Launching in 2021!

Natallia Pinchuk head shot – pumping working mom

What’s it like to be a pumping mom in the consulting industry?  This exclusive pumper shares how she navigated the experience, including being the only woman to have a baby at her firm, being on the road away from her baby each week, and pumping at various client sites.

Name:  Natallia Pinchuk

Children: Son, age 2

Occupation: Principal at Roland Berger

What you do for work and why it is important for you?

I'm a business management consultant.  Initially I started specializing in energy and operations, and over the years I’ve gotten even more focused on clean energy. From early on in my life, I've been interested in energy. Initially I was focused on nuclear energy, but as climate change and pollution became a bigger problem, I started focusing more on renewables, energy storage, and clean energy generation.  It’s something that really drives me, and I think it's one of the biggest problems that our humanity faces, so that keeps me going. There are always new technologies and new problems to solve, so I feel like this is a field where you can never reach the top, and you can always learn.  It’s that steep learning curve that keeps me going in consulting.

Is your workplace culture supportive of working parents?

I would say generally consulting is not a supportive industry, but not because the intentions are not there. The thought and desire are there, but consultants generally have a rough work life balance experience. I think a lot of women, especially when they get to childbearing age, just self-select out of the industry even before they become pregnant. There are just not that many women in consulting of childbearing age, so it's almost never a priority for consulting companies to have great policies and a great work life balance for mothers.

And then also there’s the whole expectation of being on the road Monday through Thursday.  It’s just something that’s really tough to do anything about, because you can’t say to a client that you’re going to have a team that’s not going to show up at their site, so it’s really hard to make the work itself more compatible with having children.

Are you still traveling Monday through Thursday?

No, I don't travel as much anymore. I should also mention I’ve switched companies many times. I’ve always stayed in the same industry, but I’m at my fourth consulting company. Each had a slightly different approach to how they helped women in this stage, and each tried to have slightly different expectations in terms of travel.  For example, at bigger firms it was pretty much guaranteed I was on the road Monday through Thursday. Now that I'm more senior and at a smaller firm I work on multiple projects at a time, and I work on business development, so I don't actually have to travel and I’m not expected to be on the road as much.  It does always help to be on the road though because it's always easier to get to know the clients and to build a relationships if you are face-to-face with them, but it doesn't have to be that way.  This week, I worked entirely from home.

Working pumping mom - Natallia Pinchuk and her son

Were you able to take much of a maternity leave?

When I got pregnant with my son, I worked for a small consulting company, Enovation Partners.  When I was recruiting with them, having kids was on my mind and they said that if I decided to have kids they would accommodate me. When I got pregnant, it turned out there was no actual maternity policy because I was the first woman of childbearing age working there. That was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because they stood up to their promise and allowed me to design my own policy. They said “tell us what you need, and we'll see if we can make it happen.” It was also a curse because it was a small company and the resources to cover me were fairly limited, so it was a careful balance.  I was able to take 12 weeks, which I think is pretty generous on average, and about six weeks before birth they let me work from home, so I didn't have to travel.

How was your pumping experience?

I exclusively pumped.  Unfortunately, breastfeeding did not work for my son and me. We tried but just couldn't make it happen, so I was pumping exclusively the entire time while I was home and then when I returned to work.  I pumped for a total of 10 months at work.

It was hardest in the very beginning because I had to pump for about an hour every three hours. So for eight hours a day, all I would do is just pump, and that was time when I couldn't hold my baby and have bonding time. I was just hooked up to this machine that was sucking the milk out of me.  It was very emotionally and physically hard for me, but I got used to it and eventually I didn’t have to pump every three hours, I could pump every four hours and only for a half hour, or even 20 minutes at the end, so it got a lot easier. I also got a lot more supplies in terms of the number of bottles, flanges and an extra battery, so that on top of pumping I didn't also have to worry about having everything clean and sterilized after each pumping session.

How did you manage pumping on the road week after week?

Generally if I didn't have to be on the road, then I very rarely went into the office, but I did have to travel quite a bit initially – more than I do now.  It took a lot of planning. The first thing that you have to think about is how many supplies you need to bring with you as far as the number of bottles, number of ice packs, the amount of soap or sanitizing materials that you use, and all of that.  Having pumped exclusively, I kind of knew how many ounces of milk I was going to get each day I was going to be away, and then how much of the supplies I would need, so I started by planning my supplies. Then I would go through my schedule and try to figure out what are the times that I can fit my pumping in so that I can book my flights to be in between pump sessions, or I could get to the airport and get through security, then pump and get on the plane.  I might also need to go to a client site right after the flight, so I would try to plan my pumping schedule and flights to try to make sure the flights were generally around my pumping, but that didn't always work.

