The Truth About Pumping at Work: What I Wish My Colleagues Knew

Me, setting up for a pumping/working session at the office

When I first came back to work after maternity leave, I had a really nice and well-meaning colleague pull me aside and whisper:

“I’m not sure if you know this, but the pumping appointments on your calendar aren’t private.”
My daily “Pump” appointment

Um… Of course they’re not. I was surprised but quickly learned that pumping, nursing is often a term whispered, not spoken, and feels very much like a taboo subject with a bunch of misconceptions.

For me, pumping is a big part of how I choose to parent. It isn’t the case for everyone, of course, and we have to stop mom-shaming people who don’t breastfeed, but it is my choice. Here’s what I wish my colleagues knew about that choice.

The little one that I’m doing all this pumping for

1) It’s not a dirty word or a women-only topic.

So many people I talk to seem to be unsure about the word in general. I can see them thinking: “She said pumping. Does that mean I can say it, too?” Or, I mention pumping and people look away, get uncomfortable or abruptly change the subject. The worst is when I get a look that clearly says that I’m taking about something that is just for women and I shouldn’t be taking about it in a work setting. It’s the look that says pumping belongs in a 1950s sewing circle along with some outdated ads from Good Housekeeping about how to be a good wife.

It’s not a women-only topic, it’s not dirty word, and I’m not ashamed of it. You can even ask me about it. Really! For me, it’s just an every day part of being a mom.

2) I can pump and take a call at the same time. Trust me on this.

Pumping while taking a video call with one of my awesome colleagues

Yes, I can pump and work. I couldn’t do this right away, but I can now. Please don’t question my choice here or pass judgement about how I should be spending this time. Just take my word for it that I know my own body and my own mind well enough to make that call. If I say that yes, I can take that call or work on that project while I pump, then I can.

I don’t need you to move the meeting to another time. I don’t need you to shut off video (I’ll just be there from the neck up) and yes, I’ll mute when I’m not speaking to spare everyone the background noise. At, least until the Willow Pump hits the market.

3) I can’t really move my pumping schedule.

As any parent knows, your schedule is sacred. As 
Meghan Keaney Anderson wrote in her recent medium post,

“The most resounding thing I heard from other parents on returning to work had to do with developing near ninja-level skills when it comes to scheduling.”

Sure, I can shift things by 1/2 hour here or there or get it done in 15–20 minutes if I really have to, but there is a limit to my flexibility on this one. I do make my pumping slots 45–60 minutes, even though I only need about 30–40. Because meetings run over, people run late, they stop you in the hallway, stuff happens. But I absolutely can’t miss a pumping slot. It’s a biological function that has to happen every 3–4 hours. So just like you need to take a break to use the bathroom during the day, yes, I need to pump.

Let’s raise our voices.

I realize that as I write this, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m part of a small group of fortunate moms who work at companies that understand and support nursing, have proper rooms and flexible schedules. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to say things like — a bathroom isn’t a proper place to pump. After all, would you want your food prepared in a bathroom?

Even so, we can do better. Let’s stop whispering about pumping, nursing and (heaven forbid) breastfeeding, trust our working moms to work while they pump and respect the schedule. And most of all, let’s move toward an environment where people don’t even think twice about seeing pumping on someone’s google calendar.