A New Mother’s Dilemma: The Challenges Of Returning To Work
Friday, December 9, 2016
Photo by Katie Schoolov
Trish Taylor breast-feeds her baby, Dwayne Taylor III. They call him D3, for short.
Taylor’s living room table is filled with devices and supplements that help her breastfeed successfully.
“I pumped with this last night," Taylor said, pointing to an electronic breast pump. "I take these daily, I drink my tea daily. I pump after every feeding, I weigh him at least once a day to see how he’s growing. These are things that I have to use regularly.”
When new moms return to work, breast-feeding often goes by the wayside. But California has laws aimed at making it easier for working women who nurse.
Taylor also uses disposable nursing pads and creams.
“Of course this stuff isn’t convenient, of course it’s annoying," Taylor said. "Sometimes you want to pull your hair out. But at the end of the day, my son and I are building a really strong bond, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Taylor is on the right track. The agency recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
On average, however, California women aren’t coming close to that goal.
In fact, surveys show the rate of exclusive breast-feeding takes a big dive when babies hit the three-month mark. That’s about the time when many women have to return to work.
Christine Vaughan returned to her job as a public information officer at California State University, San Marcos when her daughter, Kenzie, was 3 1/2 months old.
Kenzie is now 8 months old, and Vaughan is still breastfeeding her.
Vaughan said pumping her milk on the job requires a lot of work.
The night before, she has to clean and pack up her equipment. And she has to remember to bring it to the office the next day.
“And then pumping really begins well before I actually even get to work," Vaughan said. "What’s the last time I fed my daughter in the morning is usually a big indicator of when I’m going to pump when I’m here.”
Vaughan ends up pumping about every two to three hours. Sometimes, she has to juggle her schedule to make it happen.
When it’s time to pump, she grabs her special bag and goes upstairs to a private room.
California law requires employers to provide lactating women a reasonable amount of break time to pump and a private space to do it in.
Nonetheless, it's tough for moms to continue to breastfeed while juggling responsibilities at work.
Things can get even tougher when nursing women travel. Fortunately, California law requires all major airports to have lactation rooms.
San Diego International Airport has three lactation rooms that are tastefully decorated, have comfortable chairs and soft lighting.
"With 20 million passengers coming through every year, the rooms are an important amenity," said Rebecca Bloomfield, the airport's senior public relations specialist.
If it sounds like California is a paradise for working moms who nurse, keep this in mind: employers can refuse to provide pumping breaks and a private space, if they determine it would seriously disrupt their operations.
Dr. Nancy Wight is a neonatologist, and co-founder of the San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition. She said typically it’s the smaller employers that opt out.
“For example, it’s very hard to replace somebody for a 20-minute or a 30-minute break to pump, if you’re on an assembly line," Wight said. "And so, unfortunately, the very women and babies who can most benefit from human milk, are the ones that don’t tend to get it, because it’s too hard to work it into the system.”
And then, there are people who are uncomfortable with women breastfeeding in public.
A recent nationwide survey from the CDC found 13 percent of respondents were against the practice.
“Some people don’t believe it’s natural. They believe it’s nasty," Wight said. "I’ve had congressmen tell me, ‘Well, I don’t pee in public, so why should you breastfeed in public?’ I don’t think the two are equivalent, but I can’t get that across to some people.”
That doesn’t faze Christine Vaughan. She’s planning to breastfeed her daughter, Kenzie, for at least a year.
“The hope would be as a mom, as an employee, that you’re able to reach the goal that you set for yourself," Vaughan said. "I think when moms are unable to do that, it’s very hard. It’s hard because in some way, you almost feel like you’re failing as a mother. And that’s a hard place to be.”
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