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Making It Work

Breastfeeding around Coworkers

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 2, March-April 2006, pp. 72-75

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

I have an excellent, flexible daycare provider who is willing to bring my nearly one-year-old son to me at work to breastfeed him during my lunch. However, I have just started a new job with mostly male coworkers in an open office environment. Should I sneak out to the car to nurse my son when they arrive? Should I tell people what I am doing so that they don't think I am taking an unreasonably long break? Should I keep this to myself? How do other mothers cope in similar situations?

Mother's Response

It's wonderful when you can breastfeed your child at work—beats pumping any day! I work in an open office with two men and occasionally bring my toddler to work with me. They don't bat an eye when I breastfeed at my desk. I try to be as discreet as possible, for example, facing away from the center of the room, wearing a jacket or button-down shirt over my top to camouflage things a bit, and covering my daughter with her blanket. breastfeeding in my car or a toilet facility is not optimal for me, so I'm glad that my coworkers are fine with me breastfeeding at work. A lot of men are fathers, after all.

Another option is to use an empty office or conference room, if you prefer more privacy. However, I've found that when I'm blasé about breastfeeding, other people are, too. Take advantage of being able to nurse your son at work!

Susan Cooper
Albuquerque NM USA

Mother's Response

How wonderful that you have found a flexible daycare provider who is willing to help you fulfill your special breastfeeding relationship with your son during your lunch break.

I believe the best way to handle your new situation is to tell your coworkers (and especially your supervisor) about your decision to nurse your son at lunch. You might be surprised at how many of your male coworkers have had a wife, sister, sister-in-law, or female friend who was able to arrange the same situation with their daycare provider. And if they haven't, then consider yourself an example on how to do it.

I am also just starting a new job and am fortunate enough to be leaving my nursling daughter with her stay-at-home daddy, who is finishing his master's degree in physics.

So there would be no surprises after I started my new job, I explained that I would need a place to pump when I first sat down with my prospective employer. It turned out that another employee had breastfed her child until the age of three, so there was already a place where I could pump and store my milk. My new manager even said I could use his office to pump, if need be. I was so glad that I brought the subject up right away because the reaction I received was completely supportive.

Good luck and give yourself a big pat on the back for making it to the one-year mark with breastfeeding your son!

Heather Phipps
Washington DC USA

Mother's Response

I went back to work full-time after my oldest son was born and was employed until the birth of my second child about two years later. Although I didn't have a daycare provider who could bring my son to me, I did pump at work until he was about 14 or 15 months old. I know pumping in an office and nursing in an open office environment are two different situations, but perhaps my experience can still help you.

I made a decision before my baby was born that I was going to be public about combining nursing and employment. I felt as though I had a responsibility not only to provide my baby with the best possible start in life, but also to serve as an educator, advocate, and role model for my coworkers.

First, I wrote my boss a letter prior to having my baby and set up a meeting with him. I explained why it was to my company's advantage for me to breastfeed and estimated how much time it would take to pump and leave at lunch to nurse. As a salaried employee, I didn't have to punch in and out on a time clock, but I did clearly articulate how I was planning to get the same amount of work accomplished in spite of these additions to my workday. I also instituted a proactive check-in process so I would know right away if my boss was having any concerns about my productivity. Incidentally, he never had a negative word to say! You might need to add a piece to your discussion about how you can accomplish breastfeeding discreetly and without distracting others. Even though we know breastfeeding is completely non-sexual, people in our culture have trouble viewing breasts as anything but sexual, so your boss may experience some angst about a potential sexual harassment issue if he or she isn't assured you will be discreet.

Next, every time I pumped, I put a funny sign on my door indicating what I was doing and a list of the advantages of breastfeeding in a big font. When someone came to my door, they couldn't help but read about why I was choosing to spend my time pumping. I had countless conversations with my coworkers about the benefits of breastfeeding, how I made nursing and employment work for me, and why I was committed to my choices. I found that the men asked more questions and were often more open than the women. Although my specific solutions might not apply for you, I hope you can take a few things away from my experience:

  • I was relaxed, casual, and open about breastfeeding and pumping. I believe my coworkers took their cues about how to act from my attitude.
  • I prepared myself with research. I found that when people were educated about the scientifically based reasons to nurse, they were more likely to support my choices without feeling that I was avoiding work.
  • I was proactive about addressing people's concerns, especially with my boss. By letting people know how I was planning to handle my fair share in advance, I'd like to think I didn't allow people the opportunity to get bitter about any perceived unfairness.
  • I believed I had a chance to make a difference on a bigger scale. I kept thinking that perhaps colleagues (or their partners) would be inspired to breastfeed because of what I was doing. At the very least, I felt like I was doing my part to make our culture a more breastfeeding aware and breastfeeding-friendly place.

Remember, it's okay to go to your car or any other private spot to nurse, if you prefer. The bottom line is, whether you nurse in the car or in your open office environment, you are giving your son a great gift!

Brenda Carroll
Shawnee KS USA

Mother's Response

I was fortunate enough to work where I have an office with a door, but staff members constantly come in and out to find charts or talk to me. Before I had my son, I made sure that everyone knew that I would be breastfeeding. On the days that my son came in during lunch, I told everyone that they were welcome to come in my office while I was breastfeeding or pumping if they needed something.

I conduct business with sales representatives who often want to schedule appointments to come talk with me. I would tell them I needed to feed my son and they could give me their sales pitch while I did. No one ever declined, so I hope that being matter of fact about it made them more comfortable. If you're straightforward about your plans to breastfeed and wear something that helps you be discreet, most people probably won't even notice when you're nursing!

Jennifer Armstrong
Hermiston OR USA

Mother's Response

Since my husband was laid off from work, I have been employed at a fast food restaurant that is pretty family-friendly. I told my boss when I was hired that I am a breastfeeding mother and need the same lunch time each day so I can nurse my little one at work. He was quite accepting as long as I didn't want to schedule it during a busy time.

I have chosen to nurse in our minivan. Since I'm wearing a uniform, I see myself as a representative of the business. I understand that some people are offended by a 16-month-old breastfeeding.

I normally nurse anywhere, and think nothing of it, often informing rude people about the benefits of breastfeeding. But since this is an employee situation, I choose to be more discreet. If I was nursing only around coworkers, I wouldn't think twice about it.

Most of my coworkers are young, unmarried teens. They ask why my husband comes each day with my 16-month-old and three-year-old. I have had many chances to talk about the benefits of breastfeeding with them, and have also shared what the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics have to say about extended breastfeeding. I've received positive feedback from my coworkers, and I hope I've helped plant the seed for them, as they soon will be coming into the age of marriage and children. Maybe the wife (or future wife) of one of your male coworkers will be supported more in her choice to breastfeed because of your example.

Heather Lamborn-Ponsano
Fair Oaks CA USA

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