And then I had to figure out where I could pump, because many airports have maybe two or 3 maternity rooms that are in completely different terminals, and a lot of times they're occupied, so I had to look up where the nearest maternity room was and also the next best alternative location if the room was occupied. That could be the next closest maternity room, or if it was a large enough airport I could usually find a nice corner to hide in.

Working pumping mom - Natallia Pinchuk with her son and husband 

What did you do with all of that milk while you were on travel?

My husband's work provided the benefit of a milk shipment service, so I was able to ship a package with milk every single day that I was on the road, and that was huge. The service is pricey. I don't know if I’d be able to pay it out of my pocket, but my husband’s firm provided the benefit, and I used it every single time.

I absolutely loved it because you don't need to think about the packaging or the refrigeration, or even about having a Sharpie to sign the date.  They give you everything you need.  All you have to do is contact the company ahead of time to tell them the place where you want the supplies delivered, and then you just give them a call or go online to tell them when and where to pick up the package, and the next morning the package is at home with your baby.

This is probably one of my tips: if you can talk to your employer ahead of time, if milk shipment is not a current benefit and you are expected to travel, then ask for it even while you're pregnant. See if they will agree to do it. It just takes a lot of stress out of the planning, and it means that at most you have a day’s worth of milk with you, so getting through TSA is a lot easier. When you do go through security, TSA will take every single bottle of milk and ice pack out to test, which means the milk isn’t refrigerated and it takes a lot of time.  That was a very anxious time for me, so this service made it so much better.

If you can talk to your employer ahead of time, if milk shipment is not a current benefit and you are expected to travel, then ask for it even while you're pregnant.

What was it like pumping at various client sites?  Most of us find it challenging to pump at our employer’s office, let alone navigate multiple offices and cultures.  How did you do that?  Did you ever get push back?

I never got push back. I did often encounter offices with no maternity room, but most clients offered up a private office space for me to use for pumping.  My strategy with clients was to expect to need two pumping sessions per day at a client site.  The hardest part is when you're going there for the first time, and you know you're going to meet these people for the first time, and all of them are male. You've never seen them before and you want to make a good professional impression, and you don't want to start the conversation with “where’s the maternity room?” What I would do a few days before going to a client site is find an excuse to get contact information for a secretary or an executive assistant at the client site – maybe I needed to print something, or get badges - some type of excuse. And once I connected to the female assistant, I would ask what kind of accommodations were available for pumping, and often times there would be something, so they would tell me ahead of time what I could expect for pumping arrangements.  Many times it's not convenient and you end up needing to have a person unlock the room for you both when you need to pump and then to collect the milk at the end of the day, but I never encountered a situation where there was no private room whatsoever.

Working pumping mom - Natallia Pinchuk's son eating watermelon

Was it hard to leave your baby so frequently and so early on for work travel, or was it a welcome break during the challenges of postpartum?

It was a little bit of both.  I'll be honest, I was kind of going crazy at the end of my maternity leave. I did want a change of pace, and I wanted to talk to adults again. I wanted to have intelligent conversations. I wanted mental challenges, as opposed to the physical and emotional challenges with my baby.

And then of course, once you're out of the door, you start worrying whether there are enough diapers, if the caretakers are using enough diaper cream, if they’re feeding him, if they’re holding the bottle properly. As a mother you know everything about your child, and you don't necessarily think that your caregivers  know as much about your child as you do, and therefore cannot provide as high quality of care, but I think you just deal with it as it comes. It's important to have caregivers that you trust, and I did have my mom helping me a couple of days a week. We also used a daycare that had cameras where I could get a glimpse of my son from anywhere anytime, and just watch him crawl around the room, so that that was pretty big. I really loved those cameras.

I'll be honest, I was kind of going crazy at the end of my maternity leave. I did want a change of pace, and I wanted to talk to adults again. I wanted to have intelligent conversations. I wanted mental challenges, as opposed to the physical and emotional challenges with my baby.

What were those early days like for your husband when you were traveling?  Did he travel as well? How did he handle being the primary caregiver while you were gone?

My husband also worked in a very demanding job, but he didn't travel as much as I did, so he did have to pick up the slack when I was on the road. I remember the time when he had to be in South Korea, and I had to go on a work trip for three days, so he spent 10 days in South Korea, then flew back home to stay with our son, and then when I came back from my trip he returned to South Korea for another 10 days.

