Pumping and Expressing Breastmilk Has Been a Challenge for Some Families for Centuries

kuwo lact room.JPGMany of my childbirth education students and doula clients have a love-hate relationship with their breast pump in the days, weeks and months after the birth of their baby.  This is doubly true for those families where the breastfeeding parent goes back to work and pumps milk for the baby while away.  Being separated from one's baby during long school or work hours makes it hard for breastfeeding parents to maintain supply with their other responsibilities.  Breastfeeding parents are protected by the "Break Time for Nursing Mothers" law that states that employers are required to provide break time and a place for most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees (nonexempt workers) to express breast milk at work. Additionally, the law requires that employers must provide a "reasonable" amount of time and that they must provide a private space other than a bathroom.  You can read more about this federal law on the United States Department of Labor website. 

While the law requires "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk", it does not provide more details about what that should consist of.  It is up to the discretion of the employer to create what they believe is a suitable place for pumping parents.  My local public radio station, KUOW did a show a few years ago on the spaces provided for pumping parents and I still use their slide show in my breastfeeding class when we discuss returning to work.  Some of the spaces were simply horrific (the above photo is the KUOW lactation room) and it is hard to imagine that people truly expected new parents to be able to pump in such a location.  You can read the article, listen to the broadcast and view all the submitted images on the KUOW website.

old breastpump.jpegOn the topic of breast pumps, I found this article on Huffington Post titled "200 Years of Breastpumps, in 18 Images" to be absolutely fascinating.  People began extracting breastmilk with mechanical devices all the way back in ancient Greek times, and there has been continual process improvement since then, thankfully.  Some of the devices looked quite excruciating and I would not one them anywhere near any part of my body.  I am grateful that we have come a long way and pumping parents have any choices for pumps today. 

Finally, it is always good to share some tips with your families about both hand expressing (a good skill to have in case a pump is not available) and hands-on pumping.  Some people can become very efficient by simply using their hands to express breastmilk.  Additionally, utilizing the hands-on pumping techniques described in this video can increase supply significantly.  I always make sure that the families I work with have access to both of these helpful videos from Stanford University Newborn Nursery.

  1. Maximizing Milk Production with Hands-On Pumping
  2. Hand Expressing Milk

Finally, here are some fascinating portraits of breastfeeding women from the 1840s-1890s that contributor Andrea Lythgoe, LCCE shared with me.  So interestingestng.  What stories have you heard from your students and clients about pumping situations after they had their baby?  Do you cover hand expression in your breastfeeding classes?  What about hands-on pumping? Share with us in the comments section below.

Photo source Image 1: Lactation room at KUOW Public Radio, Photo by Bond Huberman

Photo source Image 2: Image from page 878 of "Dr. Evans' How to keep well;" (1917)" flickr photo by Internet Archive Book Images https://flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14583647660 shared with no copyright restriction (Flickr Com)

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