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Jennifer L working pumping mon headshot

When her employer removed her pumping slots from her schedule and informed her that she would have to put in extra time to make up for pumping breaks, she quit on the spot and sought support from her state's labor relations department.

Name: Jennifer L.

Occupation: Family Nurse Practitioner

Children:  Daughter – 3 years, daughter – 6 months

How old are your kids, how long were your maternity leaves, and how long did you pump with each child?

My oldest daughter is 3, and I pumped with her for a year. My youngest daughter is 6 months, and I’ve been pumping for her since she was born. With both children I was able to take 12 weeks for maternity leave, however for both children it was unpaid leave.

Tell us about the experience of being a pumping mom in the medical field:

I would say that even though the medical field is obsessed with “breast is best,” it is generally not very accommodating of breastfeeding moms.  When I went back to work after my first leave, I was working on a regimented schedule of daily appointments with patients, either a 15-minute or a 30-minute appointment.  When I was preparing to go back to work, I was set up with designated 15-minute pumping slots in my schedule.  Then after about three months, the office management decided it was not financially beneficial for them for me to take time away to pump, so they removed those slots from my schedule, filled them with patients, and they told me that I could pump when I was otherwise available.

Then after about three months, the office management decided it was not financially beneficial for them for me to take time away to pump, so they removed those slots from my schedule, filled them with patients, and they told me that I could pump when I was otherwise available.

That’s terrible.  Even 15 minutes is not enough time to pump.

Yes, you can’t pump in 15 minutes, and then for them to take that small amount of time away…when I heard that I drove to the clinic where the medical director worked and I quit on the spot.  I gave the appropriate amount of notice, but I told them that day that I was quitting. 

Is it legal for an employer to prohibit pumping time? 

No, and what I would recommend to other moms is to know your legal rights.  Your breast pumping time must be reasonably accommodated, and what they did was not a reasonable accommodation and was illegal.  When I quit I made it clear to them that they weren’t making a reasonable accommodation.  I called the State of Illinois department that manages work-labor relations and the folks there recommended I seek legal consult if my employer didn’t rectify the situation.  When I returned to work the next day they told me I could have a pumping slot, but they weren’t going to pay me for that time, and would require me to add extra hours to make up for the missed time.  And then they asked me to please stay!  I said no and quit that job because they just wouldn’t reasonably accommodate me. 

How were you feeling while this was happening?

At the time I felt like I was working really hard, and I was working with an underprivileged population that often times hadn’t previously sought healthcare services.  It was not an easy job by any means, but I really loved the patients.  I think what employers sometimes lose sight of is that pumping is a temporary thing, and if you support moms through those first couple of months of pumping,  they’re much more likely to be loyal to you as employees and to stay long term.  It was a really terrible experience and made me question everything I had ever done, like “how can I work as a professional and be a mom?"  I’m doubting my own ability to do this anyway when I wake up in the morning, and then to be treated like that was just horrible.

It was a really terrible experience and made me question everything I had ever done, like “how can I work as a professional and be a mom?  I’m doubting my own ability to do this anyway when I wake up in the morning, and then to be treated like that was just horrible.

You’re pumping now for your youngest daughter.  I assume you are working for a different employer?

Yes, my second experience is very different.  I’ve been pumping for 6 months and I have two work settings – I work in a clinic and in a hospital.  My pumping has been very much reasonably accommodated and I’m very appreciative of my workplace.  They have no problem with me pumping.  There’s not been a single issue.  In my interview for this job, I told them I was going to be pumping and that if they wouldn’t be able to accommodate me, then the job wouldn’t work for me, and they were happy to accommodate it.

That must have been challenging to look for new jobs while still very much in a postpartum, pumping phase:

Yeah – trying to fit your postpartum body into a suit and feel like your best self when you don’t feel like your best self and you just had a baby - it’s very hard.

How long did it take to find the new job?

I actually found a job pretty quickly, but then I had to wait out three months with my former employer, all the time still feeling like I wasn’t actually welcome to pump there, and had no private space where I could do it, so that was a difficult time.  I think I put up with more than I’ll put up with ever again in my life, or that I’d ever recommend anyone else put up with.

I think I put up with more than I’ll put up with ever again in my life, or that I’d ever recommend anyone else put up with.

