Category: breastfeeding

Adventures in Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of those issues that quickly polarizes people. I just learned of a woman complaining that Target employees harassed her for breastfeeding in the store, and mom’s everywhere staged nurse-ins in response. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if she was actually out of the way, covered up, or if the employees were rude as she claims. I don’t know if maybe during the Christmas rush, with customers running around everywhere, she might have inadvertently been in the way of customers or tired employees just trying to get their jobs done and get home to their families. Or maybe she was just one of those people itching to start a fight and plopped herself down in the way on purpose, hoping someone would say something. Only those involved know. One thing we do know from the story is that she was offered a place to nurse in private and opted not to do so. Some people argue that breastfeeding is perfectly natural and should not be hidden. Others argue it is gross or at least shouldn’t be done in public. And thus the two sides of the ongoing argument. Should someone who does not have children, doesn’t agree with or feels uncomfortable with breastfeeding have to see it in public? Should a mom just trying to feed her baby have to hide? Here is what it breaks down to:

1. Breastfeeding is natural, healthy for mother and child and cheaper than buying formula.

2. Some people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding.

3. Those breastfeeding need a clean, safe environment to nurse in.

Let’s look at point three:

The woman in the story complained that she shouldn’t have to hide in some bathroom. That is actually not an issue in this case, since she was offered a fitting room to sit down in. As someone who was forced to pump in a bathroom at my job when my first son was born, I can tell you there is a difference. I was forced to use the bathroom, with other people doing their business in the next stall, because my boss (who was female and had children) thought that was the appropriate place to do it. When someone complained to HR, they finally offered me empty offices to use. I was later told I had to use the restroom instead of the kitchen to clean my pump pieces and bottles, since people were complaining I took up too much space in the kitchen the few minutes a day I was in there cleaning everything. That was the excuse I was given. Of course, they didn’t really know what to do with me, since only two other people in that company had ever breastfed (an issue I will re-address shortly).

By contrast, a fitting room is much cleaner than a restroom, it offers more privacy, the lighting is not as harsh as one would experience sitting out in the middle of a store, you could feed your child without having to cover up, so you can actually share eye contact and make it a more enjoyable bonding experience, you aren’t in people’s way, and you don’t have sick people walking around coughing on you and exposing your child to illnesses. I’m not saying every mom should run and hide in a fitting room, but in this case I really do not see the down side.

Point two:

Some people, even breastfeeding mom’s can be a little uncomfortable with exposure and public nursing. I pump to breastfeed my son, but I don’t feel comfortable doing so in front of friends and family. If someone is over and I need to pump, I put on a shawl or go in another room. If I’m at a party, I ask for a spare room I can use. Even when I tried to nurse at the hospital when my son was born, I was offered privacy screens just like every other mom in the NICU. The fact is, most women want some privacy. If breastfeeding moms want privacy, why is it so difficult to understand how non-breastfeeding moms, or single men or women may feel uncomfortable about it?

This brings me to point one:

If breastfeeding is natural, been done for thousands of years and millions of women do it every day, why are we all so uncomfortable  or shy about it? Consider these facts; Most of us are formula fed. Now, I don’t have any statistics to back up this statement, and I’m sure the numbers vary depending on where you grew up, but going off my own personal experience, I don’t think I know a single person over twenty-five or thirty who was breastfed for more than a month, if that. The advent of decent formula, coupled with more women in the workforce, left a couple of generations of people with little to no exposure to breastfeeding. Is it any wonder many of us who do try are embarrassed, have problems picking it up, struggle with low milk production, etc? A hundred years ago, a girl would learn breastfeeding from her mom. Every mother she knew would be an expert who could answer questions, give instruction or help with problems like mastitis and low milk production. I had a couple of lactation nurses at the hospital who helped me for the few days I was at the hospital right after my son was born. Other than that, I am on my own. Many moms don’t even have that support. So we are all re-learning something our ancestors took for granted. For those of us with no support system and no prior exposure to breastfeeding, having a child is the first time in our lives where we are told to view our breasts as something non-sexual. We do not live in some European country like Spain or in some isolated National Geographic tribe where women walk around topless. For the most part, breasts are considered sexual here. We are told repeatedly in childhood and adolescence to cover up. Then all of a sudden we have children and we are told we should feel comfortable exposing our breasts to breastfeed. It can leave a lot of conflicted feelings. When girls had babies from puberty to menopause, breasts were always for breastfeeding. But now, women are waiting until later to have children, having fewer children or none at all, and we live in a society that rates a woman’s attractiveness based on her cup size.

