It's a picture of something working moms see many times a day: A breast pump. There's nothing particularly special about this pump or the anonymous room around it. The magic in this social media moment comes from the woman behind the camera—Mindy Kaling.
While promoting her new movie, A Wrinkle In Time, the 38-year-old new mom shared an image of her pump in an Instagram Story, adding two bits of text to the visual. In dubbing the device “the loneliest breast pump" and noting that it is what "that all day press junket new mom life" looks like, Kaling is telling the often untold story of so many working moms.
Our breast pumps might not actually be lonely (even the smart ones aren't that smart), but using them certainly can feel that way. Whether you're pumping in a hotel room like Kaling, a designated lactation room, a locked office or your car, pumping while working can make women feel isolated.
Jessica Shortall, the author of Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work, described why in an essay for The Bump.
“In part, it's literally isolating; you are crouched in a little closet somewhere. But on a much deeper level, it's isolating and lonely because so many working, pumping mothers spend all day carrying around a terrifyingly packed brain full of anxieties, plans, back-up plans, back-ups to the back-ups, supply stresses, working mother guilt, and oh-no-I-forgot-the-pump-bottles-at-home freak-outs."
Considering Kaling's press junket came on the heels of her first public apperance since daughter Katherine's birth back in December, she probably did have a lot on her mind when she posted the pic of the “lonely" breast pump.
Luckily, there are a lot of ways working moms like Kaling can make pumping less stressful and less isolating.
Kaling's breast pump may be lonely because her work day was so busy she didn't have much time to spend with it. It can be painful for a mom to skip pumping sessions (not to mention bad for milk production) so experts suggest taking charge of your schedule if you can by setting your pump times in your calendar in advance. That way, it won't be so easy for others to schedule you away from your pump.
Practicing meditation during pumping sessions can help transform pumping sessions from “lonely" to “alone time". It's good for your mental health, and studies indicate it can also increase milk production.
Look and Listen
If meditation isn't something you've got a lot of experience in, a guided relaxation recording can really help. Research has shown that the combination of listening to audio relaxation guides with soothing background music while watching videos of one's own child is beneficial for milk production (in addition to being a good way to destress).
Work Through It
For some people, relaxing during the pump session is the perfect solution, but others fight the feeling of isolation by staying connected, literally, by keeping up on emails or dialing into a conference call.
Talk About It
For some women, pumping at work is something done in near secrecy for fear they'll be shamed or penalized by colleagues who perceive pump time as “extra breaks". That kind of environment can make a pumping mom feel stressed and alone.
Fortunately, laws like the one recently passed in New Jersey mean pumping parents in many places have the right to time and designated places to pump at work.
The changing laws are changing conversations about working motherhood, and so can we. In a recent interview with Motherly the author of The Fifth Trimester, Lauren Smith Brody, suggested working moms talk openly about the realities of parenthood, including pumping.
“It's really important and very bolstering to know that even being open about your parenthood in the workplace will make the culture better for you, and your next baby and everyone around you," she told Motherly. “It is something we can work together on an individual level to really make a change."
Mindy Kaling is promoting her new movie, but she's also promoting the reality of working motherhood, and showing all the pumping mamas that they're not alone.