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ParentingHow Employers Can Make it Easier- Motherly

How Employers Can Make it Easier- Motherly

Motherly Collective

With my third (and final) baby I recently made the decision to switch from pumping and breastfeeding to formula feeding. Before I said farewell to my pumps for good, I took a peek at how many hours I had spent pumping for my three babies, since the pumps I used kept track of the total usage time. 

The answer was 2,635 hours—the equivalent of 109 non-stop, 24-hour days attached to a pump. To contextualize that, it takes 1,500 hours to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

My point? Breastfeeding is a ton of work. And it’s hard. Hard in a way that you can’t possibly understand until you experience it. And while coming back to work after having a baby is complicated for every parent, being a breastfeeding mom adds extra complexity and stress that is invisible to the majority of colleagues and bosses—especially since there are so few women in leadership positions in many companies

The invisible burden of breastfeeding as a working mom 

As a CEO, I’m very fortunate that I didn’t have to worry about any awkward conversations with a boss, or what someone might think about my commitment to my job based on the time blocks on my calendar—but for the majority of working moms, that’s not the case. From cockroach infestations and lockless doors in the lactation room, to bosses who thoughtlessly enforce “cameras-on during meetings”, or even women who are forced to pump while standing in a bathroom stall—I’ve heard countless horror stories from moms about what forced them to to make a choice between continuing to breastfeed and switching to formula. 

While it’s a choice they shouldn’t have to make based solely on their work environment, the reality is too many companies make it difficult or downright impossible for working moms to continue breastfeeding. 

Before companies can better support breastfeeding moms returning to the office, managers need to understand just what a commitment breastfeeding is. 

  • There’s the constant mental burden of making sure you’re continuing to produce enough milk to feed your baby. 
  • You have to make sure you are pumping often enough to keep your supply up, then safely store and refrigerate that pumped milk to bring home to your baby for later.
  • You have to fit a pumping schedule into an already busy work day, between meetings and video conferences, as well as consistently cleaning and maintaining pump parts and bottles. 
  • If you aren’t able to pump, it’s really uncomfortable. Imagine over-inflated balloons that start to feel more like rocks. That’s what it feels like for a mom who hasn’t been able to pump or breastfeed. 
  • Lactation is not a comfortable thing to talk about to anyone who isn’t a mom or hasn’t experienced it. So women are forced to either stay silent or face awkward personal conversations with their bosses and colleagues. 

How to support breastfeeding moms at work (without overstepping)

With this understanding, how can managers better anticipate the needs of their breastfeeding employees when they return from parental leave, without invading their privacy or needing to ask for specifics of how they’re feeding their baby? Here are a few things employers can do:  

Be considerate of breastfeeding parents’ schedules 

Ask when they return if they need to set any preset calendar blocks to ensure the time is blocked off and other team members know in advance they’re not available at that time.

Try not to require cameras to be on in every meeting

Make it clear that it’s OK to be off-camera when necessary and that they will never be questioned for that.

Accommodate any work travel needs

If an employee requires overnight travel, ensure there are sufficient options to transport breastmilk home to their baby. While many large companies provide this, often small companies don’t, leaving moms with extra stress and logistical burden, and sometimes a big expense.

Build support into your onboarding process

Document any accommodations for breastfeeding mothers and make it a part of your onboarding materials. That way, the employee doesn’t have to bridge an awkward conversation upon their post-baby return to work.

A note on supporting breastfeeding moms at work

There are so many challenges that face new moms returning to work which go along with the impossible pursuit of balancing career goals with family life. The proof is in the numbers: family caretaking responsibilities are disproportionately tied to women; statistically, the gender pay gap grows after motherhood, career progression slows, and workforce participation drops drastically after women have children. 

If companies truly want to reverse this trend, it’s imperative that they reassess outdated policies and train their leaders to empathize and anticipate the needs of new moms returning to work. As part of those efforts, there need to be considerations for breastfeeding moms and their unique needs, while still respecting their privacy and their very personal decision on how to feed their babies.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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