Let’s Talk about Pumping at Work: An Overview for Colleagues and Bosses

It should be no secret that returning to work from maternity leave is challenging, even for those of us moms who 100% want to work and are generally ready to do so. For mothers who choose to and have been able to nurse their babies (and now have to pump at work), life as a working mom is even more complicated.

I’ve found (through my experience of 8+ months pumping at work) that most people (ahem, colleagues and bosses) have absolutely no clue what it takes to be a working mom who pumps, and therefore they tend to come off as unsupportive – not because they necessarily are (although they might be), but because they honestly have no clue.

Taking time to understand the realities of a newly back-to-work mom who pumps is not just a nice thing to do. I believe it can also help with talent retention and engaging new moms fully. After all, don’t we all went to feel like our colleagues and bosses support us and have our backs, and, when they do, we tend work harder for them?

So here’s a quick overview of what a newly back-to-work mom who pumps is going through. I hope it helps bosses and colleagues of all genders to be more understanding and supportive.

It’s not just about feelings of guilt and sadness – both of which are legitimate ways to feel, and I think get written off too easily by bosses and colleagues because we’re “emotional women”, à hmm topic for another day.

Anyway, I hope new moms don’t feel guilty and sad over time (like me), but of course at first they will. This is to say nothing of hoping her baby is settling into her new childcare routine with ease, and that said childcare is of the quality she had hoped (because of course you don’t truly know how it will go until you start).

For nursing moms, though, the challenges go even further because probably when that mom returns to work, her baby hasn’t started solid food yet, which means she’s his only source of food and nutrition. No pressure, right?

Not to mention – a loud and annoying machine in a cold, strange room does not exactly evoke the same feelings of warmth as a baby, which actually matters because milk production is hormone-driven.

And just so you know – milk production is supply and demand-based, so YES we have to pump 2-3 times per day, ideally at the same time each day. Our bodies only produce what we tell it to and our babies want to eat when they want to eat, not just when we have enough milk for them….so most days many of us are in a bind, willing the milk to come.

It’s also important to know that most women who pump schlep all their stuff in with them so they can work while they’re pumping. It’s not like we’re napping or something – although, as newly working moms, we probably should be. So please don’t act like it’s some huge inconvenience or that we’re “missing” for periods of time during the day. (In fact, sometimes it was the only time of day I could actually get some work done!)

The truth is we’re busting our butts even harder to fit in a full day of work and 2-3 pumping sessions, scrambling around, worrying people will be giving us the side eye as we slip away, and again, willing – dear god please – the milk to come fast and in high quantities.

In short, there’s a lot of pressure on us, even as we’re still adjusting to working and then still as time goes on once any little patience people had for us adjusting to our return to work disappears.

And yes of course we should fit in our pumping with as little disruption to our work responsibilities as possible – which all the pumping moms I know do/did – but a little give and take (or simple understanding) would be nice as well.

Stay tuned for part 2 later this month in which I’ll share a few suggestions for bosses/colleagues looking to be more supportive of pumping moms.

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Stephanie (Harig) Prause

Stephanie Prause is a corporate communications, sustainability communications and investor relations professional, juggling a career she thrives in with being a mom and wife. She is also passionate about staying active (as in, she’ll lose her mind otherwise). Other interests include sampling craft beers, cooking from scratch and reading voraciously (at least for about 20 minutes before she passes out mid-sentence).

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • OMG, those days!

    When I returned from maternity leave after my first kid, I asked for a lock on my office door because I knew that someone would bust in without it…I think they thought I was crazy.

    When I was traveling a lot after the second kid, I had to pump a lot at the airport, which was the WORST.

    I feel you. It’s tough, but I’m glad (and grateful) that I was able to do it.

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