Parenting

The Mother of all Office Dramas: Breastfeeding?

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When I had Ari six years ago, I left full-time work to become a freelancer instead. Probably the biggest factor to go into my decision was work-life balance. I was unsure how I was supposed to fit a baby in my schedule with a job that included unpredictable work hours, a commute, and zero flextime. With a better paid husband who worked hectic hours himself, and no family in the area, me quitting my job was the best decision for our family.

But I admit, a part of me was also relieved because when it was time to return to work I still did not have a good grasp on nursing, and was unsure of when and where to pump to continue giving my baby breastmilk. While I have known amazing moms who have gone beyond the call of duty to balance work with nursing -- probably the craziest story I have heard is the mother of twins pumping in an airplane stall -- it also sounded like a nightmare.

I was glad to read this Bloomberg Businessweek story about workplaces becoming more accommodating to nursing mothers. But I thought it was shameful that some jobs still only give a bathroom stall for mothers to pump, or even worse, fire them for taking off any time to express milk.

Stories of business lunch leakage and pump-room run-ins may seem like scenes from a Judd Apatow comedy, but chances are, whether you work at a fast-food chain or a Fortune 500 company, you'll have a run-in with the realities of workplace lactation.

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This is true now more than ever because the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama in March requires employers to provide breastfeeding employees with "reasonable break time" and a private place — not the ladies' room — to express breast milk during the workday until a child's first birthday. However helpful, the law is too late to benefit many, including LaNisa Allen of West Chester, Ohio, who was fired from her job at a Totes-Isotoner warehouse a few years ago for taking an unscheduled break to relieve her engorged breasts. (Her bosses denied her permission.)

In 2009, Allen's case reached the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled against her. Like many nursing moms who have faced discrimination, Laura Walker, a waitress at a Red Lobster in Evansville, Ind., opted to keep her travails out of court. Her hours were reduced after she presented a nurse's note explaining her need to pump. (It got worse when her manager shook milk containers like maracas, saying they were for her.) Walker ended up in the hospital with mastitis from clogged ducts, and filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission. She reached a confidential settlement with the company in 2006.

By the way, a third of large corporations now have lactation rooms. It will be a good day when this becomes the norm and not the exception.

Does your office have a special place for nursing mothers? How did you balance nursing with work?