Health 01 May 2019
Women are a force in almost every industry. Working moms account for 47% of all workers and more notably, the fastest growing workforce segment includes women with children under the age of three. So, making sure that working moms understand their rights in the workplace is critical.
Many of you have probably seen recent lawsuits alleging that working moms are forced to pump in “deplorable" conditions. From police departments to fast food restaurants, the increase in working moms who are breastfeeding is forcing the conversation around how businesses can best support moms when they return to work; whether that be in a corporate setting or even in a male-dominated industry.
It's a conversation that is long overdue, and worth our attention. Many of the women who are now speaking up are either in the workplace, or planning to return to work after maternity leave, and are dealing with a lack of necessary support from managers and colleagues to successfully continue breastfeeding. Additionally, many companies may be unaware of the laws that protect moms, do not have clear company policies, or simply do not know how to start a dialogue with their lactating or expectant moms.
Recently, Aeroflow Breastpumps commissioned a third-party survey to see how expectant moms were feeling about returning to work. The results were surprising to some, but probably not to the moms who are living them every day:
- Over 75% of moms said they plan to return to work after having a baby
- 53% say that their place of employment either does not have a lactation room, has a room that is not adequate, or are not sure if a space exists
- Over 62% of expectant moms think there is a stigma attached to moms who breastfeed at work
- 49% are concerned that breastfeeding at work could impact their career growth
- 47% have considered a career change because of their need to breast pump at work
- And almost 35% have had a negative interaction with a co-worker because of breastfeeding/pumping
Break Time for Nursing Mothers
The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child whenever they need for one year after the child's birth. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. The break time requirement became effective when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010.
Additionally, eligible mothers are to be provided with at least twelve weeks of unpaid maternity leave with no repercussions. This is a substantial amount of time for mothers to heal and bond with their newborns, considering that it takes an average of six weeks to physically recover from giving birth.
Breastfeeding In The Blue Collar And Service Industries
There is a common misconception that these benefits and protections only apply to corporate environments, but moms in blue-collar and service industries deserve support as well, sometimes even more given the additional challenges.
Many moms in physically demanding positions struggle to find time to take breast pumping breaks during their shifts. During an eight-hour day, moms will need to pump two to three times, possibly more during longer shifts.
Waitresses are often too busy handling multiple tables to suddenly stop for a pumping break, and policewomen are often traveling in the field. These mothers are simply unaware of when and where they will be able to pump,partly due to the fact that many businesses still have not provided nursing mothers with an adequate lactation room. These factors can make it easy for mom to give up on her breastfeeding goals, but there are many ways employers can help.
Ways To Support Breastfeeding Moms
1. Start the conversation and have a clear policy in place. This sounds simple, but it's amazing how many companies do not take this simple first step. When managers lead by example and show the rest of their team that they support their moms, it will affect the entire company's perception and attitude.
2. Be informed. Take the time to educate yourself on the laws in place, how they apply to your company and why breastfeeding is good for moms, babies and employers.
3. Ask moms what they need to maintain a comfortable pumping schedule and work with them to accommodate these needs. Involve your team to help cover the workload during breaks. Moms don't need more than 20 minutes, and can help cover tasks when other employees are busy.
4. Create a space for them to breast pump. Find an unused office or room to easily convert, even on a construction site. Outfit it with a chair to relax in, a surface to place their breast pump and accessories, and a mini fridge for milk storage. An area with a water source nearby is best, for hand washing. If absolutely no space is available, consider other options, such as a popup tent.
5. If your working mom is out in the field, allow them to come back to the office or station to breast pump. You can also use the pumpspotting app to find lactation rooms conveniently located along their routes.
It's Time To Start Supporting Breastfeeding Moms
As businesses face a more competitive recruiting landscape, a family-centric and supportive plan will serve as an advantage to skilled job seekers, while engaging and retaining existing employees. Not only is it good for both mom and employer, it's also, in many instances, a mother's right to have these benefits.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019