What To Do If Work Treats You Differently After Your Maternity Leave

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Sad woman at work

Adobe Stock / anyaberkut

Amanda Riojas
Amanda Riojas
An anonymous poster at the Fairygodboss discussion board asked:
“Anyone have issues with a boss/superior not respecting you after you return from maternity leave? I'm having issues with a male boss not respecting my needs to pump and doubting that I'm putting in the hours, even though I bring work with me into the pumping room and work through lunches.”
Many working moms have had similar experiences, and before we get into answering this question, I’m going to go ahead and bring up a difficult and uncomfortable topic. The language that we use is everything, so I’m not going to say that your employer doesn’t respect you or that your boss is “treating you differently” because there is already a term for this: gender discrimination.
Let’s explore…
First-time working moms seem to be particularly susceptible to the idea that the burden is on us to prevent discrimination after maternity leave, either by working extra hours or by working through pumping and lunch breaks. I’m no exception to this — I remember muting the phone during conference calls and praying to the Medela gods that no one would ask me a question, forcing me to speak over the dubstep-pumping sounds going on in the background.
I was almost a year into pumping before I had the confidence to realize that many of the coworkers around me have had kids themselves. I needed to remind myself that I’m a hardworking mom who is busting her [censored] to feed her kiddo, and if someone is discriminating against me, the responsibility is on them to stop.
Easier said than done though, right? Here are a few tips to put things in perspective and keep the focus on you and your needs during this challenging time:
1. Actually take that break.
You might think that getting the extra hours in is allowing you to keep up with the rat race, but it’s stressful. During letdown, a hormone called oxytocin (yep, the same stuff that’s responsible for contractions) encourages milk to flow, and stress can inhibit oxytocin from working its magic. Down the line, this can lead to supply problems, and you already have enough to worry about. Do yourself a favor: take the 20-40 minute break, and try to relax.
2. Keep score.
Over the 10 or so months that I pumped at work, I worked through every lunch and every pumping break, worried that I would fall behind. Truth bomb: if someone doesn’t support your choice to nurse or pump at work, no amount of work is going to change their mind. And in a year, when baby has weaned and you’re done pumping, your employers are going to expect you to keep up the pace, working long hours and through breaks. If you have any doubt that you’re keeping up, start a running log of your accomplishments. You’re probably doing more than you think, and later, you can even take your list in for your performance reviews!
3. Seek support.
It’s crucial to remember that you’re not the first mom to have ever pumped at work. You can find strength in support from coworkers who have been there. It doesn’t matter if your mentor is a man or a woman; what matters is finding someone who understands the struggle of having an infant and who also prioritizes their families. You are not alone.
Finally, if you’re experiencing gender discrimination, do take it to your HR department; that’s what they’re there for. Your needs to pump are federally protected and are not a matter of respect. You have the right to care for your little one, and your choice to pump is not up for debate.
Dr. Amanda G. Riojas is a Scientific Computing Researcher living in Austin, TX. She is also the Advice Section Editor for the Scientista Foundation Advice Blog, Liaison to the Corporation Associates Committee of the American Chemical Society, and Chair of the ACS Central TX Local Section Women Chemists Committee. Amanda basically spends all of her time trying to tell everyone that women are awesome — because she has a daughter now and wants her to know that girls can do anything.



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