Breastfeeding and working. How do you feel about it? It’s a hotly debated topic where some think it’s just plain wrong and others would rather not know it’s happening. For me, and countless other mothers who want to work and want to continue to nurse their babies, there’s just no other way around it.
The first time I returned to work as a breastfeeding working mom my new status wasn’t a complete anomaly. I was working in the US for a family-friendly employer who was well aware of the laws afforded to me. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some uncomfortable situations every now and then, but overall it seemed like par the course.
That’s what made the second time so jarring. I had moved to Canada before having my second daughter, a place where breastfeeding at work isn’t all that common due to longer maternity leaves, so I was unprepared for the uncomfortable conversation about breastfeeding with my HR manager the week before returning to work.
As uncomfortable as that first conversation was, the ones that followed weren’t any better. And, like almost every breastfeeding working mom, I have stories from both sides of the border about odd encounters and inappropriate exchanges related to breastfeeding at work.
If you’re preparing to pump when you return to work, here are a few strategies to help you navigate the conversations with your employer and set yourself up for success.
Get your questions answered
If this is the first time you’re returning to your employer as a breastfeeding mom, then you’ll need to find answers to a few simple questions. It’s best to direct your questions to your HR manager or by reading your workplace policy manual. You can also check in with other moms who breastfed while in the office. Here are a few key questions you should ask:
- What is the company’s policy on breastfeeding on site? There are laws that will protect your decision to breastfeed, but you very much should understand where the company stands on the issue. You’ll also want to know if there are any policies that support or may hinder you in arranging your schedule to pump while at work.
- Where can I pump in private? A growing number of countries now have laws to protect a mother’s right to a private space to express her milk. These laws – at least in the US and Canada – clearly state that such private spaces cannot be bathrooms.
- Where can I safely store my milk? Your company doesn’t have to provide you with a fridge to store your milk, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you don’t have access to one, find a solution that will work for you. Since I had heard too many stories of breast milk being mistaken for coffee creamers in the communal fridge, I opted to cart around a small cooler with me.
Yes, breastfeeding is a normal activity between mother and her baby. But, unless you’ve done it, or at least have been intimately involved in the process, you just won’t get it. Consider where your manager and your colleagues may be when it comes to breastfeeding and be sure to take the time to educate them.
Openly and honestly communicating with your manager and colleagues is a key way to get their support. Start with your manager ahead of your first day back in the office and explain your intention to continue nursing your baby. Be sure to share why this is important to you and your baby. To really win them over, you may want to also consider some of the benefits breastfeeding may have on business.
Once your intentions are clear, it’s time to set expectations. Clearly explain the number of times and length of time you’ll need to pump in a given workday. Also, to show that you remain committed to the job, be sure to explain how you’ll handle busy work periods or how you will make up the time if that is warranted. Once you come to agreement with your manager, be sure to set expectations with those on your team so you can try to avoid some of the assumptions they may make when they can’t find you at your desk.
Develop a plan
Next you’ll need to come up with a plan that will work. This includes coming up with a pumping schedule that will jive with your workday and a breastfeeding schedule that will work for your baby. You’ll also want to come up with a system – like reserving time on your calendar – to remind yourself of your commitment and avoid others inviting you to meetings when you should be pumping.
Your plan should also include ways to make your pumping sessions as efficient as possible. Can you reserve your private room at the time you need it so it won’t be booked when you need it? What can you wear that will make pumping easy? Do you have the right gear to make the process go smoothly? How will you store your breastmilk safely during working hours?
Pumping and working aren’t easy things to juggle and it can create a good number of hurdles for you as you try to resettle back into your role and recommit to your job. Things won’t always go as you plan, so be sure to take it one pumping session at a time.
If you’ve pumped at work, what words of advice could you share with a new mama about to embark on this journey? Share your insights in the comments below.