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A Woman's Work Is Never Done

Breastfeeding moms get help from an unusual source.

WebMD Feature

April 24, 2000 (New York) -- Along the corridor in the offices of National Geographic Television in Washington D.C., doors would slam shut every day at about noon and three o'clock as up to ten executive moms pumped breast milk in their respective offices. "There was a succession of births in the office," says Jenny Apostol, a supervisory producer at the company, "so we moms formed a kind of ad hoc alliance among ourselves, talking about problems, supporting each other, keeping our stored milk in the office fridge."

This kind of scenario is exactly what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is hoping for. The organization released a recommendation in 1997 advising mothers to breastfeed their infants for the first 12 months of life. It has been found that breastfed babies have a lower incidence of ear infections, diarrhea, and lower respiratory and other infections.

But working moms banding together for pumping purposes is far from the norm. A recent study of middle-class mothers, published in the July 1998 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, shows that the usual duration of breastfeeding is significantly shorter for working mothers: 16 weeks on average compared with 25 weeks for mothers not working outside the home.

When Working Moms Meet Corporate America

Clearly there are inherent difficulties for working mothers who want to continue breastfeeding. For a mother to make time during the workday to pump breast milk -- so that her body will continue to produce a sufficient milk supply for her baby's needs -- requires a big commitment. A mom who wants to breastfeed while working must cart around a portable pump, interrupt her work two or three times a day for about half an hour each time to pump, and properly store and transport her expressed milk.

But even when she has the desire, knowledge, and equipment, corporate culture makes it extremely difficult to follow through with this process, says Rhona Cohen, a lactation consultant and president of MCH Services, Inc., in Los Angeles, a consulting firm that co-ordinates employer-supported lactation programs at nine companies nationwide. "Combining breastfeeding with work is simply not the cultural norm," says Cohen. "To make a lactation program work you need real management support."

Apostol credits the positive atmosphere of her company and a flexible supervisor with her decision to continue breastfeeding when she returned to work five months after her son was born. She was allowed to walk out of meetings in order to pump. "In the end, it's all about getting your job done. If you have a supervisor who recognizes you're there for the long term and can say 'I value you,' that's ideal."

A Place to Pump

In addition to a supportive environment, says Cohen, the company needs to designate a comfortable, clean, private space for an employee to express breast milk. "Bathrooms are not acceptable places," she says.

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