written policy
- A culture of support
Learn about Bess’ experience “making it work” out in nature with the unending help of a supportive tribe of colleagues and some major grit to achieve her goal.
Bess’ Circumstances permalink
As a horticulturist working almost exclusively outdoors at a 650 acre Arboretum, my pumping & working experience required lots of planning, support and creativity. Available space and my work environment was the biggest challenge. I didn’t have an office or any indoor workspace really, just a desk in our machine garage! I overcame every challenge with the help of colleagues that I consider family; I honestly believe my work provided the best support network ever. They couldn’t have done more. But, it was grueling and exhausting to manage a job that required a lot of manual labor with pumping.
My goal was to breastfeed until my son was 1 year old. I had no idea what to expect with regards to pumping at work (first baby!) but I knew that my employer was on my side. Two of the other women I worked with had pumped, though they both held office positions allowing them to use their office as a lactation space. One of them was our office manager and she made it really clear before I went on maternity leave that she would personally make sure that there was a comfortable place for me to pump when I got back. She helped me pick the spot even before my son was born. This gave me the confidence to set my goal, which I did end up meeting and exceeding! In fact, my 2 year old son is still nursing today!
Bess’ Access to Space permalink
My co-workers (a very small staff) came together to create a space in one of our historic buildings for me to pump and I was able to store my milk in the office fridge. Everyone pitched in while I was on leave to set it up. They found a comfortable chair, the Head of Development bought pillows and our volunteer handyman installed a lock on the door. They even filled a vase with flowers and put a little garden gnome (because I was a gardener) by the seat. The garden gnome was a mother as well, with a little gnome baby on her back!
I didn't know what the space would look like, but our office manager met me on my first day back to make sure I knew where it was and felt comfortable with it. I was honestly so touched. I don't love it when people pay a lot of attention to me (go figure that's probably why I work with plants) but the thought that they were so invested in my being able to do this really made my transition back to work so much easier.
Pumping & Working in the Great Outdoors permalink
It was exhausting to do manual labor while pumping. I drank so much water every day and ate so much food (you wouldn't believe how much). I had to be ready to drop what I was doing and come in from the field to pump if needed, or pump in the field as I did one time when we were out seed collecting for a restoration project. But it is possible.
Although my job was physically very demanding, it was not stressful. The type of work I do has taught me to live within the cycles of nature. I have no other choice, my to-do list is endless, but nature has a say in whether or not I accomplish it. There's great peace in seeing the fields, forests and gardens change with every day of the season. I really feel my place in nature and for me that's the best stress reducer on the planet. I came home exhausted every day, and of course having an infant was very tiring but the plants and trees didn’t mind if I looked exhausted or if I had spit up in my hair, or spilled breast milk on my shirt. There wasn’t this pressure to not seem tired or be dialed in all the time. Growing plants and working with nature helped me find the flexibility I needed to be a parent and navigate breastfeeding and pumping.
Pumping & Working in the Great Outdoors IN WINTER permalink
Pumping in winter was a saga for a few reasons. I was usually out running heavy equipment and with snow removal, winter field mowing, and tree work I was often pretty far away from my lactation space. I got very good at balancing my pumping bag on a tractor to take it down to the offices or keeping it on my back while riding our brush-hog mower. It was freezing cold so I had to pull off MANY layers to pump, often including under armor and bib overalls. I would warm my hands up in the hot water at the office before assembling everything to pump and I was usually back outside before my feet even thawed out.
Bess’ Access to Clear, Written Policy permalink
I had a written policy but I don't remember a ton about it. I'm pretty sure I was entitled to three unpaid pump breaks per day. I timed the first around when I came in for the day, the second around my morning break and the third around lunch. This was convenient since those are the times that I would usually come back to the central part of the property closer to my lactation space.
Bess’ Colleagues Create a Culture of Support permalink
The support of my colleagues, which came through in several different and equally important ways through my pumping & working journey, made me feel like I could do it, that I had a right to do it, and that they all wanted what was best for my son.
My employer didn’t have to legally provide a specific type of space and break time because we're a staff of 16 people (federal law applies to businesses with >50 employees) but they really couldn't have done more. We all genuinely care about one another and all the children of the staff (and volunteers!) who work there are part of the Arboretum tribe. I even turned down a job offer from another company because of this level of family support.
The entire team pitching in to create my lactation space and having a warm introduction to the space upon my return was the start of it. Through my time pumping & working, my colleagues who had previous pumping experience made me feel like I wasn't on my own. They would say encouraging things when I came in to pump, let me know how their kids were doing and generally encouraged me. One of them got a Rosie the Riveter sticker for my pump bag and also gave me A TON of her old pumping stuff. A brand new set of tubes she passed on saved the day when I discovered that mine had a hole.
Other colleagues contributed by indicating that they supported my pumping in different ways like small comments here and there which meant a lot to me also. The culture they created meant the world to me and helped me reach my breastfeeding goals.