The #MeToo hashtag has given collective weight and networked visibility to the unspoken underside of women’s workplace experiences. In fact, 60% of American women have experienced sexual harassment, and most of that harassment happens at work. We’re now witnessing a sea change that’s challenging--and changing--outdated assumptions and expectations about behavior in the workplace, as well as the culture of a workplace. Indeed, the #TimesUp movement is about shining a bright light into the many dark corners of women’s experiences in the workplace. It’s also initiating an important conversation about how we need to improve structures of support for all women.
Women make up almost half of the American workforce, yet far too many workspaces are not designed to support the physical realities of female employees—especially those of breastfeeding mothers--and thus are not fully inclusive. As a result of longstanding assumptions about who workers are and what their bodies need, too many breastfeeding mothers are still having to make-do with makeshift pumping accommodations at work.
The benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and mothers are well-documented. Both The American Academy of Pediatrics and The World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, and longer if circumstances allow. As a result, breastfeeding initiation rates in the U.S. have risen to over 80%. Unfortunately, however, they plummet to 44% by three months, and by six months, only 25% of new moms are able to continue breastfeeding. Without a structure of support that includes paid family leave, a clear lactation policy, and a dedicated lactation space to express milk at work, meeting the breastfeeding recommendations is simply untenable for the majority of American working mothers.
Supporting mothers is clearly a workplace issue, but it’s also a social justice issue. Access to appropriate lactation accommodations is often not an impediment for higher-income women--many of whom have flexible schedules, longer maternity leave, or private offices--but it is a very real structural impediment for the many women who work in retail, factories, service industries, and private businesses.
The stories of working mothers pumping in break rooms, storage closets, dirty bathrooms, and parked cars could fill a library. Women are now speaking their truth and sharing their experiences. Raising awareness and educating society about what women need in the workplace is the first crucial step, but the next step is on all of us and that’s to change workplace culture and assumptions.
Let’s ensure that all breastfeeding women--regardless of race, geography, religion, sexual orientation, job title, or occupation--can meet their breastfeeding goals by having a clean, private, and dignified space to pump. To empower mamas to find lactation spaces wherever they go, we’ve created a free mobile app that lists over 1500 mama-approved pump-friendly locations around the country.