You mentioned that you’ve pumped in some crazy places.  Tell us about that:

Currently I pump a lot in the car, which I think most working moms probably get used to doing.  I also pump in the hospital, which is nicely outfit with a lactation room, and then I pump in the clinic.  Both the hospital and the clinic I consider to be very dirty places, so I struggle a lot with pumping there too much.  If I really stop to think about it, I wonder if my clothes are dirty and will my clothes touch my pump parts and contaminate them, or will I bring home something to the baby, so I work really hard to make sure everything stays very clean.  I actually go to work early and sanitize the space where I pump.  I carry hand sanitizer around with me and use it constantly during the day and try not to touch anything I don’t have to, and then sanitize myself and remove my clothes before I pump.  It’s still scary though because it’s all still so dirty in these healthcare spaces.

Are there any pump-related supplies that have been helpful for you?

I finally found a bra that’s really great.  For the longest time I was putting on a hands-free pumping bra and pulling down my nursing bra, and now I feel so stupid to have done that because they do make bras that accommodate both pumping and nursing.  The bra that I found allows you to both pump and nurse, and I never knew that sort of thing existed the first time around.  It’s been so helpful.  It also enables me not to have to take my whole shirt off, which I was doing previously, and that’s a terrible experience.

The other thing I have that I’ve found to be really helpful is a Sarah Wells pumping bag.  I love it.  It carries all of my stuff and I’ve always liked using that too.

What was it like returning to work after 12 weeks of leave and jumping right back to a full caseload every day?  That must have been hard to return with such an abrupt transition.

What I learned from my first baby to my second baby is that returning to a full caseload just didn’t work.  It was too much.  With my second daughter I’m actually working part-time right now.  What I’ve found works best for me and my milk supply is working every other day so I can alternate days with the baby and days at the office. I’ve had a lot more luck with my milk supply this time.  It is hard jumping back in full time, so working Monday, Wednesday, and Friday has been very helpful while pumping.

What I’ve found works best for me and my milk supply is working every other day so I can alternate days with the baby and days at the office. I’ve had a lot more luck with my milk supply this time. 

Do you have any advice to women in the medical field for navigating the process of returning to work, pumping, or scheduling their employment?

The medical field is behind in its support of pumping moms.  I think we as pumping, working moms are leaders of change, and we have to be ready to educate people about what we need, and be firm with people about what we need, because in this field people still don’t know how to adequately support pumping moms.

Do you typically wear scrubs or dress clothes to work?

Sometimes I wear scrubs and other times I wear business casual clothing, though I would like to be a bit more business professional.  Last week I wore a beautiful silky blouse and I struggled so much with it because I couldn’t get it to stay up and out of the way when I was pumping because the material was so slippery.  If I wear something that’s made of more of a cotton type of material then I can push it up and get it to stay on my chest.  For instance, last week there I was trying to hold up my white blouse with my chin, which was covered with makeup, so I got makeup all over it, and it was a disaster.  I don’t know if I’m just doing something wrong, but clothes are not pumping-friendly.  They have to be big enough to be able to pull them up and manipulate them in that sense, so I’m struggling with clothing.  I’d like to look nicer at work, but I just haven’t found anything that fits well enough or works well enough to pump in.

How do you balance working and motherhood and staying grounded?

That’s hard.  My work schedule is chaotic, and my home schedule is chaotic, but I do feel like this time around I’ve done better at taking it one day at a time, because you can just go crazy trying to take it any other way.  I’ve tried to be kinder to myself when I’ve struggled this time, because it is overwhelming to be a working mom, and throwing pumping in there makes it harder.

I’ve tried to be kinder to myself when I’ve struggled this time, because it is overwhelming to be a working mom, and throwing pumping in there makes it harder.

Give us a glimpse into your family:

My oldest daughter is hilarious.  She loves to pretend to breastfeed her babies, and she says she still has babies in her tummy.  Now that I’m breastfeeding, she tells me and my husband that one breast is for water, and the other is milk, so her baby gets water and milk, while her younger sister only gets milk from me.  I think it’s hilarious that she can even think through this.

What do you want your girls to know about being a working mom?

What’s really important to me is that my girls see me going to work and making a difference in my life, and in their lives, and in my patients’ lives. They understandably want me home all the time and can get upset when I go to work, but I think we’ve gotten to a good place where they understand what I’m going to do and the difference I can make.  I think that’s helped ease the process of me being a working mom.  For me I just want to show them that I can do it.  I work for them.

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