by Abby Sugahara
You've seen changes in her over the past year or so: first, the growing belly, then slowing of her gait, and recently, her absence. But now your coworker has had her baby and her leave, and things are going to be exactly the same as they were before. Right? Well, yes and no. She is probably ready to dig back in to her work, but with 79% of American moms now at least trying breastfeeding, chances are good that she will be taking at least one break during working hours to pump. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers nurse their babies for at least the first 12 months; mother's milk has nutrients and immune-boosting factors that are unmatched by formula. Since babies need to eat every few hours, she'll need to provide sustenance for her little one while she's away.
Perhaps you're thinking it sounds nice to get to pause and sit down by yourself for fifteen minutes or so. However, regardless of how nice the facilities are (and some are far from luxurious), you'll probably never hear pumping described as fun. More like awkward, uncomfortable, messy, or inconvenient, at least at first. Maybe she's even working or just stressing about how she has to get the same things done in less time than before.
Here are five things you can do to make a pumping mother's working life just a little easier:
1. Respect her time. Before I had my baby, I thought that nursing was sort of like turning a faucet on and off. When you wanted milk, it was there. Although I hate to use a bathroom analogy here, it's more like having to pee. You don't have to go all the time, but when you do, you know. You can hold it for a bit, but if you wait too long, it becomes physically uncomfortable and you eventually start leaking. The bottom line is that you can't just skip it. So if you see pumping blocked out on your coworker's calendar, or an appointment you're just not sure of (particularly one that recurs at the same time every day), do not just schedule over it. Ask her first, or at least give her a chance to leave if she needs to.
2. Respect the designated space. In the same vein as #1, the Mother's Room or Lactation Room or whatever it's called at your office needs to be available for pumping when she needs it. You can't just go in and make a phone call or take a nap (though I'm in favor of designated nap rooms!). If it's reserved, just don't go in, even if it's empty. Maybe she got caught in a meeting, but she's not simply going to decide she doesn't need to pump that day. And bear in mind that she's essentially preparing food in there, so keeping it clean and free of strong smells is helpful.
3. Ask her how she's doing. Everyone wants to see pictures of the tiny, adorable baby, and chances are Mama loves to gush about her sweet little angel, too. But remember that she has just gone through an enormous life change, and may still be healing both physically and emotionally as she gets to know this new person. She's likely catching up at work and now has to fit in a nursing break or two. At the very least, she's probably not getting enough sleep. So just check in with her. Even if she doesn't want to get into the details, she'll probably appreciate that someone else empathizes with what she's going through.
4. Nourish Her. You've heard the cliche "eating for two," but we don't usually think about it extending to the postpartum phase. In reality, a nursing mom may need up to 200 additional calories per day than when she was pregnant, or up to 500 calories more than pre-pregnancy. She'll need more fluids, too - nursing mamas always seem to be thirsty. Dropping by her desk with a bottle of water or a healthy snack may just make her day, especially if she's super busy. Bonus points for making her a batch of lactation cookies (go ahead and sneak a sample - they're only meant to increase milk supply if you're already lactating)! Just make sure neither she nor her baby have allergies to any of the ingredients.
5. Share this post with other co-workers, and anyone else who might work with a nursing mama!
Here is a great lactation cookie recipe: http://www.food.com/