We are left with a general public who is a little uncomfortable with or completely grossed out by breastfeeding and a generation of shy, defensive breastfeeding moms angrily pushing it in everyone’s face as we over react to our own insecurities and conflicted emotions. Now, before I get a lot of angry responses, let me add that of course not every breastfeeding mom falls into this category and we should not be afraid to insist on certain rights when feeding our children. But I think we are lying to ourselves and not helping anyone if we pretend these issues aren’t at the heart of many breastfeeding conflicts. So where does that leave us? The public pretends they are okay with breastfeeding to avoid lawsuits and moms become political pawns, fighting over the right to offend people instead of focusing on what breastfeeding is all about, the bond between the mother and child. If  you are all focused on people’s reactions to your breastfeeding, you aren’t focusing on the child and bonding with that child. Everyone needs to exercise a little common courtesy. Don’t strike out to catch people or look for a fight. When I go to a party, I don’t pull it out and start pumping in the middle of the living room. I ask for a room where I can go and pump in private. I know nursing mothers who do the same to nurse their children. Yes, you do miss a little conversation or some excitement, but that is the price you pay for wanting to breastfeed. You have to ask yourself what is more important, that you heard some gossip or spent time with your child. Why should you force other people to be uncomfortable because of a choice you made to breastfeed. And if there isn’t a private room, or you can’t get away, at least use a shawl to cover up unless you are with someone you know isn’t uncomfortable with breastfeeding. And to everyone else, breastfeeding isn’t icky or gross. It is a natural thing, so try to keep that in mind. If you are offended or uncomfortable, ask if the mom wouldn’t mind covering up, but do it nicely. It took up a couple of generations to forget how to breastfeed. It will take some time to relearn this skill.

