Did you hear the one about the doctor-in-training new mom who pumped breastmilk in the sperm collection room of a fertility clinic? She was doing her endocrinology rotation during residency, and...actually, there’s no punchline here. Instead, just stop and consider the irony of that one: the germs, the hopes, the spills, and humanity and humility of that room.
In my own collective 20 months of breastfeeding — two boys, exactly 10 months each, because God forbid I not be fair — I was lucky to do most of my pumping in my office or at home (though my poor, milk-stained velvet couch, RIP). But over the past two years, I talked to hundreds of women about their experiences going back to work, and the stories they shared had me aching with empathy. If you’ve ever lactated, you know exactly the ache I’m talking about.
In all, I surveyed and interviewed 800+ women for my book, The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby. I asked them all kinds of nosy questions about things like marriage and ambition and how their sense of identity changed. But as I shopped the book proposal around to agents and publishers, I decided to share the pumping research as my sample chapter. If you can handle cracked nipples and breastmilk spilled on keyboards, I figured, you’re just the kind of person this working mom wants to work with. Here’s some of what I uncovered:
● 81% of mothers who tried to pump at work said that it negatively affected their ability to feed their baby breastmilk.
● 36% who pumped at work had to use a make-shift space to do so, and 22% of those had to pump in a bathroom.
Nearly a third of the time these moms spent on pumping was actually spent on the logistics around pumping (the storage, the cleaning, the traveling to and from their pumping place) — all things their employers could help improve for them, if the mothers knew how to ask.
All of these statistics begged for solutions, and moms who have made it through what I call The Fifth Trimester were delighted to share their hard-earned, pumped-on-level-10 wisdom. They offered hacks and workarounds, but they also offered that truly maternal heal-all: empathy. Ahead, I give you, a quick peek inside the exhausted, busy, efficient mind of a pumping woman.
Lauren Smith Brody is the founder of The Fifth Trimester, a movement and company that improves workplace culture for parents. Her book The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom’s Guide to Style, Sanity, and Big Success After Baby, is just out from Doubleday.
World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7 this year, and the entire month of August is devoted to breastfeeding awareness. For more coverage on nursing, pumping, or choosing not to do either, head over to our Mothership page.