Here in Texas, the legislature is considering a bill which, if passed, would allow public school teachers to take small breaks throughout the day to pump breast milk. Unfortunately, it’s being met by a lot of opposition (and most surprisingly, by women legislators, one who believes that if she could make it work, others can too).
Here’s the thing, though: while making small accommodations for breast-feeding mothers is a very basic ask, for working mothers of preterm infants, these small accommodations are supremely vital to the health and well-being of their child.
I can write pages and pages about how maternity leave, FMLA, and short-term disability are pretty effing lousy as benefits and public policy whenever they intersect with prematurity. But for now, let me just say this: pumping at work is not so much a hypothetical for preterm mothers as it is an actuality.
If a mother is able to delay her leave until the infant comes home, she will have to pump at work for however long that takes; if the mother is not able to delay her leave, then she will more than likely want to continue pumping when she returns from disability leave, especially if that leave expires while the infant is still in the hospital.
So Why Pumping?
- Infants fed HBM were at reduced risk for NEC.
- HBM protects against respiratory infections (especially in girls).
- HBM is associated with improved neurological development and a reduced risk of rehospitalizations after discharge.
Healthy preterm infants typically begin oral feedings between 32 and 34 weeks, when their suck/swallow reflex is more fully developed. But until they are ready to “eat” on their own, their feedings are gavaged through a feeding tube.
Because a mother’s milk production begins immediately upon birth (circumstances allowing, of course), the mother of a preterm infant may have to pump for several weeks before her infant is able to nurse directly. Regular pumping helps her maintain production and creates “backstock” to work with if her production begins to wane.
Beyond that, pumping breastmilk can be a very good for the mother herself, because it allows her to directly contribute to her infant’s care on the most basic level. Pumping can be depressing at first (and sometimes tedious)–but more than that, it can also be empowering.
Pumping at Work
Unfortunately, many workplaces just can’t/won’t find common ground with mothers of preterm infants on the pumping issue–hence legislative reform. Say what you will about maternity leave, but that doesn’t mean pumping should be so hard…
or in a dank public restroom on a thirty minute lunch break….