Pumping at School: Teacher Moms Say It’s a Challenge

Pumping at School: Teachers Say It's a Challenge

When I was preparing to return from maternity leave, one of my greatest sources of anxiety was how and where I would be given space to pump for my newborn. 

Since 2010, the Affordable Care Act has mandated that employers provide a “reasonable” time for nursing mothers to pump while at work. According to the law, employees should be provided a space that is not a restroom where they can be expected to pump without being interrupted. The loophole? This applies to hourly employees. Most salaried employees, including teachers, are exempt from this mandate. Still, it’s been widely accepted as best practice for most employers to provide time and space to pump. So, can teachers reasonably expect to be provided with this time and space during their workday?

Anecdotally, it does not seem like they can.

“It definitely impacted my morale. I ended up leaving my job shortly after returning from maternity leave. There was just no balance.”, Elizabeth W. shared. “I don’t think I even ate lunch at all once returning to work aside for a pack of crackers and I never got to go to the restroom because I only had time to pump the bare minimum. I also wasn’t able to pump enough in such a short time so I usually stayed up to pump after my daughter’s night time feedings and woke up at 4am to get an extra pump in, to stockpile enough for the day while I was away.”

Elizabeth is certainly not alone. Several mothers, employed in various districts, shared similar experiences. They talked about being responsible for their own coverage, being walked in on by students and colleagues while pumping, and being made to feel like they were in the wrong. 

“I had a second-grade teacher call my room and yell at me on the last day of school because her assistant was called to cover my class so I could pump. She called me rude and inconsiderate. I broke down crying in the hallway.”, says Taylor W. 

It’s no surprise that some women experience this level of hostility. Teaching is well-known for being a team-oriented profession. This works well in the sense that there is a sense of ownership over student success and the mentality that everyone has each other’s backs–until the feeling is that someone is getting more time “off” than others. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the time is spent hooked to a pump, often naked from the waist up, while still trying to multitask, these pumping sessions are often perceived as extra “free time”. Which of course, leads to resentment amongst colleagues. 

Schools are already short staffed and overcrowded so asking them to provide a teacher with someone to cover their class and a private space is a daunting task–but it’s a necessary one. A 2016 study by the US Department of Education found that 77 percent of the teaching force is made up of women. The same study found that the average age of teachers was 42–and trending downward. This means a very high percentage of teachers are of child-bearing age and seemingly affected greatly by these policies and procedures should they decide to grow their families while working in education. 

As with anything else in education, change will not come until enough people complain–and the general feeling I got from speaking to women about this issue is that even that seems too risky. “I wanted to file a formal grievance against my district but it just seemed like a bad idea if I wanted a job or reference for one in the future.” shared one former teacher. Rather than risk the backlash–she just left while she was still nursing her baby. 

The common denominator in most of the stories that were shared seemed to be stress over being made to feel like a burden. Ashley K. was given her principal’s office to pump, “I felt rushed and wasn’t able to do what I felt like was a long enough session because I felt like I was imposing on him getting work done.” Generally speaking, teachers are givers–they put in long hours for little pay and give a lot to their students. Someone with that sort of calling is likely to back down when made to feel like they’re inconveniencing someone. The conversation has to change so that teachers can feel supported and understood during the vulnerable postpartum period. 

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I am a Southern gal, mama to two kids (8 years and 6 months) and I have been teaching middle school for over 7 years. I love to go hiking or read a book in my free time. My favorite part of teaching is connecting with kids over things beyond just academics--teenagers are awesome!

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