A few months ago, we explained the legal requirements for workplace breast-feeding policies, as defined in the Affordable Care Act. The law says, among many other things, that companies must provide rooms with a lock for lactating mothers, along with break time and access to a sink and refrigerator.
We shared with you examples of workplaces that took pride in going beyond the letter of the law to provide pumping spaces that helped returning mothers re-enter their work world with ease and confidence.
We were happy to see some good examples, but we knew that wasn’t always the case for working mothers. So we asked you: Where do you pump?
We received 75 responses, and the stories you shared were startling. Many of you were pumping in conditions that were not only illegal but also demeaning and would likely cause most new moms to stop pumping at work. For example: Some women were given a 15-20 minute break, which included a more-than-10-minute trek to a pumping area. One woman said she has to pump in a classroom that has ongoing surveillance taping. Another said her pumping space was a room that could be taken over by co-workers if they had a meeting or conference call. And one said male colleagues banged on the door as she tried to pump.
Through your submissions, we quickly began to understand that not only is there a lack of knowledge (and a dearth of federal enforcement) of a law that has been in place since 2010 but also an unidentified cultural standard within organizations. Some states and cities, such as New York City, have laws that have taken clear and powerful steps to begin to change things. But many of the states represented in the stories below do not have such protections.
How can our culture shift if we all keep our heads down and live with the pumping conditions we have been given? Often, change has to start with an individual who begins the shift within her workplace, is proud of her accomplishments and wants to help those who come next.
There is also power in providing support to make it better for the next mother by sharing knowledge, inspiration and motivation. It’s important to do this in clear sight of management so they embrace the changes, not just because it is a nice thing to do but because it is good for business.
Now, on to some of the stories. [All anecdotes and names were used with permission. Some have been slightly edited for length and clarity.]
The “pumping room” … was a single-stall bathroom that they stuck a chair in. Because I had an office, I pumped in my office, then I’d clean my pump in the kitchen. There were occasional comments. Had to store my milk in the communal fridge. Once on a business trip, I was in a convention center and stopped by their business office to see if there was a conference room I could use for pumping. They told me “we don’t allow that here.”
I was lucky to have a friend at work who was three months ahead of me. She and I were “lactavists” before it was cool.
— Germaine Schaefer, of Alexandria, Va., who pumped from 2001-2002 and again in 2004.
[Pumping has been] horrifying. I had a decent, private space, but I was only allowed my break times and lunch to pump. Any time beyond that I took would be without pay. Because I chose not to have my pay docked, I had 15 minutes to get from my desk, across the building, fully set up, pump, store milk and get back to my desk or face being written up for using too much break time.
— Writer did not want to use her name in fear of retribution, of Portland, Ore., pumped from 2011-2012 and again from 2013-2014.
I pump at my desk, by a door with a window to the hall. It is an old school so there aren’t many outlets. My classroom is connected to another classroom, so kids occasionally wander into my class while I am pumping. My colleagues also come in during the time I pump since I share the room with one female assistant and one male assistant. We also have cameras in each classroom recording. My only other option is to pump in my principal’s bathroom. I can’t use our staff bathroom, which is closer, since there isn’t an outlet in there. Besides, I wouldn’t want to pump there since there have been large roaches spotted. When I do get to pump, I usually pump once a day at work for about 20 minutes. I am at work for almost 10 hours a day. Some days I have meetings scheduled for my planning time and I don’t get to pump. This has caused my milk to decrease. My daughter is almost 9 months old and I am hoping I can continue to produce for three more months without giving her formula.
— Elizabeth Heering, of Biloxi, Miss., pumped from 2016-2017.
When I came back from my 12-week maternity leave, I found out that I had been moved out of my private office with a locking door (where I had been planning on pumping) and into a shared office with a male co-worker. I pitched a fit and was told that a lactation room had been set up in our Health Center (I worked at a boarding school) and I could go there to pump. However, that building was halfway across campus and I had to walk there (sometimes in snow and rain) to a room that didn’t lock, and I was walked in on several times. After seven months of this, I was reprimanded by my supervisor for not being in the office eight hours a day (because I had to walk across campus to pump two to three times a day). I quit after being employed there for 14 years. The Employment Development Department didn’t think I had a case because the man I spoke to at the EDD said how lucky I was that I was allowed to sit and have a peaceful break from work three times a day, and he would give anything for a break like that. I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about because pumping is definitely not a peaceful break.
— Theresa Teel, of Idyllwild, Calif., pumped from 2011-2012 and 2015-2016.
Let’s just say they had no room for pumping. Thankfully, my manager for our department has her own office in our area and told me I could use it when I needed. Having to pump in an office/somewhat storage area wasn’t ideal. There’s no sink to wash any of my pump parts or anything, and what makes it a bit uncomfortable is guys from our shop when they pass by, they sometimes like to bang on the door, so not exactly very private either. But I suppose I’m thankful that I get somewhere to pump that’s not a bathroom.
— Christy Askins, of Fort Worth, still pumping.
It’s been pretty much okay. A few times I walk into the room and it’s being used for conference calls, etc. I am allowed to use the room with a breast-feeding sign at the door so that I can have privacy. Generally it’s been good. I wish there was a room allocated for lactation only with a sink and a separate fridge and a more comfortable chair. But for now I am managing with the room I am allowed to use.
— Deborah Hayford, of Columbus, pumped in 2012, 2014 and currently.
I have an upstairs training room/office that I pump in 75 percent of the time. If someone is using that area, then I have to use a fitting room in my store that I have rigged with an extension cord. I use the common area fridge to store milk and my tailor shop sink to wash out my pump. But I can only do it during my lunch as I work in a busy retail store. So I feed my little one before I drop him off at day care, I take my lunch to power pump as much as I can, and then I feed my baby as soon as we get home.
—Nicole Streeter, Pflugerville Tex., still pumping.
When we contacted her in a follow-up email, Streeter added, “Not all workplaces have fancy rooms. Sometimes you just have to ‘woman up’ and make something work.” She sent a picture of her fitting room-rigged pump room: