I have to admit, I’m really enjoying sitting on the side lines as my youngest sisters, and some of their friends, make their way through new motherhood – so much so that, sometimes, I find myself smiling and chuckling ever so quietly. The latest act in this tragicomedy began when I asked Jeanna how one of her friends, who is, like Jeanna, a new mother who returned to work full time, was doing. Jeanna said she was doing great, but had to stop nursing her six-month-old daughter, in part because she has to travel so much for her job.
At this point, I was tempted to fisticuffs.
Considering widespread knowledge about the
virtues of breastfeeding – for society, in terms of lower health care costs and higher economic productivity – as well as for mom and baby, it’s remarkable that governments and employers in the United States do so little to accommodate working mothers who opt to nurse their infants and young children. In California, employers must provide a clean and private space for nursing mothers to express milk, but may restrict the time available for this necessary activity to regular breaks. Obviously, the legislators responsible for Chapter 3.8, Section 1030, Part 3 of Division 2 of the Labor Code (”Lactation Accommodation”) are clueless.
Although some women are able to purchase or borrow a state-of-the art electric double breast pump, and adapt easily to using it, others cannot. When I was nursing my eldest son, I depended on an uncomfortable hand pump provided free of charge by the birthing center; pumping both breasts by hand in the 15 minutes I had between back-to-back seminars was, at best, challenging, and frequently painful. On the upside, I could retreat to a private office to pump, and call a short break during class if I needed to use the bathroom or get a snack. Many nursing mothers are not so lucky. It is no understatement to say that some of these women have to choose between taking care of themselves and providing for for their children.
Work-related travel ratchets up the inequity nursing mothers face in the work place. Employers are in no way required to accommodate these women when they are must travel. Jeanna’s friend believes this situation is grossly unfair. I have to agree. Again, some women adapt easily to using a pump; they can freeze and ship their pumped milk home or simply pitch it while on the road. Others do not…or will not. I was one of them.
Breastfeeding is potentially much more than providing first-rate nutrition to an infant or young child. It can be a practice, in reference to a philosophically grounded system of behaviors repeated daily and intended to yield a high level of proficiency. More specifically, a woman who chooses to breastfeed her child opens herself to the possibility of engaging in a physical, emotional, and psychological relationship with a developing human being that is more intimate and consuming, and may exhibit a
closer mother-child bond, than bottle-feeding can engender. That breastfeeding may also be
"frustrating, exhausting, and ... painful," especially at first, compromises this ideal outcome. So does making it more, rather than less, difficult for a woman to nurse her child in peace and on demand. In that, the nursing child’s proximity to her mother is essential.
So, yeah, nursing mothers who must travel for work should have the option of taking their infants along, without undo economic cost to themselves. Much of my own travel is funded by research grants, which categorically cannot cover childcare. I took each of my children with me anyway, depending on laws commiserate with Section 43.3 of California’s Civil Code (a woman may breastfeed anywhere she is legally permitted to be) to protect my choice to “take my baby to work.” Whenever possible, I covered the cost of a family member’s flight so that I’d have back up, which was always much less expensive than professional child care onsite would have been.
Imperfect and unfair? Yes. I still think I should have been reimbursed for those flights.
It could be worse. Jeanna’s friend travels much more often than I ever did, and she doesn’t have research funds to charge, even if that strategy were allowed. Instead, her clients would have to pick up the tab for childcare. Sure, she could make that demand…but what incentive would a client have to meet it? Surely, it would be more economically efficient – i.e., cheaper – to replace her. And that’s what matters, right?