Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Working Smarter

Yesterday, the Oregon Senate passed a law to support breastfeeding in the workplace. In short, the bill "The bill requires employers of 25 or more employees to provide a mother unpaid time and a private place to express milk every four hours during the work day." The bill does provide an exception for the business if an undue hardship would be placed upon the business. This law now brings the number of states that have laws regarding nursing mothers in the workplace to 13! Kudos to Oregon!

I cannot speak to personal experience with juggling the workplace and breastfeeding needs, other than as a sideline observer. It always horrified me when mothers had to pump in the restroom, though. That was just wrong - I knew that much. I worked for employers that seemed generally supportive of it. However, in my observations, it wasn't the employers who were the problem, but rather, the employees. Over the years, time and time again, I have seen working mothers go back to work and get sucked into a maelstrom of meetings and projects. I've seen mothers attempt to schedule consistent time frames for pumping only to have co-workers schedule a meeting knowing there was a conflict (a common practice for everyone at a particular Giant Corporate Telecom in the Kansas City area). Part of this is simply logistics - when you are trying to assemble a meeting of 6 or more folks, sometimes, the person scheduling the meeting has to go with the time slot that works for the majority of the folks.

I think the most common lack of knowledge amongst the coworkers is that they don't understand that a mother HAS to pump on a fairly consistent schedule or her milk supply may suffer (I've had this similar misunderstanding on the part of non-breastfeeding friends who didn't understand that because of engorgement it is physically painful for me to be away from my child for 4 hours - even when my son was past newborn stage.) The general rule of thumb seems to be that for every feeding your child has while away from you, there needs to be a pumping. Sure, a mother has some flexibility with this and could pump in the evening or early hours before she goes to work, but regardless, there would need to be a least a pumping or two during work hours.

Hopefully, laws such as the one Oregon just passed will continue to be the norm and there will be more education and understanding on the part of employers AND employees. Besides, in all my years of working, I never, ever knew a cigarette smoker to go without their nicotine fix. Surely, time can be carved out for nursing mothers.

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