Aka what to do when your company hasn’t quite figured out how to accommodate the breastfeeding laws… Plus pictures!
Yesterday I had my first day in the office. It wasn’t quite a full day – I only had one meeting so I left early. I was catching up with a new manager in my team who may well end up being my (sub team) manager. My boss had said don’t bother coming in until we meet on Tuesday, and to work from home, but I said I’d try and meet this new manager as I wanted to use the time wisely and I really don’t have much (any!) work to do at home.
The new manager is a woman (rare in my industry!). I actually interviewed her even though she’s about two grades above me. My boss tends to send me to do the cultural / female interview! As I love my company and so they usually want to work there after I’ve talked with them! (I wasn’t the deciding factor. More of an add on so a woman interviewing wouldn’t see only men!)
Anyway. It was kind of illuminating. For one thing, I got much more of an insight into the company’s stance on pumping for breastfeeding mothers. Turns out nobody has asked for it before! I suppose the law only came in relatively recently.
The Equality Act 2010 states that it is illegal to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers. In practice this means that employers need to provide a room with a lockable door for breastfeeding and ideally with a power socket. It also means people can’t prevent you from feeding in shops and cafés, etc.
Most clients have a suitable space in the shape of a meeting room or a first aid room. But our base office doesn’t. It’s not that fancy an office as we are a client facing business so most people who work at the company are usually out on client site. I had suggested to HR and the office manager that I could use one of the small meeting rooms and they could stick some paper over the window. But there’s no lock on the door…
The HR woman (probably the first HR woman I’ve gotten on with so well!) was super apologetic and said that she’s told my boss they couldn’t accommodate breastfeeding mothers in that office so I should be allowed to work from home! The office manager agreed and she’s seven months pregnant and said she wouldn’t stand for it!
For my meeting, the first meeting in over four months, I had a good catch up with the new manager. She’s in her 50s and has kids and seemed relatively sympathetic. She said I definitely shouldn’t work longer hours than contractual hours, which was refreshing. (Official working hours are 9-5 but nobody ever works this. But I would have to leave at 5 or soon after to get back in time to pick up B from nursery, once he’s there all day.)
The kind of weird thing was that she said she’d gone back at 6 weeks each time she had a baby as she had to, being the main breadwinner*. And she said she didn’t need to pump at work. Apparently her breasts just adjusted and didn’t leak milk or whatever and she fed her kids when she was at home. (*I am too but didn’t feel the need to say this! But it’s the reason I am going back to work instead of being a SAHM which I would love to be.)
Now it’s a fairly recent development but B is kind of showing signs of moving towards reverse cycle feeding. He has a big feed or two at night and less during the day. So I thought in time this might happen, especially as B has been really bottle resistant. (We have tried giving him one small bottle of expressed milk a day and he typically takes 1-2oz under sufferance! And I mean sufferance! Screaming!)
However when I was out yesterday, he ended up taking way more than usual from T via the bottle. Almost 5oz in 3 bottles! When he seems only to snack during the day lately and he always resists the one bottle a day we try to give him, so this was unexpected. I was thinking maybe 1-2oz not almost 5. I don’t know if he was comforting with the bottle but he’s pretty good at self soothing with his thumb now he’s realised where it is!
So to provide for a day like that in expressed milk, I would most likely have to express during the work day. Currently I express in the early evening when I’m at home, but I feed him a little bit during the day so it makes sense that I’d have to pump at least once during the day to provide that for the next day. Today I pumped once at work and once at home. But if I do the pumping when I’m back at work, I would really rather do it at work as I want to spend the time at home re-bonding with my son, not pumping.
I think what this woman was saying was that her kids had formula when she went back to work. This is not what B is used to, and until today he wouldn’t even take more than 2oz under sufferance. I am really reluctant to give him formula given this is the only thing my body managed to get right! It’s all very well this manager woman saying she didn’t need to express milk, but I currently do!
The thing that really annoyed me a bit was apparently she said this to my boss when he asked her, as she’s The Other Woman in the team. (“I didn’t need to express milk so she shouldn’t really need to and so you don’t really need a room for it.” Paraphrase.) Err that’s not how it works, honey! B is exclusively breastfed and he’s drinking/ feeding during the day – so I need to pump. Whether they like it or not. It’s protected by law!
