One in four coworkers disapproves of lactating moms needing to take multiple breaks during the work day, recent research shows.
Working mothers still face some pushback on the pump.
While three in four coworkers are willing to help lactating moms to some degree by covering for them during pumping breaks, a quarter disapprove of them needing to take multiple breaks during the work day, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research. This disapproval stems from viewing the moms’ behavior as unprofessional, unfair and interruptive to group tasks, according to study co-author Mary Bresnahan.
“You’re already struggling to balance your work-life balance, even if you have good day care or you have a supportive partner or spouse,” Bresnahan, a professor of communication at Michigan State University, told Moneyish. “And then (if) you have to deal with this kind of negative attitude by a quarter of the people in your workplace, you might just decide, ‘This is too hard,’ and you might give up.”
Two-thirds of those who stigmatized women who pump at work were men, according to the survey of 1,000 adult workers that measured the importance of colleagues’ support for breastfeeding coworkers, the perception of fairness of accommodating these workers, and the so-called “ick factor” related to pumping milk at work.
Just 28% of organizations in the study even had a mothering room. (Despite an Affordable Care Act provision mandating employers provide “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, many organizations have failed to comply.) “That’s one additional element of discouragement,” Bresnahan said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies exclusively be breastfed for around six months, followed by continued breastfeeding for a year or longer as complementary foods are introduced. The World Health Organization also advises exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding alongside complementary foods for up to two years. Research suggests breastfed babies are at lower risk for conditions like asthma, ear infections and even leukemia and obesity during childhood; meanwhile, breastfeeding moms have lower risk of ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and certain breast cancers.
Plenty of women choose to feed with formula, and mothers have the right to feed their babies however they choose. But six in 10 moms who wanted to breastfeed quit earlier than desired, research shows. And factors impacting the duration of breastfeeding include lactation and latching issues; infant weight and nutrition concerns; and, of course, the lack of parental leave and unsupportive work policies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s such a physically and emotionally difficult period for some people,” Georgene Huang, a 38-year-old mother of three and CEO and co-founder of the women’s career community Fairygodboss.com, told Moneyish. “So many women … stop nursing earlier because it’s just so hard. If you don’t have a workplace culture that supports it — or worse, actively discourages it — then you will just stop doing it.”
Meredith Bodgas, the editor-in-chief of Working Mother magazine and mom to a 5-month-old and 4-year-old, recalled a recent incident in which she had to ask a woman to vacate the multi-purpose wellness room she had reserved for pumping. (Bodgas says she didn’t know the woman, who she believes worked for a different publication on the same floor.) “She wasn’t rude; she just wasn’t warm … I was not met with understanding,” said 35-year-old Bodgas, who added she was “in physical pain” as she waited for the room to be free.
So Bodgas and other working mothers are trying to normalize the natural act of breastfeeding. “I often talk about what’s going on, in hopes that I’m destigmatizing it for my whole team … and to make it clear that this is not something anyone should be ashamed about,” Bodgas said. “I’m hoping that in making my pumping more public … it will help (colleagues who are not pumping and have never pumped before) be more understanding and supportive of other pumping moms in the office.”
Huang, who has a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and 7-month-old, also feels it’s important to be open about pumping at work to set an example that the act is “normal and OK” — and to demonstrate how hard pumping is, even when your workplace is supportive. “I still don’t particularly love talking about it, because it just feels so personal, but I know that I have to set an example,” she said. “So I feel like it’s really important for me to go beyond my natural personality and talk about some of the personal things that bleed into the workplace.”
Pop culture is playing its own part: A recent “New Girl” plot, for example, saw Cece (Hannah Simone) recounting being forced to pump during a meeting after her male colleagues wouldn’t reschedule. And model turned cookbook author Chrissy Teigen cropped up in an on-the-go breast-pump selfie in June. “She’s taking me to dinner but still on mommy duty,” Teigen’s husband, John Legend, captioned the photo.
“I think breastfeeding is becoming normalized, but pumping is still not quite there,” Bodgas said. “I think it’s really helpful that more celebrities are posting pumping pictures, and more TV shows and movies are talking about pumping, because it demystifies it. People really don’t even know what it looks like … So instead of having their own preconceived notions about it, they’re understanding what it is, and how it goes, and why it’s not fun, and why we could really use the support from people who don’t pump.”
To reduce stigma going forward, Huang said, employers need to provide proper nursing-room accommodations; women who’ve been through nursing need to share what they know with other women (“It could be any number of logistical things that I think could help relieve anxiety of another woman in the workplace,” she said); and others within the institution, even non-parents, need to become more aware.
Generous paid maternity and paternity leave can be a great tool for recruitment and retention of young workers, Bresnahan said. “New parents, especially mothers, often struggle with work-life balance. When their jobs offer flexible scheduling, opportunity to work from home or in-house child care at work, this is an advantage,” she added. “Even if a company cannot afford to do any of these things, they should have a mothering room and they should try to find ways to incentivize supervisors and coworkers to be encouraging to lactating women who need multiple breaks to be able to continue breastfeeding.”
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