What Can Workplaces Do To Make Pumping At Work Easier For Mums?

Credit: Getty

Despite there being a recent rise in exclusively breastfed newborns, these numbers drastically drop once babies reach the age of six months. There are many reasons for this – such as insufficient milk supply – but for working mums who have to express milk at work in order to sustain milk production, the lack of nursing or lactation facilities can put them off the task. 

When employers do provide the right support, however, the benefits far outweigh the cost of setting up such facilities. According to the Employer’s Guide to Breastfeeding at the Workplace, this includes a decrease in absenteeism and staff turnover and improved employee morale. Simply put, employees are more loyal to companies with family-friendly policies that enable work-life harmony. 

We spoke to four working mothers about their experience with expressing milk at work, and the sentiments are true. Here are some ways employers can create a welcoming and conducive place for their breastfeeding employees. 

Provide a clean, safe nursing room

Provide a clean, safe nursing room
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Surprisingly, many companies fail to provide the most basic necessity for breastfeeding mums: a clean and comfortable space to pump in.

“In my company, it was not made known to new mothers if there was a room to pump in so we had to look for suitable spaces on our own. I made do with the store room, which became increasingly uncomfortable over time,” says Mary, who works in a leisure and hospitality company.

Even by the time her second kid came along, her company still had not made arrangements despite knowing there were several mothers who pumped at work. 

But just turning any ol’ room into a nursing or lactation room is not the way, either. Pumping itself requires quite an extensive set-up – what with the wires, bottles, and storage bags that a mum needs before, during and after a session – so a conducive nursing room should at least come with the following items:

  • A lock, for privacy
  • A comfortable chair to sit in
  • A decent-sized table that can accommodate all her items
  • Some power points for plugging in electric pumps
  • Tissues, disinfectants, hand sanitiser 
  • A mirror, so she can get ready to return to her desk
  • In-room, or nearby access to, a sink, fridge, and water cooler

Take steps to understand the frustrations of pumping mothers 

Take steps to understand the frustrations of pumping mothers 
Credit: Getty

Breast pumps – and the various items one needs for each pumping session – not only take up a lot of space, they can get quite heavy to lug to and from the desk and the nursing room.

Athirah, a mother of two who works in the healthcare industry, faced several challenges when she was breastfeeding her first child. “I worked in a medical lab, where we needed to maintain a sterile environment and wear medical coats. As there were no nursing rooms, and neither portable pumps nor nursing covers were appropriate, I could only pump in a conference room using my bulky pump. Furthermore, I could only properly wash and sterilise them once I reached home,” she shares. 

Syahidah, who is a preschool teacher, used to store her milk in the school’s freezer. However, this was actually against company rules. On days she could not access the freezer, she had to bring along a cooler bag containing the milk she had pumped for the day for each subsequent pump.

Thankfully, there are some companies who not only understand these frustrations but also provide solutions to them. 

JY, a creative who works in a local tech firm, counts herself lucky to be working in a company that provides a well-equipped Mother’s Room. 

Take steps to understand the frustrations of pumping mothers 
Credit: Getty

“Although the room was relatively small, it was still equipped with a sink, refrigerator, lockers for our belongings [which is especially helpful for those who keep a set of breast pumps at work], and two cubicles that were separated by curtains for privacy. Each cubicle is set up with wet wipes and tissues, too,“ she shares.

“It really shows that the company cares about their employees,” adds JY. 

To save their employees the hassle, some companies also go so far as providing sterilisers that are suitable for all types of milk bottles, disposable milk bags, and company-purchased breast pumps. 

Offer flexible break times and working arrangements

According to the women we spoke to, while most bosses and colleagues do not stop or discourage pumping at work, more could be done to understand and accommodate its processes or routines. 

Offer flexible break times and working arrangements
Credit: Getty

“As a pre-school teacher, my job is to keep an eye on the toddlers at all times. Although it helped that I used portable pumps and didn’t need to leave class for each pumping session, I could sense my colleagues were not happy whenever I left to wash, store and pack my items. They would say things like, ‘How can you leave your teaching partner to manage 16 kids alone?’. I do understand their point of view, but it puts me in a tight spot because these routines are unavoidable,” shares Syahidah.

Athirah also faced similar work-related challenges. “Pumping in the lab would compromise the integrity of my samples, so I could only leave during lunch time – which is often at odd hours like 2pm or 3pm. This meant I could pump only every eight hours (instead of the usual two to four hour intervals) and had to stay engorged while waiting. Eventually, this caused my milk supply to drop drastically.”

Although Athirah understands the nature of her job, she felt that her boss made matters worse by not empathising with her situation nor offering arrangements that would make her more comfortable. 

“I know that if she wanted to, she could have allowed me to split my work with colleagues or offered adjustments to the working hours. She did not speak to me about it at all and left me to manage it on my own. I felt uncomfortable with asking for help,” says Athirah, who eventually found a new job in a healthier work environment.

During her second pregnancy, which took place in her new and current job, her boss suggested she focus on paperwork instead of lab work, and also fairly re-assigned some workload. 

Speak to employees who are working mums

If employers or people in positions to affect change (HR folks, we’re looking at you) are serious about creating a more supportive work environment, start by talking to working mums – even those who are no longer breastfeeding! 

After all, every company, industry and office operates differently. These working mums probably already have ideas for policies that benefit both employer and employee, and to make the office a more inclusive space for all. Engage them in conversation and show that you value their input by putting their suggestions into action.