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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Boob Job: The Working Mother's Breastfeeding Dilemma.

What’s a woman to do?

 

She grows up, does well in school, goes to college, graduates and vigorously pursues a career. Eventually, she turns 30. She may or may not get or be married by that time, but one thing’s for sure, if she’s ever contemplated becoming a mother, by the time she hits her mid-30s – at, ironically, the same time careers tend to take off – she knows she needs to get things rolling if she wishes to give birth to a baby.

 

So this Generation X woman -- who’s been told all throughout her childhood and early adulthood that she can do everything she puts her mind to, anything her male peers can do -- gets pregnant. Then she smacks into a misogynistic, old school wall. Hard. And not many people, it appears, seem to care.

 

During her pregnancy, she’s inundated with ominous recommendations from the medical community and any one of the many “parenting experts,” about how she should raise her child. She’s faced with suggestions about everything from the use of pacifiers and child-proofing her home, to what kind of safety seats she should purchase. One of the most forceful pieces of medical advice she’s given – as she’s trying to plow her way through her career while trying not to let her pregnancy get in the way of her work – is that she should breastfeed her baby. In fact, she’s told by the august American Academy of Pediatrics [1], that she should feed her baby only breastmilk for the first six months, and continue breastfeeding until the child is 12 months old. The federal government, through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health [2], does its part to aggressively promote breastfeeding including paying for a pro-breastfeeding ad campaign [3] that compares feeding a child baby formula to log-rolling [4] or riding a mechanical bull while pregnant. One U.S. senator, in discussing breastfeeding recommendations, even went so far as to suggest to the New York Times [5] that the federal government ought to consider putting warning labels on baby formula “similar to those on cigarettes.”

 

Given the onslaught of pro-breastfeeding advice, this modern woman, who really wants to keep working after having her baby, makes a mental note that she’s going to breastfeed so she won’t be feeding her child what some pro-breastfeeding folks call the equivalent of poison. Several weeks after giving birth, she returns to work [6], breast pump in hand, with all the best intentions to lactate and work.

 

Not so fast.

 

When she asks her employer for a chance to privately express her breastmilk multiple times during the workday (given that her newborn nurses every two to three hours) how her request is handled depends not only on the state in which she lives, but the company for which she works. Some employers may point her in the direction of the bathroom stall and tell her to go there with her breast pump only during her lunch hour. If she works in retail or in the restaurant business, she may be told that she has to use her 10-minute break and her 30-minute lunch break to do the pumping. If she’s at a supervisory level, she might be told that there are already scheduled meetings for which she is expected to remain in the room, even if the gatherings last hours. If she’s in a profession where she must take a lengthy professional test [7] in order to begin practicing her craft, it’s likely she could be told that having to express her breastmilk doesn’t give her the right to any “special accommodations” that the men and non-lactating women don’t have.

 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures [8], only a little more than a dozen states have laws prohibiting discrimination against women who need to pump their breastmilk while they’re at work, some specifically direct employers to provide private locations and mandate that employees be provided adequate breaks to use the breast pump. A 2004 Society for Human Resource Management [9] report, however, found that 21 percent of the human resources personnel polled said their employers provided space and time for expressing breastmilk.

 

So what’s a woman to do when she wants to (needs to) work and succeed in her career, AND wants to (needs to) express her breastmilk for her new baby in order to adhere to current medical advice?

 

If she stands up for herself and demands time to express her milk so she won’t literally explode, develop an infection or reduce her milk supply that’s her newborn’s only form of sustenance, she risks not only being looked down upon or demoted professionally, but other women -- including those who didn’t rear their children under today’s intense pressure to breastfeed for a year – tear her apart. [10] They call her a whiner [11]. They say she’s looking to be coddled [12].

 

If she caves in to the professional, business pressure and stops breastfeeding because she can’t possibly keep up with the pumping and work (as most moms eventually wind up doing, federal and health officials are all waiting to tell her how she’s failed as a mother and is feeding her kid unhealthy formula. They call her a bad mom. They say she’s selfish.

 

What about all that you-go-girl encouragement in which she was saturated as a girl and a young woman, all those aphorisms about how she could do anything her male peers could do? Her male peers become dads at the same time she became a mom, and those males kept their careers on track. But, alas, the men don’t lactate, therefore, they can’t (and don’t) have to worry about getting securing accommodations to express breastmilk. If all of those folks who talk the talk about supporting women in the workplace don’t actually support what it really means to be a woman in the workplace – including during the time of a woman’s life when she has a baby and then lactates [13] – then they’re providing nothing more than vacant lip service.

Read about a current Massachusetts breastfeeding and work controversy at the Mommy Track'd Newsdesk [13].

 


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