-A.D. McLain


Inequality in the Workplace

I’ve often heard there is inequality in the workplace, and that is absolutely true, but the kind of inequality that actually exists may surprise you. There are complaints of glass ceilings, lower pay and discrimination for women, etc. And that may exist in certain instances, but the real inequality exists for men. Think about all the allowances that businesses are required to make to women, particularly during pregnancy and the post-natal time period. First, during pregnancy women often get morning sickness, suffer back pain, swollen feet, etc., not to mention they are prone to other complications, can suddenly go on bed rest with no notice, are unable to lift or push heavy objects, use ladders, and have to take a large number of breaks to rest, eat and use the restroom. They also have to go to very frequent doctor appointments and leave their job from as few as 6 weeks to several months or more once the baby is born. An employer never knows if they will actually return to work, so they do not know if they should look for a permanent replacement or a temp. Women often keep their actual plans a secret to avoid losing health insurance benefits. In either case, employers must spend time and money on training, drug tests, background screenings and interviews. A lot to go through, and very costly. This is on top of the lack of productivity from a pregnant woman who doesn’t feel a hundred percent and has many other things on her mind. But assuming the woman returns to work, it can get even worse. If the woman decides to breastfeed (a completely legitimate choice that helps the mother and the child and is deeply rewarding), the employer must suffer even more. In almost every profession, the employer must accommodate the breastfeeding mother. This requires giving her time and a place to pump during work. Let’s break that down for a minute. It takes 15-20 minutes to pump to get to the hind milk that is needed for the baby. Assuming a few minutes for set up and a few minutes to clean up, you are looking at about a 30 minute break every three hours. If you go to work from 9 to 5:30 with a thirty minute lunch, your schedule could be as follows: Work an hour, take a thirty minute break to pump. Work an hour, take a thirty minute lunch. Work one and half hours, take a thirty minute break to pump. Work 2 hours, pump, work and hour, go home.You get paid for 8 hours. You work 6 and half hours. And that is assuming you actually work that entire time. Most people have a warming up period after a break where they have to get their minds back into work. And that doesn’t count any breaks to talk with co-workers, get coffee or water, use the restroom, etc. The employer must have someone else to cover the time she is pumping, and they must provide somewhere to pump. If this happens to be a break room with kitchen, well any other employee is just out of luck if they need anything in that room while she is pumping. Other employees must move their lunch plans around to accommodate the breastfeeding mom. And what if there is a meeting scheduled when she needs to pump? It can be a very big deal, depending on the workplace. Imagine if a man were to ask for that many breaks during the day. He would be laughed out of his job and replaced with someone who actually wanted to work. Don’t think for a moment I am disregarding the amount of work a mother puts into taking care of her family and home, on top of a job out of the house. I do not imply that any new mom is lazy or doesn’t want to work or do her job. I am simply saying that good intentions aside, a breastfeeding mother is a costly inconvenience to any business.
I am not suggesting that businesses should not make accommodations for breastfeeding mothers. I am myself a breastfeeding mom who puts my own boss through these same inconveniences. I do it for my son, so that he can get the best and be as healthy as possible. But I’m not stupid enough to think that it is fair on the other employees. I can’t imagine any business wanting to put up with any of that. But if they say anything, they are sued for discrimination and treated like the bad guy. It is a wonder any businesses even hire women between the age of 20 and 40. And that isn’t enough. We want more. We want more money, more benefits, more everything. We claim we aren’t treated fairly. Well, fair is a relative term. Life isn’t fair and all I can say is thank God I’m a women, because I could not do what my husband does. I could not put up with the months of extensive overtime, long hours, no vacation, standing all day in the heat/freezing cold, on concrete floors with back pain, neck pain, foot pain, and no sleep, watching my wife bond with our children while I am forced to work for her to stay home, never getting that same opportunity to bond with our children one on one, never getting to even take a break to welcome them home, since maternity leave puts us one paycheck short. We run on the same sleep deprivation from late night feedings, but he does not get a break to rest. He does not get a break to do anything. All the while, women complain about those evil men in the workplace who get paid more. Guess what, they deserve it. Not all of them. Sure, there are some women who deserve more pay, just as there are some men who deserve much more pay than they receive. That’s just the way life is. Truth be told, if we all stopped worrying about some imaginary glass ceiling and wanting to get the bad guy big business who just wants to stick it to women, and started worrying about what was most important (family and being with our children) things would be much better. If women could afford to stay home longer with their children, if we didn’t have to all work two jobs just to survive, it would solve a lot of problems. Think about it. If women could afford to leave work during difficult pregnancies and stay out of work long enough to finish breastfeeding, they could feel free to inform their employers of their plans with enough notice to allow them to make plans, hire their replacement and train said replacement. They would not have to deal with all the doctor appointments, breastfeeding at the workplace, etc. Husbands would not have to work their fingers to the bone to make up the lost pay and could afford to take their vacations to be with their little babies and children more. Moms wouldn’t be stressed about wanting to be home, feeling guilt over leaving her baby and looking for ways to make it right. Wouldn’t it be a much better place if we could all just be honest about what we really want and stop playing around? Mothers should not feel guilty about wanting to be a mom and stay home with their children. We aren’t less of women or betraying those who fought for equal rights when we want to be a mother. Women fought for the right to give us a choice and somehow took one from us. Instead of being forced to be a mom, we are now forced out of motherhood. I’ve met many career minded women who did not even understand wanting to stay home with their children unless one had too many children to afford childcare. To them, it was only something you wanted to do for financial reasons. What has happened to us that women have lost that bond with their children? Instead of being raised by loving parents, our children are raised by day cares and schools. We are fighting for the wrong thing. Instead of fighting for equal pay and rights at work, we should be fighting for our right to be mothers again. We should stop trying to force ourselves down employers throats and be an inconvenience to everyone and start trying to take care of our families.

-A.D. McLain