I’m incredibly lucky in returning to work in that I have a flexible schedule, a supportive boss, and access to a private pumping space. However, I realize that some women do not have access to this type of space, though I’m hopeful that regulations will begin to change to allow more women the flexibility of continuing to breastfeed their child if that is their desire. However, our building community of nursing mamas didn’t always have this space available. In fact, the “pumping room” used to be a locked closet with a single outlet, wooden table and single chair. No sign, no refrigerator or cleaning space, and incredibly small. A number of women attempted to advocate for a better space for the new mamas. I suppose it shows that you get what you fight for. Therefore, I urge any new mama (or even mamas that have been pumping) to advocate for themselves and their baby to get a comfortable space.
Some things that have helped us in setting up our pumping space:
1) Get a faculty member (or a supervisor in a senior role) to help you advocate. We have the support of an incredible faculty member who previously breastfed her twin girls. She was appalled by the space we had to share, and campaigned for our new room, extra tables, comfortable chairs, and a refrigerator. She attempted to get us a sink, but it was too expensive to install. So instead she is personally stocking the room with wipes, hand sanitizer, and paper towels for us to use. I’m incredibly thankful to have someone on our side in a position to fight for us, especially in this male-dominated environment.
2) To share or not to share. We have an awesome sign outside our room that we can switch from “VACANT” to “OCCUPIED” or have it sit in between the two to denote willingness to share. Honestly, I thought I would really care about other women being present while I’m pumping since I am on the modest side. But it actually doesn’t bother me that much, and I’ve had some interesting conversations with the other mamas. That being said, I also understand that some women are very sensitive about it, and I’m glad each woman gets the choice of sharing or not sharing.
3) Necessities. Multiple outlets, refrigerator to store milk, tables for your pump to sit on, space heater to help with let down. Think about what you have at home and need to help you pump peacefully.
4) Comfortable Space. Unfortunately, our room came pretty bare. But we have a great corkboard with the pictures of all the babies in our building. It’s cool to see the different ages, and I’m interested to watch our board grow.
5) Timing. Designating a specific time that you pump in your schedule, especially when scheduling meetings, is important. And I think it’s very important to advocate for this time. I try not to think of it as wasting time, and I try not to work during it because my daughter comes first and I don’t produce as much if I’m stressed about working. Remember, mama first, science second. BUT I’m an experimentalist, so sometimes the times I plan to pump are pushed back a bit because my bacterial culture won’t grow. In a later post, I have some thoughts on what to do to make that pump time productive.
This is something very near to my heart because I love breastfeeding Lily. I think all mamas who have chosen to breastfeed deserve the choice of whether to continue breastfeeding upon returning to work. There’s a lot of hurdles when heading back to the lab, but I’ve been lucky to have a workplace that makes this desire a reality.