Breast pumping in the office

Although I grew up in a society where it was acceptable for women to breastfeed in public, the first time I witnessed a woman breast pumping I was totally unprepared for it. I’d visited a relative who was a fairly new mother, to talk about her baby and life in general. In my presence, without warning, she took out her breast pump and started sucking milk out of herself.

As a man, I felt like I was being exposed to a private moment which I really was not supposed to witness. A childhood habit of putting hands on my eyes when watching TV (whenever I saw something scary) almost came back to me. But asking her to stop was out of question- after all it was her home and the baby needed his food. Trying hard not to show my discomfort, I excused myself and went for a brief walk and conveniently returned when the pumping was complete.  

This episode reminded me of the fact that many working women have to use a breast pump and store the milk for later use. Some mothers have no choice but to carry their breast pump to work, hidden from the view of co-workers. Now I know what will be hidden in those bags that nursing mothers bring to work.

Mothers who breast pump at work may be faced with a few dilemmas especially if they work for a company that is not mother-friendly. If the company doesn’t have a ‘mothers room’ she may have to pump in her private office or in the restroom, which may not be hygienic for the baby.

The other problem may be to find safe storage for the baby’s milk. Some mothers store it in the communal office fridge and clearly mark it as “baby milk” to avoid it ending up in someone’s tea or coffee. What about washing the pump? Some mothers seem to discreetly wash the pump in the office’s communal kitchen sink.

Friction at work

Not everyone who uses breast pumps at work will get cooperation from their workmates. One nursing mother, featured in The New York Times , was reported to HR  by a female co-worker for storing her breast pump and empty bottles in a half closed bag under her desk in a shared office. Why did the other woman complain to HR? Because “she wants to not have to see the black (pump) bag because it grosses her out.”

Why are some people so sensitive about the whole breastfeeding and pumping process? It may be because the modern world has taught us that these activities should be kept secretive and private as if they are embarrassing.

The truth is that nothing is embarrassing about extracting milk to feed a child. Millions of working mothers do it everyday. If all nursing mothers held their heads high at the office and did not hide their pumps and milk bottles, I’m sure pumping would be acceptable as a normal way of life at work and in society.

How do you feel about women breast pumping in the office?
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