This is the blog my husband has dreaded most since I started blogging. (Well, that might be overstating it, but he's just not into this post.) Don't worry, it's not about any of the traditional taboo subjects - sex, politics, or religion. (Wait! Are there any taboos on the Internet?) But it's about a something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Pumping. As in breastfeeding, lactating, expressing, milk. More specifically, pumping at work.
It was a long time ago for me. (Well, long enough that I no longer have nursing anxiety nightmares.) But now it's the topic du jour.
Back in March, when President Obama signed the health care reform law (and before the Republican would-be repealers took over the House), a lot of people didn't pay much attention to a provision requiring employers to give nursing mothers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act reasonable (unpaid) break time and a private place to pump breast milk for one year after giving birth. Late last month, the Labor Department opened up a public comment period seeking guidance on its preliminary interpretations of the new law. The federal Office of Personnel Management followed suit announcing, just before the New Year, a new policy on break time and space for nursing feds.
And just this weekend, The New York Times ran an article on bipartisan breastfeeding on Capitol Hilldetailing the "unspoken rules and etiquette" of Congress's lactation suites where a diverse group of women go every day to pump. (My favorite quote from one nursing staffer: “What you hear in the lactation room stays in the lactation room.") There have been more personal stories, too. See CurrentMom founder Katherine Reynolds Lewis' About.com pumping roundup.
All this makes me think of my own experience. I had it pretty good. With on site daycare, I was able to breastfeed my children at drop-off and lunchtime when they were babies. I only pumped two times a day (or so) in my private office with a locked door and, thanks to a previous occupant, a microwave and a mini-fridge. Most of the time, I could arrange my schedule around pumping sessions and was able to check e-mail, read documents, and talk on the phone while hooked up to the machine.
Even with this set-up, pumping was often, well, a pain. And sometimes wacky.
Like the time I was pumping during a conference call and inadvertently turned off the mute without stopping the pump. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. Loudly. (Hopefully, the other participants thought it was the traffic.) On another occasion, I was trying to squeeze a pumping session into a busy day and almost walked into a meeting with some pumping pieces still attached. Then, of course, there were the inevitable spills all over my work clothes.
Another time, I was traveling to an international meeting with my boss and a bigger boss and airport security decided to dismantle my electric pump (which was designed to fit into a black briefcase), piece by piece. In advance of the meeting, I had asked a contact if she could reserve a room for me to pump in during the coffee breaks. Somehow, she managed to procure a nice private office with walls made entirely of glass! (I wound up in the restroom on that trip.)
But nothing compares to the time that I decided to pump on an overnight flight in my seat (with a hands-free pumping bustier discretely under my clothes and a large alpaca poncho covering my entire body) and one of my higher ups decided to come sit next to me to chat about work. The noise of the plane obscured the sound of the pump. At least, I like to think so.
Looking back, I'm amazed that I was able to keep it up for as long as I did. I wasn't a pumping champion or a breastfeeding zealot: I gave my kids formula, too. Breastfeeding my children was special, being hooked up to a milking machine wasn't. Still, I'm glad I was able to pump and feed my children mostly breastmilk while I was at work. With the new law, some flexibility and a little privacy, lots of other women will be able to do so, too.