I think the times when both of us had to travel were the toughest to manage, but in general, I would say, my husband turned out to be a much better father than I thought he would be caring for a newborn!  He definitely stepped up and I had full trust that he would provide the best care.

What advice do you have for other women who are in consulting and want to have a baby while working in the field?

I would say don't quit consulting until you absolutely have to.  Quitting consulting is always an option, and chances are after consulting you'll quickly find another job. If somebody is planning to have a baby I would say go ahead and have a baby, and then see if you can deal with the pressures of travel and the stresses of the job. If you’re unhappy then you can always quit, but definitely don't quit before you actually have to.

And a couple of other things that I already alluded to - definitely bring it up with your HR team and with your partners.  Talk to them.  Tell them what you need, ask for accommodations.  Ask for things like no travel during the last six weeks of pregnancy. Tell them that you need the milk shipment service.

You’d be surprised what companies are willing to do to, especially now that these types of questions come up more often as there are more women in the workplace. I think a lot more employers are more receptive to trying to address specific asks.

One other thing I should mention - try to be strategic about reentry. Don't just expect to show up and be given a project.  Try to be proactive a few weeks before you return and figure out what kind of projects are going on. Maybe there is something that would be easier for you because you've already done it, or maybe there are some projects that don’t require travel.  Try to proactively manage your reentry back into the workplace.

If somebody is planning to have a baby I would say go ahead and have a baby, and then see if you can deal with the pressures of travel and the stresses of the job. If you’re unhappy then you can always quit, but definitely don't quit before you actually have to.

Working pumping mom - Natallia Pinchuk with her son and husband, standing on top of a mountain

Do you have any tips for moms juggling demanding jobs and family life?

Yes, and I heard this many times before, but I don't think I took advantage of it.  Ask for help when you need it, accept help when somebody offers it, and lean on your partner more.

What my husband and I try to proactively do is go through activities that we do at home that we could outsource, and we say okay, I'm not going do certain activities anymore, like cleaning. We're just going hire a cleaning lady. And I'm not going to do any more cooking, or I'll only cook what takes less than 20 minutes to make, and we'll just order food or use some kind of meal kit service to make it easier.  We proactively went through everything and decided these are the things we're not going to do, and we're going to outsource them so that we have more time for our family.

For the things that we could not outsource, I tried to offload many of them to my husband. For instance, I don't do our grocery shopping anymore.  It’s his responsibility, and it’s something I don't have to worry about.  So do offload things to your partner, and if you can afford it, then outsource everything that's not a high priority or a value-add to your life.

We proactively went through everything and decided these are the things we're not going to do, and we're going to outsource them so that we have more time for our family.

You’re expecting a second baby later this year.  Do you plan to breastfeed/pump again?

I’ve been thinking about pumping a lot lately with another little one on the way.  I'll be honest, pumping is the thing I'm dreading the most out of the unpleasant experiences a mother goes through

Now that I know what it takes, what I'm going to do differently is not to try to save money on pumps or any other equipment.  I know there are cordless pumps now, and I’m definitely buying one of those.  And by the way, the more pumps you have, the better so you can leave one at work or at a client site and keep one at home.

I’m going to invest in more bottles so I don't have to wash them several times a day and I can just stick them in the dishwasher and not worry about it. Now I know those things are worth the money.

I think pumping is something that can never be easy, but I feel like it's doable. If you take one day at a time, then you can get to the year mark or past the year mark, which I think most women try to do, and that’s what I’m going to strive for, but I’m going to be more forgiving to myself along the way.

I think pumping is something that can never be easy, but I feel like it's doable. If you take one day at a time, then you can get to the year mark or past the year mark, which I think most women try to do, and that’s what I’m going to strive for, but I’m going to be more forgiving to myself along the way.

As a very driven, hard-working mother of a son, what do you hope to teach him about women?  What sort of man you hope he becomes?

I think about this question a lot, especially because I always imagined myself as a mother of a girl, because I feel like I know what it takes to be a woman, and I can raise a woman.  I don't know if I can raise a man. I have an older brother but he's 20 years senior to me, so I never saw firsthand how to raise a boy into a man. I think about the question of what it means to be a man in our society, especially in our day of the Me Too movement and real inequality coming to the forefront of our society.  I don't think there is a simple answer, but I definitely want to make sure that he is respectful to women, and he understands that women are different but equal to him, and that the way he treats women needs to be different than the way he treats other boys.  Women need to be just as equally respected and are his equals in any way he can imagine.

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.