The office is about to open when my office manager—I’ll call her Sally—walks up to me and says, “Did you see the pumping space I made for you?”
“No,” I respond. Sally and I walk in the door to an office that holds two nurse triage personnel. There is a rod with a shower curtain hanging that exposes a 3 x 21/2-foot area at best. One of the “walls” is the bookshelf and the other two walls are the corner of the office. The fourth “wall” is the shower curtain. Sally says she bought the supplies herself, smiles, and then leaves.
I run to grab my pump and pumping bag while panic consumes my confusion. There is no room for my pump. Even in a true office space, I could barely manage enough room for the pump, tubing, flanges, bottles, paper towels, water, and nursing bra, let alone the cooler for the milk.
I move quickly—my first patient will be here soon. I search the office for a small table and I find one in the bathroom; I put it immediately outside the homemade cubicle. I put my pump on the table. The electrical cord to my breast pump doesn’t reach any of the outlets. My heart skips a beat. My patient will be here any minute. I move the table toward the closest outlet. With the breast pump’s electrical cord completely extended and the tubing stretched, my pump is plugged in but it is sitting about 1 foot outside of the cubicle.
In order to breastfeed and meet patient access demands, I am dividing my lunchtime throughout the office day to pump. However, this dedicated pumping time frequently gets booked with patients. When I ask for the patients booked in my pumping times to be rescheduled, I am told “Oh, you can’t see them?” or “Are you sure?” or “But there isn’t another time available in your schedule.”
The following Saturday I have acute hours at our other office location which is also run by my office manager, Sally. I ask the front desk staff, Erin, if there is a place to pump. Erin says “Sally’s office.” I raise my head in surprise.
“Sally has a ‘mom at work’ sign to hang up on the office door. Sally just stopped pumping herself as you probably know, but she lets Dr Rivera (one of our OB/GYNs) pump in her office all the time.”
Emboldened by this discovery, I gain the courage to address the disparity in my own pumping accommodations. On Monday, I walk into Sally’s private office and inform her “That pumping space won’t work.”
If any woman experiences this, I recommend rallying the women and men around you who support breastfeeding, reviewing the federal and state laws for breastfeeding mothers, the AAFP guidelines, and WHO guidelines for breastfeeding.
If you are in a small office, find supporters in other offices or your local hospital. If you are in a large system, reach out to people in that system. There is power in numbers. Collect support and evidence and bring it to your medical director. If your medical director doesn’t take action, take it to the person above him or her. Do not accept a makeshift closet as a pumping area, do not accept people walking in on you while you pump, do not accept that this is the way it is.
Supporting breastfeeding moms now benefits companies later.
After my experience, I rallied the women in my system and we created a breastfeeding policy. The policy was presented to our chair committee and approved. However, the policy works because of the excitement behind the policy and the dissemination of the policy. It has benefited many women at that institution and thus continues to be utilized and advertised.
Dr Bujold shared her experience at her first family medicine job. She is now working at Eastern Connecticut Health Network in Connecticut.