Embracing the pump at work as a new mom

Last night the almost 3 yo finally managed to throw up most of his cold phlegm at 11.30 pm when he was almost falling asleep. This, was on the bed.

In the process of cleaning up the sheets and washing vomit off the clothes and changing everything up, I lost what little sleep may have reached out to me, and so I reached for the phone. Have you watched ‘Workin’ Moms’ on Netflix?

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The first thing I connected with was ALL.THE.PUMPING. If you are /were a working woman when you had your kids you probably will connect with it too. See, I pumped for both my kids, the first one less because I joined work when he was 4.5 months old and we soon started solids so I only had to pump at night and once in the morning and usually there was enough to last the interim hours.

When my 2nd came along it was a completely different story. In the three years between the two pregnancies I had taken on more responsibility at work, which meant I went back in 3.5 months after S. It also meant I ended up spending more hours at work so needed more milk at home so the baby could have enough. For the four months I spent at work after S came along I think I pumped 20% of the time. I used a manual pump which is hard to begin with, but over time and practice I managed 120 ml per session. All while taking calls, doing phone meetings or reviewing papers because you can’t put work on hold.

When I was planning my return to work after maternity, I mailed HR in my very large company, with many offices about needing a room to pump in. I didn’t hear back for over a day, I sent a reminder, they called.  We didn’t have a specific room, it was a new request, nobody had asked for it yet so they didn’t know how to work it out. Even if they gave me a room I can’t store the milk, because no fridge. We discussed and I had to agree for the ladies ‘sick room’ which had two bunk beds and I couldn’t lock it.

I would essentially use a blanket to create a make shift curtain on the lower bunk and pump inside while also taking calls (and muting while pumping). I could hear other women come in and stop for a sec before using the other bed, I would leave in 15 or so minutes and I knew they were wondering what was going on. As did the security who held the keys to the room. Then at lunch (luckily I lived 15 minutes from my work place) I would rush home to feed the baby and leave the pumped milk. Now I have to tell you that the ecosystem that came together to help me pump while at work was admin, HR and security where men and women although curious managed to help me create this space and it was done so well, especially the security guys for the keys and the ones that had to let me pass without scan because I had milk in my bags.

At one point I had a client meeting that began early and I was farther from home, so I pumped on a gurney in a hospital room which was the only one available in that office location. The husband drove 1 hour in peak traffic to come and collect the milk, I had to run/walk 20 minutes to get to him. I came back to have to join clients at a work lunch (I’d had leaks) luckily I was in a saree.

Unfortunately 3 months into this I had to hit pause on my career for various personal reasons. Then, a week before my last day at work I got an email from HR saying, as a first they were launching a pumping room for new mothers which had all essentials including a refrigerator to store the milk. I am going to put that down as a big career win as a woman for me and the team that rallied in support.

In India, the pumping conversation is not very open, I think we need more organizations to open up for new mothers and their needs. More moms can explore these options as a way to continue to breastfeed even after joining work. If you are a new mother, speak to your organization about giving you space to pump, if you are an HR try to create a designated space for new mothers. It’s a very important aspect to having new mothers join back work and still provide what their babies need.

If you have any pumping stories, let me know in comments below.

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