Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Breastfeeding and working mothers

I need to address breastfeeding at work, clearly. But I never felt really qualified to do so since I pulled out of the full time workforce when my first baby was born, and have been puttering about this world for ten years now taking odd jobs such as babysitting and customer service, and mostly, doing the unpaid and noble volunteeer work that is called mothering.

I know we are all WORKING MOMS, but it is a phrase I am going to using here to mean women who go to work full time outside of thier home for pay, and cannot bring their babies or children with them.

So here is what I know:
My sister pumped at work and nursed her first baby until he was 8 months old. She had a decently supportive boss, and worked in a small office in a high position. But it was still awful, from what she said. At first, she had tons of milk, a freezer overflowing..but then her supply dwindled. She would pump 3 times at work, I think, and nurse the baby as soon as she got home, and all through the evening. I don not think she slept with him, but I could be wrong.

I would love to have some submissions in the form of guest-essays submitted to me via housefairy75@gmail.com for me to publish with permission on here. Or just leave your story in the comments section.

For me, I know we need a much more supportive environment at work for nursing moms. They need specific, private, peaceful, clean rooms in which to go and pump for their babies, no teasing, no shame, no limits. I am willing to bet that people who get smoke breaks get more respect--getting to walk away from the desk 3, 4, 5 or more times a day to get away, go outside, see the sun, have a stretch...I know alot of people who refuse to give up cigarettes just because they would miss that getting away from the desk--sorry if this seemed unrelated...

So, moms, dads, partners, what would help? What would really help nursing moms feel 100% supported at work? Tell me so I can try to do something about it.

I wonder for how many women it really worked..because nursing a baby isn't every ___ hours some days. Some days you run around to a million stores, and you don't nurse the baby for a long time...but then there are those days, nights, weeks where you are so attached it seems almost 24/7. Growth spurts. Teething. Illness. Mysterious other baby reasons.

And then, I also slept with my nursling babies, who nursed on and off all night. To me, it was the only semblance of sleep I was gonna get. To me, waking up, waking "down the hall" to the "nursery", sitting in some chair, nursing for 1/2 hour wide awake, then trying to lay the baby down and tiptoe away, only to arrive at my own bedroom to hear the baby screaming bloody murder....well that's just not sleep. So all that night nursing was telling my body what the baby needed. But what if the working mom doesn't sleep with the baby, doesn't nurse all day, but has 3 good pumping sessions at work? Is that enough to tell our bodies we are exclusively breastfeeding? I do not know.

Also, of course, the USA has the most abysmal maternity leave in the developed world. We have all heard about Sweden and its ONE YEAR FULLY PAID maternity leave, and its paternity leaves, and we have heard about the other countries...but our country devalues women's work devalues traditional work, devalues dependence and values isolationism and separation of child and family more than any thing else, and so these mamas and babies, often still setting up milk supplies, often still bleeding, often completely exhausted, are teetering back into their work places, feeling like bewildered heroes, and then get to catch up with the giant inbox stack AND sheepishly remind their boss that they really, REALLY need to go pump, NOW.

What am I trying to say? I feel like this whole post is smacking of "don't have a baby unless you've also got a rich hubby" and OF COURSE that is not what I am saying or thinking, ever. But it is what this country and it's policies are shoving us towards, despite the fact that this scenario represents a very small minority of any American's reality.

Working moms, pumping, maternity leaves, respect, support, is this what its all about? Or is it about some way more radical seeming stuff? Working with our babies, like the pictures show us in Mothering magazine. Intentional communities aka communes? Tribal living?

Is all of natural parenting in danger? Are we all just making due in these 2007 times, trying our damnedest to create tiny pocketed facsimiles of what we really need to raise a child?


Märia said...

Well I work I hospital as a nurse and you'd think I would have had support pumping at work. Everyone said that it wasn't a problem because they knew breast was best. There's a pumping room and even hospital grade pumps. However nursing is a severely understaffed profession. When I wasn't breastfeeding there were many days when I would go to work for 12 hours and not get a single break, literally, I would run so much I did pee or eat for 12 hours (it's quite common). So when I started pumping, 3 30minute breaks got all sorts of replies, "I have to watch your patients again" and it was a very "why does she get 3 breaks and I don't get one." I got very jealous of pumping moms who worked in cubicles, who could put their work down and that didn't mean anyone would die in 30 minutes.

At 4 1/2 months, I got stuck with a dirty needle anyways and had to stop. It's amazing how the relationships changed with my co-workers and I when I wasn't pumping at work.

Housefairy said...

Wow, thank you for sharing that story!

So horrific that, like you said, in an environment that gives lip service to breast being best, in actuality sounds like one of the least likely places of all that a woman could go and get some time to herself and her baby's milk needs.

Thank you for sharing, and I am so sorry.

Rebecca said...


I found that article!


Ooo. That's a long address... Anyway, the article is excellent. But, not quite as I remembered it. The women interviewed were obviously breastfeeding advocates but they were involved in women's rights all around. One was from the Center for the Advancement of Women and the other was the president of NOW (National Organization of Women).

Anyway, totally worth the listen.

Rebecca said...

Let's try again. Click here for NPR! ;-)

CreepyUCMama said...

There's also the somewhat related problem of those of us who do work at home because living on one income is just 100% impossible to survive on. Nowhere near as hard as not being home, don't get me wrong, but it can be very very stressful to have a babe that needs you but to know that every single time you are nursing you could be losing your rent money. This goes for pretty much all things at home, not just nursing. I just am whining because I long for a minute spent with my kids where I don't have a nagging though telling me that if I don't go answer those emails that I lose our rent or grocery money. Whine Whine Whine! I think that in addition to horrible conditions for nursing/pumping mothers in the work place, society in general is making it both impossible and non-respectable to do what we were designed to do; take care of our babes. Oh, and it's also really really hard to make milk with no rest or food and tons of stress!

Christine said...

I am a graduate student and am now nursing my second infant. With my daughter, now 2 years old, I started back slowly after she was 3 months old, eventually getting up to 4 full days a week. I had supply problems from the start, so perhaps I'm not the best comparison. But I was NEVER EVER able to pump as much as she took in a bottle. More like half actually. She took 4-6 oz bottles and I usually pumped 2-3 oz. To keep my supply as high as possible, I needed to go pump for 20 minutes every 2 hours. It wasn't long before that was cutting into my day too much, and slowly the pumpings got more spread out. And my daughter got more and more formula. We were able to breastfeed for a year, but had I not been in school and pumping I'm sure it would have lasted longer and been less stressful for me. Oh, and I work in a forestry department (read: old, white men) so there were no accomodations for pumping moms. I asked about it and no one was aware of anything and nothing was done. I was directed to a bathroom with a lock. That was the best they could do. SO I pumped in the bathroom for a year and just ignored the evil stares I would get after locking the bathroom for 30 minutes.

Fastforward to the present. I have supply issues again, but not as bad. I still can't keep up, but I'm only in the hole about 1 ounce a day. I can see how someone with an abundant supply could make this work. Anyway, a new law passed in Oregon last spring that basically requires employers to think about nursing mothers:
Thanks to this bill, I now get to use a comfortable, private room with couches, desks, lamps, a fridge, a sink, a window, and electricity. Compared to the bathroom I was stuck in before, this is heaven! I can see how much easier it will be for me to keep up my pumping sessions every 2-3 hours when I know I have an inviting room to retreat too.

mamalove said...

I took 9 weeks off when my baby was born last August. I was given 12 weeks by law, but had only accrued 5 weeks of paid time, so this was all we could afford.

