I just wrapped up the project sponsored by the HHS Office on Women’s Health — the National Worksite Breastfeeding Support for Employers of Overtime Eligible Employees: Innovative Strategies for Success, project I’ve been working on over the past few months. The HHS provided minigrants to about 10 breastfeeding coalitions across the country, to highlight the positive aspects of ways employers accommodate working women who also choose to breastfeed. I was able to successfully complete the project, and submitted a total of 11 businesses from a required 10. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to post the names of the businesses, though they signed a waiver stating they don’t mind receiving publicity, but maybe that’s just through the OWH. The HHS were looking for a diverse pool of worksites, and the main criterion was the businesses must employ at least 30% hourly workers. This is because generally when folks are hourly-paid they face more challenges to access, whereas someone who is salaried would have more access to an office or other type of private space. I was able to get some diverse businesses: Museum, Real Estate, Manufacturer, Casino, Service (pest control), a natural birth center and others, so I’m pretty proud of the selection.
I have to say I’m quite impressed with some of the ways women were accommodated, but I guess I didn’t know exactly what to expect but some of the things never really crossed my mind. For example, some worksites have not only a private lactation-specific rooms where they provide hospital-grade breast pumps for employees, but beds and cribs for babies are on-site. At another place — a crunchy grocery store — they hold breastfeeding classes where employees, customers and the general public can sign up and learn about mother’s milk. The manager of that store told me a story about a customer who complained when he saw a woman — a customer, nursing in the store. She told me “We didn’t do anything about it!” At another worksite, I visited a woman who was the H. R. Rep, and who also nursed her son at that location. During the interview, one of the questions was “Why do you feel these services are important?” and her response was “What’s a nursing woman supposed to do? It’s a given.”
But even with all of those positive experiences, I was turned away a lot. I also continue to think of the role of privilege even in these spaces. I also think of employer motive and weighing that against society; is it about caring for their employees, adhering to a law, trying to increase their profits — but I know it’s a mixture of all. But what about those who still do not have access to pumping on the job? I also continue to wonder if in the big picture of American society, we should lobby for the right to stay home with our babies and increase maternity leave instead of building a database for other employers to model in the face of challenges to serve their nursing mothers?
Though I’m a bit sad the project is over, I really enjoyed visiting worksites and checking out their lactation services. Though there may be an opportunity to do some additional work with this project, since they will select only a few coalitions to film a video about one of the worksites that demonstrated “exceptional best practices,” — and I suggested the crunchy grocery store. I am going to keep my fingers crossed. But if we’re not chosen, I’m thankful I had the opportunity to participate, and view this as just a way I was exposed to more breastfeeding information, culture and business practices. I’ll keep you posted. It was also a great sedge-way to the whatever the universe hold for the next chapter of my breastfeeding and human lactation advocacy.