For working women expecting a baby, there are plenty of logistical matters to sort through before baby's arrival: What projects do I need to wrap up? Who will cover for me during leave? How will I transition back into work? Unfortunately, for many expectant mothers, questions about how co-workers or employers will react to their (lawful) requests for pumping space and time can feel like the most complicated of all: According to a new survey from Aeroflow Healthcare, 49% of expectant mothers worried their desire to breastfeed would negatively affect their job opportunities. Even though employers are legally required to give mothers time and non-bathroom space to pump during the workday, many work environments still fall short—sometimes because of negative attitudes expressed by others in the office and sometimes because the designated pumping space isn't up to par.
Among the 774 expectant mothers in the United States who responded to Aeroflow's survey through a third-party administrator, 47% of the women perceived pumping accommodations in their workplace to be so bad they had considered seeking a new job. "While we have made great strides in supporting breastfeeding moms, this survey clearly shows we have much more work to do," says Jennifer Jordan, Director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare, in a press release. "It is concerning that negative connotations around breastfeeding and pumping in the workplace still exist. Simply put, this is unacceptable and we must do better." Not only did 63% say they believe there is a stigma attached to breastfeeding mothers in the workplace, but 30% said they were actively worried about their ability to continue breastfeeding with their current employment.
Beyond the opinions of others, many of the expectant mothers said their workplaces simply did not accommodate pumping, despite the laws in place: Nearly 30% said there was no designated lactation area in their office. Another 13% said there technically was a designated space, but it really wasn't designed for pumping. And 11% of moms weren't sure what to expect. According to a May report from UNICEF, breastfeeding rates in the United States basically decline in parallel with a woman's income: high-income women are the most likely to breastfeed, while low-income women in the United States are the least likely. This survey provides a big clue as to why that link exists: If mothers feel they don't have any choice but to stay in a job that isn't conducive to breastfeeding or if they feel breastfeeding will restrict their potential for a raise, it can put many in the difficult position to stop breastfeeding before their goal. "We hope this study creates a groundswell of awareness and appreciation for the mothers so devoted to both their children and their careers, often at the expense of the latter," says Jordan. For expectant mothers with concerns about breastfeeding when they return to work, the best thing is simply asking what accommodations will be made, something that only 54% of the surveyed mothers had done. Getting everyone on board with breastfeeding plans can feel like an awkward discussion—but it definitely beats hiding in a broom closet four times a day to pump.