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Making It Work

The Politics of Pumping

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 11 No. 3, May-June 1994, pp. 90-91

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.


My concern is how to handle the politics of pumping at work. I am a pharmacist and am entitled to a half-hour break if I work an eight-hour shift. Obviously, I need more time than this to pump, not to mention eat and use the bathroom! How do I get my supervisor to understand this is really important to me and to my daughter? How can I negotiate for more time?


I had a similar problem upon returning to work after three months' maternity leave with my daughter. I work for a bank and we are entitled to an hour for lunch, but no other breaks are specifically outlined. I needed to pump twice a day in order to supply my daughter with enough milk for day care the next day. I asked the lactation consultant at my local hospital to write a letter to my employer explaining the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and child. She addressed the fact that allowing me to do this at work would give me greater job satisfaction and keep my baby healthier due to antibodies passed through my breast milk, therefore I would not miss as many days of work. I discreetly shared this with my manager who then became very supportive of my efforts. He even helped me to get the company insurance plan to help pay for my breast pump rental by suggesting I get a letter from my pediatrician stating that breastfeeding was medically advisable. What a switch! It turns out his wife stayed home and breastfed all of their children, and rather than lose a good employee he decided to go to bat for me with the company.

Please keep trying because it's people like you and me who help change things for those who come after us. Maybe companies like ours will be more breastfeeding-friendly in the future.

Susan Howell
Reidsville, North Carolina, USA


I figure that I spend no more time pumping than the smokers spend smoking. We have a non-smoking building, therefore the smokers either have to go outside or to the smoking room. During my four-hour day, I spend about fifteen minutes pumping. I am sure the smokers spend more time away from their desks smoking.

Perhaps you can determine the length of time your smoking coworkers spend away from their worksite. Your company may even have published policies regarding smoking breaks. Then you can approach your supervisor and request that you be given the same consideration as a smoker gets. Plus, your activity is healthy for both you and your baby.

Until this, I never thought smoking could have a positive impact on anything.

Sharon Lamey
Roselle, Illinois, USA


I'm a pharmacist (full-time), manager of our twenty-four hour pharmacy, and a breastfeeding mother. I went back to work when my daughter was three months old. Bridget is now sixteen months old and I am still pumping on my break. I'm proud to say I have never had to supplement with formula!

I always let my fellow co-workers know how serious I am about continuing to breastfeed Bridget and work. I don't ask for special treatment because I am a nursing mother. I rent a Medela Lactina so I can pump both breasts at once in as little as eight minutes. I bring my own extension cord and use an out of the way bathroom which is not in as much demand from other employees. I sit on a chair while I pump and eat my yogurt or a sandwich. It takes me about fifteen minutes to pump and return to work. If I don't eat while pumping, I eat while I work.

I also made sure my company's breastfeeding-friendly atmosphere was recognized during World Breastfeeding Week. This is a new idea for many employers, and a good experience will make it easier for the next mother who wants to return to work and breastfeed.

Finally, as a health care provider your employer should recognize the value of a pharmacist who can counsel breastfeeding mothers. Your firsthand knowledge of breastfeeding is invaluable. I have become the resident breastfeeding expert at my pharmacy and my customers appreciate having someone answer questions that arise regarding breastfeeding.

Maureen F. Sullivan-Panse
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, USA


I am on active duty in the navy. My son is now seven months old and has been exclusively breastfed. I pump three times a day in a supply locker. I post a sign on the door that says "The Pump Room." Luckily, my co-workers and superiors are supportive.

My first suggestion is to obtain an efficient pump. I rent an Egnell Lact-E and use a double pumping kit to pump both breasts at the same time. I leave the pump at work and just carry the plastic parts back and forth. Pumping takes ten to fifteen minutes, plus a few minutes to get dressed and wash out the bottles.

Second, offer to come in a little earlier or stay a little later to make up the time lost pumping. Also, if you can nibble during work you may be able to eliminate the need to actually take a lunch break. I bring lots of snacks and leftovers to eat at my desk while I work.

Finally, share some of the other advantages of breastfeeding: fewer allergies, ear infections, problems with obesity, etc. This may influence your boss to agree that you shouldn't have to choose between your job and doing what is best for your baby.

If all else fails, you can try to turn your baby's schedule upside down so that the baby nurses most at night and sleeps most of the day. It's certainly harder on a working mother, but probably a better alternative than giving up nursing.

Gena Nadeau
Mililani, Hawaii, USA


I work outside the home and have a ten-month-old son. I returned to work as a wildlife field research technician when Sam was five months old. This is a male-oriented field, and I wondered how the men would react to a co-worker expressing breast milk. I went in with a confident "breastfeeding is a necessity and not a luxury'' attitude, and didn't ask permission. A diabetic worker doesn't have to ask permission to check her blood sugar and administer insulin. She would discreetly do so at a time conducive to her work schedule.

Partly because of my attitude about breastfeeding and partly because they are great guys, my coworkers took my pumping in stride. They have never complained, and I pump everywherein back seats of cars, in boats, and under the nests of bald eagles!

Remind your boss that what you're doing helps relieve anxiety about leaving your child and will not last forever. You may also want to check with your state labor board regarding required break time per eight-hour shifts.

Charlotte Hope
Edisto Island, South Carolina, USA


I am a nursing mother of a thirteen-month-old son, Michael. I also work part-time at a federal government center in Washington, DC that employs about 2,000 people. Almost half of these people are women and many are having babies. We have been fortunate that our employer is family-friendly and supports alternative work schedules and flexible work hours. Nevertheless, over the years we have had some clashes which have centered around the politics of expressing milk at work. Many women were choosing not to breastfeed at all or prematurely weaning because of the frustrations they were experiencing at work.

My approach was to be straightforward and honest. I explained my pumping needs to my co-workers and supervisor, and they agreed to fill in for me for each of my two twenty-minute pumping sessions.

Despite the cooperation I received, the situation at my workplace was not supportive of nursing mothers overall. Several women were made to feel as though their time was being closely monitored and that pumping was being only grudgingly accepted.

The most extensive conflict was initiated by a female co-worker who was offended by the knowledge that her boss was pumping her breasts. This co-worker persuaded several other employees to join her in a formal complaint of sexual harassment against the manager. A small group of senior level managers were assigned to mediate the situation. After hearing both sides, they supported the nursing manager. They did, however, ask her to explain to the employees who lodged the complaint why nursing was important to her and how it could benefit the workplace.

Amazingly, the complainers were transformed once the manager tearfully presented her case. In addition to the emotional benefits, she gathered extensive data on the benefits of an employer's support of a nursing mother. She came well-prepared with information and let her own experience of motherhood provide a personal touch. Some of the data and ideas came from The Working Woman's Guide to Breastfeeding by Nancy Dana and Anne Price. A later presentation helped to obtain funding to establish a small lactation room with three pumping stations complete with electrical outlets, sinks, paper towels, soap, curtains for privacy, storage cabinets, and a refrigerator. Together we are working toward raising funds to purchase several portable hospital grade pumps.

Through this experience, adversity was channeled into positive action. It has also led to the formation of a new mothers support group. Several women have told me that the lactation room is the reason they decided to continue nursing after they returned to work. It is an outward symbol of our employer's support. My friend's presentation material and lactation room plan are now models for several other government agencies in our region. Our experience taught us that education through the sharing of experiences is the most effective way to promote understanding and support.

Mary Yuhas
Arlington, Virginia, USA

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