Returning to work after a significant hiatus isn’t easy…especially after you’ve had a baby. Whether you’re heartbroken to see maternity leave end or eager to return to the swing of things, getting back to the grind is an adjustment. It can be especially tricky for nursing mamas — because even though breastfeeding mothers are legally entitled to break times and private spaces to pump (check your rights here), the actual conditions can vary between professions and workplaces.
We’re talking to real women about what they really faced when returning to work as nursing mothers — the good, the bad, the ugly. First up, we hear from M.R., a PR specialist who is currently nursing her six-month-old.
Monica + Andy: Before you went on maternity leave, what were your expectations of pumping/nursing when you returned to work?
MR: A co-worker (who is also a really good friend) had a baby prior to me having one. I had seen her return to work and have a really positive experience. There was a room for her to pump in [and] she was really well taken care of. But we moved offices during my pregnancy, and [at our new workspace], each office had an open window to hallways or common areas. My friend was actually pregnant again and she alerted the office administrator that there would need to be one room [with window covers] for [us] to pump in — I thought it would be really easy [and was told] it would be really comfortable with a fridge and window covers.
M+A: So you weren’t nervous about pumping when you returned to work?
MR: No, I wasn’t really nervous. I have a pretty flexible schedule, so I knew it would be pretty easy as long as I had a room I could go into.
M+A: When you headed back to work, what did you actually experience?
MR: “About a month before I returned to work I had let my boss and the office administrator know I was coming in on a specific day for a half day. I showed up that day and the office admin wasn’t in yet. I asked my colleagues [with whom] I share a room — all female — if they knew where the room I would be placed in for pumping purposes was. They [didn’t], so I walked around to the empty rooms and none had a cover on the windows. Luckily, the girls I work with are my friends so I said ‘I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to [cover up] and pump in here.’ And they didn’t care. When the office admin came in she was like ‘oh, you’re still pumping?’ and I said ‘yeah, it would have been nice if you asked me before I returned to work today.’ She got the window cover the next day, but it still wasn’t the best welcome back.
M+A: Do you think that made it harder or even impossible to keep breastfeeding?
MR: It put me in a little bit of a stressful situation. Pumping at work is not the most comfortable – we had a chair and a table and a mini-fridge, but you’re still in the office environment. Personally, I have experienced a drop in my supply. My daughter is six months and I’m hoping I can continue to pump enough to get her to a year, but I honestly am not feeling very hopeful.
M+A: What’s the pumping situation at work now? Are you comfortable with it?
MR: It’s a small office setting, There’s an office chair and a desk, outlets and a mini-fridge. There’s nothing else in the room now. My co-worker who is on maternity leave now just came in and said ‘we need pictures and things’. It pretty much is just a bare room.
M+A: Do you feel like work is supportive when you need to take a break to pump?
MR: I think they’re supportive. I think the males are a little bit like ‘you can’t be in a meeting at this time?’ and ‘I don’t want to know about it.’ The girls are all supportive, at least that’s what I assume. It is hard when meetings are in the morning and they run long and I’m trying to make sure I’m keeping up my supply.
M+A: Were the difficulties you faced ever enough to make you consider quitting your job?
MR: That [first] day I almost walked out and told them I wasn’t coming back. It’s so hard to even leave your baby. That situation alone wasn’t enough to make me quit, but the fact that my supply is going down…I would love to be home with my baby more. It’s made me [seriously] consider trying to find something more part-time or that’s work from home.
M+A: How did you handle the logistics of pumping (like cleaning and transporting your equipment) and were you surprised by how much went into it?
MR: I have a large bag that I keep everything in. I bring my pump, a bag with all my parts, a cooler bag, a nursing bra, and a cover just in case. I put the parts in the cooler in the fridge in between pumps so I do not have to wash and dry at work. When I get home, I take everything apart and leave it out to dry overnight. On Fridays, I normally boil a large pot of water and sterilize everything (adding in her pacis) for the next week. Yes, pumping is so hard and I give a huge amount of credit to the women who do it exclusively! Take it one day at a time and TRY not to get down on yourself if things are not going as well as you had hoped. Having a good support system (friends in the same boat, a husband who washes your supplies when you get home) helps a lot! Do what you can and be proud of what you can accomplish for your baby.
M+A: What advice do you have for other nursing moms who are about to head back to work?
MR: Be your own advocate. Stress what you need and want in a pumping room. [Don’t] let people be uncomfortable and say ‘yeah we’ll get to that.’ Legally, they do have to provide a space for you to pump at work. Talk to your supervisor about maybe staying home a little bit longer or working from home a few days. That way you can actually nurse your baby and not have to pump all the time.