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Making It Work

Dealing with Unsupportive Co-Workers

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 2, March-April 2002, p. 58

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I’m working full time and breastfeeding my four-month-old. My workplace is less than supportive. My co-workers simply don’t understand why I need to take breaks to pump or breastfeed my baby when the sitter brings her in. They think I’m slacking off—after all, no other new mother has needed to pump; they didn’t breastfeed. How can I explain why breastfeeding is so important without alienating people or coming across as a fanatic?

Response

I can relate to not having very supportive co-workers when I first started pumping. It is frustrating and upsetting to be in an environment that is less than supportive. But you are pioneering. By the time my second baby arrived, it wasn’t such a hot topic at work anymore. I am not sure you need to explain anything. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. It wasn’t long before people started to see that I was more productive after I breastfed than any other time. The frequent breaks, wonderful hormones, and a healthy, beautiful baby made me very happy. Before long I started to notice my positive attitude was rubbing off on those around me. Good luck!

Vera Lynn Richardson
Chillicothe OH USA

Response

I honestly think the lack of understanding in my office is part of what caused me to want to be so vocal about breastfeeding, and ultimately made me want to start my own home business!

I pumped for my daughter three days a week in the office until she was 16 months old. Here’s one thing to remember: It doesn’t matter what your co-workers think, you should have the right to do this—just as smokers will take a 15 minute break to smoke, mothers can take a 20 minute break to pump (and it’s much more healthy!). Every time I would start to feel “guilty” about the time away from my desk (especially because it was three times a day for awhile), I would remind myself that it was really the equivalent of two smoke breaks and a lunch!

If pressed by any co-workers, or chided for your time away, I would give them a concise reason why you are choosing to pump and breastfeed. Something as simple as “It’s widely known that human milk is best for my child. Health benefits are just the beginning! And simply because I chose to return to work doesn’t mean my child should have to give up those benefits.”

Although my office is large, and allows mothers to pump in the nurses’ office, I was the only one of 400 plus employees who did so at the time. And very often I had to find other places, such as empty conference rooms and even a toilet stall. But, I’m happy to say that since I began pumping, two other new mothers have chosen to pump as well, and have sought out my guidance and advice!

Joanne Torlucci
Hackettstown NJ USA

Response

My first reaction to this problem is to mention that studies demonstrate higher rates of maternal absenteeism for a child who is not being breastfed. I discussed this with my husband who actually does supervise people and he had some great insight.

First and foremost—you don’t need to justify your “lifestyle choices” to anyone. You and I know that breastfeeding is more than a lifestyle choice, but we also can see that if people looked at the “evidence,” everyone would want to breastfeed, no one would smoke, and everyone would wear seatbelts. Sadly, the world doesn’t work like that.

My suggestions are to pump on your break or to pump while working at your desk, if you have privacy. My best pumping happens when I’m paying no attention to the milk flowing into the bottle so I always pump at my desk.

Assuming that you weren’t a slacker before you had your baby, people will accept pumping as just one of those things you do. It isn’t really their business, after all. Do you suggest the smokers, or anyone who does anything at work that isn’t directly related to work, are slacking off? Probably not. In time, people will learn from your example, especially if you don’t make an issue of it.

Kate Hallberg
Boulder CO USA

Response

One of the arguments/rationales I used with my boss was, “I know that having to take frequent breaks is really inconvenient but in the long run it will decrease the number of times I am out because my child has a cold, an ear infection, or digestive problems adjusting to a new food.” This really helped my boss put in perspective the “inconvenience of frequent breaks” during which I actually went home to nurse my child (I lived around the corner), versus the inconvenience of being out an entire day with a sick child. Co-workers were appreciative too because they knew they would not have tasks “dumped” on them at the last minute.

Anne Martin
Fernandina Beach FL USA

Response

My personal experience has been that many mothers who did not choose to breastfeed are not willing to admit that they missed out on something that would have been very beneficial to their children. They choose to think that breastfeeding is one of those extra things that is “great if you can do it.” They may see your decision to breastfeed as one that challenges their own feelings about it; therefore, it is difficult to talk to them about the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding without coming across as a fanatic. If they are giving you a hard time about your attempts to have a successful nursing relationship with your baby, however, you really should be able to assert your rights without having to feel badly about it. Keep it simple, polite, and emphasize that breastfeeding is important. There is no reason why your need to pump should be seen as incompatible with your job. Remind your co-workers that people often take breaks during the day to do things like get coffee or water, use the bathroom, smoke, chat with other co-workers, make personal phone calls, or just to stretch their legs. You may need to be extra careful about these sorts of things to let your co-workers know you are still working hard and getting your job done. Chances are that your employers understand the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of making the workplace friendly to pumping mothers. Even if the employers know this, however, that still may not make it easy to deal with co-workers. If the challenges persist, ask your co-workers what specific issues that they have and see if you can deal with those points individually. Whatever you do, don’t let your co-workers make you feel guilty about doing what is right for you and your baby.

Amy Willoughby
Rancho Santa Margarita CA USA

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
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