It kind of gets my goat when women are not all sisterhood-like about these things. It does us a disservice when there’s always one woman going “Don’t make allowances for women because I didn’t need them and I was fine!” I mean, she was nice and all but perhaps a bit old school in that way of showing how kick ass she is, how she didn’t need breastfeeding laws and whatnot. I appreciate previous generations had it harder, but why should we not want positive change?
My boss – who I’ve always adored in a work way and get on really well with – is apparently really stressed in general due to our targets and reorganisation and is really p*ssed off that this is one more thing that needs to be accommodated, and that our office doesn’t have the facility. (Now since I’ve been away four months they’ve built a whole new canteen so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect one small locking private room with power source!) It was definitely a bit demoralising to hear he’s not happy although the manager lady and HR assured me it’s not personal and he still likes me.
I felt a bit upset as I was kind of a bit of teacher’s pet before I left and I don’t really want that to change! I feel like I’ve made a massive effort coming back so soon (most women here take a year) and they didn’t pay me for maternity leave so the least they could do is appreciate my effort! So I have to wait and see what he has in mind for me to work on, when we meet on Tuesday. We shall see.
Anyway, I figured since I had brought all my pumping stuff I should give it a go. They had no room so I went in the disabled bathroom. I felt like I was well prepared with all my pumping gear and no idea!
Turns out that it is pretty horrible to pump in the disabled loo… Having done it once, I can totally see why HR didn’t recommend it. It was really difficult and it made me realise how much you depend on oxytocin and feeling relaxed to get the milk flowing! Suffice to say standing around in the disabled loo is not conducive to those warm smushy feelings!
Anyway, without further ado I give you: My day in pictures! This captures the full horror of pumping in the disabled bathroom… An experience I’d rather not repeat!
I left Baby B sleeping after feeding, around 08:00. You can see Tiger from our babymoon in the corner of his cot. It felt so hard to leave him. His little chubby legs!
My work outfit. It’s a Friday so I wore jeans! I’m a bit bad in that I often wear black jeans because I kinda think they just look like trousers anyway. My Sarah Wells pumping bag is in the bottom left corner. Check out the disabled loo! It’s nice and big but…
My Sarah Wells bag contains the Pumparoo (which you buy separately). If there is one thing I’d recommend pumping mums get, it’s the Pumparoo. Quite aside from the fact it’s in one of my favourite naval motifs, it is super handy for occasions just like this. It is a fabric bag which has a large waterproof zipped compartment and a smaller zipped compartment, plus a clip on/off “staging mat” (see next pic) and it folds up small when not in use. The idea is you can put your used pump parts in the office fridge in between pump sessions and you don’t need to sterilise more than once a day.
The staging mat clips off the side with poppers and has one waterproof side. It means you have a clean surface to put your pump parts on. Believe me if you’re in a public bathroom you need this!
At home I am very relaxed and I don’t have any issue getting milk out most of the time. At work, people were waking past and there was lots of noise and it took ages to get half of what I usually get. I tend to get 8-10oz in 15 min and at work I did 4.5oz in half an hour. It was a bit demoralising. But also I don’t know if my body’s used to making milk in the evening which is when I usually pump. So maybe I’m not used to milk making at lunchtime! B usually eats just little snacks during the day.
It wasn’t much fun during this time as initially nothing was coming out and also people were making loads of noise outside the bathroom. I kept wondering if someone would be rattling the door handle trying to get in or wondering if I was depriving an actual disabled person from using the bathroom. (There aren’t any in our office as far as I know.)
It was pretty difficult and uncomfortable in the end. The disabled loo has no seat so I had to perch on the edge of the toilet seat, or stand up. I could hear people going past and it just didn’t get me in the zone. I kept worrying someone would come in. Turns out having a lock is important! But also knowing someone won’t try to get in is also important!
Anyone who has breastfed or pumped knows that you have to release oxytocin (“the love hormone”) to release the milk. When you’re with your baby, you naturally release it. When you’re pumping, you need to think of your baby. The pump bag even has a little pocket to put a picture of your baby in for that very purpose.
When I left home that morning – I realised I’d forgotten the blasted ice blocks! The Sarah Wells pump bag has a section that is separate from the rest of the bag which acts as a cool bag.
So what was I to do with all my hard earned milk?
Well, my office provides free soft drinks…