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. Today’s post is about Jamie Gaetano’s experience integrating breastfeeding and working after the birth of her three children in a work environment that required her to stay flexible with pumping and breastfeeding times among the many demands on her attention each day.
I, Jamie Gaetano, pumped breastmilk to feed my own babies while partnering with C-level executives to create world class digital marketing strategies.
Did you set any breastfeeding goals for yourself before returning to work?
I wanted each of my babies to have breast milk until their first birthday.
Can you give us an idea of what your physical workspace was like?
I worked in an office space in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. The campus was very spread out, spanning multiple city avenues. It could take close to 20 minutes to walk from one side to the other and involve several elevators, staircases and outdoor walking. My commute to the campus was about 1 hour and 20 minutes by train on a good day and I also worked from my home office on occasion.
How did you identify a space for pumping? Was the space private & secure?
As part of the maternity leave preparation, HR held overview sessions to cover the checklist of things to do before/during/after maternity leave. During this session, they explained that our badge gave access to the lactation spaces and we would automatically have the ability to reserve the room.
I would say the office had industry-leading lactation spaces which were referred to as “Mother's Rooms”. They were private, could be locked with a dead bolt and were designed to help women successfully pump at work. The rooms included features that made my life a lot easier like reliable hospital grade pumps in each room so I didn’t have to carry my own pump on my long commute each day. They also included sinks, refrigerators, comfortable furniture and outlets with chargers for laptops. Another cool feature was a bag of extra, sterilized pump accessories which I could use if I forgot one of the many things needed to successfully complete a pumping session. If that happened, I would email a designated contact to let them know to replenish that item for the next pumping mom that might unexpectedly need it.
How did your employer communicate expectations around pumping?
Most of the guidelines I used for pumping were based on my experience seeing peers navigate pumping at work. I felt confident that my employer supported it based on their reputation as a family friendly company and the spaces they provided. If there were questions on integrating my pumping schedule with the demands of my job, that was a conversation I would have with my direct manager.
Tell us about the most challenging moments that stick in your mind when you think about the experience of finding space to pump during that time.
I have 3 children and experienced 3 returns from maternity leave. There was definitely a learning curve after my first maternity leave. I didn't know how many times I should try to pump in a day. I wasn't sure what to call my Mother's Room time on calendar since calendars were shared across the team. I wasn't sure if I should bring pump parts home each night or clean and leave them at work. Luckily I had a couple of moms on the team who I could learn tips from and these unknowns worked themselves out fairly quickly.
Most of my challenges were around times I needed to pump when I was not in the office. My job sometimes required me to spend part of the day at my client's office which was either local in New York City or sometimes a plane or train trip away. In these cases, I felt empowered to put on a nursing cover and pump in public if needed. Proud moment!
How did you handle breastfeeding/pumping when you were working from home? We know, especially during the pandemic, that many women are navigating this type of scenario.
When working from home, I would keep pumping time reserved on my calendar and use that time to pump or breastfeed. I definitely found it faster to breastfeed when it was possible. Both at home and at the office, I would fit pumping or breastfeeding into my schedule depending on what I had going on that day. Because of that strategy, the actual time slot would shift around a lot and was often not the time I had actually reserved on my calendar. Staying flexible with it worked well for me.
What types of things did you do during active pumping time in the Mother’s Room?
So much multi-tasking! I would immediately open my laptop and do everything from writing emails to presentation prep work. I would also use the time to schedule meetings if needed.
How did you feel about pumping during video or audio calls with peers or clients? What rituals did you adopt to protect your privacy during those moments?
I preferred to pump during a meeting that I didn’t have an active role in; it was actually multi-tasking at its best. I would usually share in advance that I’d be joining without my video to listen in and then unmute if I needed to participate.
If I had a meeting scheduled, I tried to proactively reserve time in the Mother’s room and got myself set-up to pump before joining the meeting. Sometimes that allowed me to get my pump session done and then join the meeting from the Mother’s room without privacy concerns.
If I had to pump during a meeting, I would turn my laptop camera away and stay muted while I wasn’t speaking. If I wanted to speak, I would turn the pump off briefly and then resume pumping after re-muting.
Did you ever feel that you had to choose between breastfeeding/pumping and work responsibilities?
Yes, there were times when I delayed my pumping time to accommodate meetings or I skipped a pump when I knew it wouldn't be detrimental to my supply. For example, if I was scheduling a meeting I would sometimes choose to shift my pumping time around to better accommodate the meeting time.
Did you feel comfortable being 100% open and honest with coworkers about your breastfeeding/pumping needs?
I felt comfortable doing what I needed to do and being honest if anyone asked. I wasn't the type to shout out "GOING TO PUMP BREAST MILK" in a crowded meeting room, but my team knew what I was doing each day. If there was a big meeting that I needed to step out of, I felt comfortable to let my manager know my plan ahead of time.
What type of support could your employer/colleagues/manager have provided that would have improved your breastfeeding and working experience?
Mentorship. It would have been great if HR offered a buddy program where someone with experience in your organization and office location was available to answer questions, provide tips and support during the first couple of months back to work. For example, I figured out mid way through my first return to work that I could save time by refrigerating used parts during the day instead of washing after each pumping session. Game changer!
I was lucky that I found that support organically and a formal program would make it consistent for any mom who is looking for extra support.
Did you end up hitting the goal you had set for yourself prior to returning to work?
What was your proudest pumping & working moment?
Making it work - I feel very proud of that.
Is there a tip you would want to pass on to a new mom just starting the pumping & working journey?
If your work environment isn't setting you up for success, you can be part of the change. Find a mentor who integrated pumping and working and learn tips. Be open and flexible while still staying true to your breastfeeding goals.