I pumped on maternity leave but obviously not enough. I was a frequent visitor to the kellymom website and according to the calculations of how much a 9 week old would need in a bottle, I should've been okay. I was pumping once in the morning before work, 3-4 times at work, and twice in the evenings, and of course nursing near constantly when with my babe (cluster nursing in the evenings, once again before bed, and a couple times during the night, and 2x in the morning before work). I had a private sitter who had never dealt with a BM fed child, plus my passive-aggressive MIL on Fridays who I still think was trying to sabotage my breastfeeding efforts (but that's an entirely different story!). All this pumping and I still wasn't making enough, though I suspect a lot of this had to do with the fact that the babe was being overfed at the sitter's.

When my baby was 4 months old I made the really difficult decision to provide supplemental formula to the sitters. I cried when I had to do it, but to tell the truth, it was nice to have my weekends back for family time, since I was having to pump so much those 2 days that I was basically hidden away attached to the Medela.

My work (a hospital, though I was in administration) was very supportive of my pumping efforts and I never encountered a negative comment or vibe from them.

I quit outside work to be a WAHM when my baby was 5.5 months old. It took a few weeks to get to the point where he didn't get any supplements, and that time was really hard on me because I had to continue the fenugreek/oatmeal/boatloads of water routine I had started while pumping.

At 12.5 months and with me 32 weeks pregnant, we are still a nursing couple, thank goodness. I wanted to give up at times while I was pumping/working, but I'm glad I stuck it out.

I think the problem with working outside the home and breastfeeding is well, it's not natural. I'm not saying it's not a woman's right to work...of course it is. As mothers we have every right to whatever it takes to keep our family afloat. But I don't think it's natural for us to be away from our babes for 8, 9, 10 hours at a stretch when nursing. We do what we have to do to make it work, even if some of those things go against what we believe (in my case, supplementing at such a young age).

emjaybee said...

I want very much to have another child, but the likelihood is small, and this is one big reason why. I had medical problems with my son that meant I only breastfed six weeks; sadly, this actually made my work life much easier than if I had been able to feed successfully.

Pumping rooms are nice, but don't address the very common issue that many women find it impossible to pump enough, although they can express fine when the baby's attached.

The only real solution is either maternity leave, working at home for jobs that will work that way, or else in-house daycare/baby at the office. I really think for the first year, leave is the best--followed by in-house daycare till the age of 4 or 5. Like you said, baby schedules are highly erratic, and expecting women to nurse properly AND go the office AND go without much sleep is really ridiculous. No wonder so many women switch to formula; they're trying to do the impossible.

If we lived in a sane world that didn't want women to be poor and imprisoned at home, we'd have maternity leave as a common-place benefit.

The work world is still set up as "man without family obligations" being the default person. Women and women's needs when lactating are still "special cases" even though more women work than ever before. It's ludicrous.

Housefairy said...

It IS ludicrous. All of it. Because think about it, what is the work place really trying to tell us?

Do not be a woman.
If you must be a woman, please do not get pregnant.

If you must get pregnant, please do not have it affect your life in anyway whatsoever.

If you must give birth, please schedule it appropriately, and please return to work as though nothing has occured and be gratfeul for your generous one and 1/2 month leave, unpaid.

Please do not breastfeed.

Please do not need time off when your baby is sick from living at daycare and/or attempting to thrive on powdered cow milk.

Please do not be a woman.

I cant really think of anything else to say. This is the message.

Also, for men:
Please do not start a family.
Please do not reproduce.

Ok, so lets say we all stopped reproducing, immediately. Today. No more momy no more daddy no more pregnant, no more birth, no more lactating no more maternity leaves paternity leave sick leave, none of it.

Then the entire planet and workforce and capitalist machine runs out of the very fuel it needs to subsist--CONSUMERS--in approximately 50 years.

So what the hell is the punch line?
Women stay home, men only go to work and be completely absent dads?

EVEN IF this is what people wanted, EVEN IF this was something that the world would ever return to, the vast majority of companies dont pay enough money for families to live on, anyways.