Convergence Projects – Pumping at Work

This video story reported on mid-Missouri women who were having trouble receiving time and the facilities to breast pump at work, which could have negative effects on their children’s health, their health and their wallet. Our story was organically found, reported on and produced by Rosie Belson, Shannon Sankey, Kexin Sun and Jack Harvel.

Despite some gains, mothers still struggle to pump during work

Affordable Care Act benefits nursing mothers

BY: Shannon Sankey, Kexin Sun, Rosie Belson, Jack Harvel

COLUMBIA – Eighteen years ago, Christina Simons went back to work at a small, family owned business in Jefferson City, Missouri after her maternity leave from having a baby boy. Simons expected to continue to breast-feed her son when she returned to work.

What she didn’t expect were the multiple challenges standing in her way. Simon’s first challenge was finding the time throughout her workday to sit down and pump her breast milk.

To get the adequate amount of milk, a nursing mother needs to pump milk for at least 15 minutes at a time. Simons said she would pump milk three or four times throughout her workday.

“So whenever I needed to take 20 minute breaks, morning and afternoon and lunch time, I was getting commentary,” Simons said. “People actually saying things like, ‘Christina, where have you been, people need patience because you are in the bathroom.’  There were some sideway sayings.”

Simons also ran into the challenge of finding somewhere to privately pump in the family owned business she worked at. Simons said she had to pump in a bathroom, her car and even a closet.

“I don’t know anybody who would like to have meal in a bathroom, and that was my son’s meal,” Simons said. “It’s disgusting, I don’t think it is fair, I never thought it was the right thing. I had to sit on the toilet seat, and express milk, and try to relax and hurry up in 15 to 20 minutes, then you need to get back to work.”

Experiences like this were very common for nursing mothers until the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2008. Section 7 of the Labor Standards Act under the Affordable Care Act states that employers with more than 50 employees must provide adequate facilities, time, and resources for nursing mothers to pump at work.

“Businesses are still required to allow mothers time to breast-feed. Even if they are under 50 employees unless they can prove there is an undue burden. So it takes a lot to really, truly show that,” said Leona Greer Women, Infant and Children Nutritionist and Lactation Consultant at Randolph County Health Department said.

Once this law was passed many employers and businesses created lactation rooms for mothers to pump milk more privately and it started a discussion about nursing mothers in the workplace.

“We’ve seen up some huge changes. One is just the encouragement and some of the laws set in place where they do have to allow women to breast-feed at work and give her the time to breast-feed,” Greer said. “So just having that law in place has made a lot of the players a lot more aware of women’s needs and that they would like to breast-feed.”

Abbey Gorsage is an art teacher at Rockbridge High School and has recently returned to work after giving birth to her daughter in June.

“In our department we have our own office space that is shared among the four of us,” Gorsage said. “So, I’ve been using that space [to breast pump] and that’s been working pretty well, you know, after having a conversation with my colleagues that I would be using that space and I have sign that I put on the door so that they know that I am in there and things like that.”

Rockbridge High School also has a lactation room in the nurse’s office for other mothers to use. This lactation room was built in response to the laws passed under the Affordable Care Act.

“That is one positive thing about being a teacher, that I have a lot of mommies in the building that understand exactly what I am going through and a lot of women there who can support me if I’m having trouble,” Gorsage said.  “That’s one positive thing because I know that not every woman experiences that in the workplace.”

Conditions for breast pumping mothers have improved, but some are still experiencing trouble even after the Affordable Care Act was passed.

“Just the setup of, you know, the workplace even if they’ll let you pump maybe they [the job] might not let you pump as much as you really need to store up milk for that baby,” Greer said. “And then usually a lot of times women’s milk supply will dwindle if they’re not able to keep up pumping.”

Katie Beal was a medical resident working 80 hours a week when she had her first child four and half years ago. When working in the hospital, she encountered many of the same obstacles that Simons encountered 18 years ago.

“I was a med student who didn’t really want to be vocal about stepping away from my learning experiences to breast-feed,” Beal said. “So I would just try to sneak off and find times here and there to pump. I would often pump in my car or in the bathrooms.”

Even though some nursing mothers are still facing challenges in the workplace when trying to breast pump, Missouri has started an initiative to help more businesses become breast pumping friendly.

“I think people are kind of getting on board. They don’t want to be looked at as the one that doesn’t support mothers,” Greer said.

The Missouri Department of Health, Senior Services, and the Missouri Breastfeeding Coalition came together to create the Missouri “Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite Program.” This program is meant to educate and encourage companies to create a friendly breast pumping environment.

In order to recognize and celebrate businesses that provide lactation support the “Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite Award” awards businesses with a gold, silver, and bronze rating. Those businesses that receive a rating are recognized in their community and statewide.

“They hear of other companies that are doing different things for moms and finding unique ways to support them but there’s always those that, you know, we still got a long way to go with businesses that don’t support moms,” Greer said.

Missouri is working alongside businesses to ensure that nursing mothers have a brighter future when returning to work. There is data to show that having nursing mothers in the workplace is better for the mother and for the business. It creates a family friendly image for the company and an increased ability to attract and retain valuable employees.

Photo Gallery:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photo 1:

Katie Beal demonstrates how to use a breast pump on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. The hospital provides pumps within the lactation rooms for nursing mothers to use.

Photo 2:

Katie Beal puts away her recently pumped breast milk in a cooler on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. Nursing mothers put their breast milk in separate coolers so they don’t get their bottles confused.

Photo 3:

Three bottle of breast milk lay in a refrigerator on Monday, Oct. 10, 2016 at the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. Physicians recommend that mothers breast-feed for 12 months to help their baby’s health.Text Piece: