Who's Deciding How Long You Breastfeed: You, or Your Employer?

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Newborn baby

Creative Commons

Shaunda Zilich
Shaunda Zilich

I’m sure this question may have caught your attention. I hesitated at writing about breastfeeding because it is such a personal, sensitive topic, it but I think we really need to think about this. The bigger issue, of course, is not about breastfeeding: any decision you make in your work/life integration is one that your employer may not respect. Does your employer empower you when you make a decision? Or do your job circumstances make the decision for you?

I’ll just stay on the breastfeeding example as I know it well and am able to really weigh in on the different outcomes I have had with my children.

It doesn’t really matter whether you believe in breastfeeding, bottle feeding, this formula, breastmilk for 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, or more. It is a decision that a mommy (and daddy) parents make for their little one and what is best for their lives and family as a whole.  I’m not here to say one thing is right and another is wrong. It is totally different for everyone.   For me, I wanted to breastfeed. I had read up a bit and while arguments can be made in every direction, I felt this is what was best for me and my babies for a number of reasons.

Let me tell you a couple stories about two different experiences I had. In one story, my job ended up making a decision for me. In the other story, I was left to make the decision for MY life, for MY family (the way it should be).

Baby #1. 8 ½ years ago, I was a brand new mom. I was a single mom, a working mom. I had maternity leave and had some personal support. And I wanted to breastfeed. 

I was able to stay home with him for 10 weeks and still financially support myself and him. I was doing well with the breastfeeding (though it was a rocky start because he was a 10 pound baby, though my body was grooving with it). I went back to work, pumping in the bathroom. It was a nice bathroom but not perfect for good milk production, and let’s face it. With a 10 pound baby, every drop counted! I had no flexibility in my schedule so I could not visit him during the day. There was certainly no company daycare, and no support or financial supplement financially for daycare either.

I soon gave up. I let work make the decision for me. There was no support for what I was trying to do in breastfeeding, and no empowerment in my decision. I can even remember co-workers saying, “You did well but now you’ll have more time to work and won’t be as stressed.” Yikes!

Baby #2. Fast forward 7 years (yes, I know that is a long space in between children). I’m married and things are a little more complicated because more people are involved, but I have a job that empowered every personal decision I made no matter what it was. 

I had over 12 weeks of paid leave and a flexible work-from-home schedule after that so I could breastfeed my daughter who really didn’t do well with it and needed a bit more work than my first. I even had a ‘Life Coach’ I could call about the whole journey (including a labor coach). I traveled a couple of times while breastfeeding. Once I cut it a day short to get back to her. Hands down, everyone supported me and was amazed I agreed to even leave for 1.5 days for business. I pumped and kept things cool while traveling, and oh yeah, they paid for my breast pump. 

The second travel experience I had was AMAZING! I went to headquarters. They had a full hallway in the medical center area where there were little rooms perfectly equipped and specifically set up for pumping or breastfeeding. They even had designated refrigerators for the milk while I was there. I breastfed for 10 MONTHS, bonded with my baby girl, and was not stressed or dealt with factors at work that made the decision for me.

Since I’ve had my daughter, GE has implemented an even better program for ‘Moms on the Move’. It is a new program that enables moms who are nursing and traveling for business to ship their breast milk back to their baby. 

Here’s the difference. When I was empowered to make the decision I was able to breastfeed my baby for 10 MONTHS. I was home longer with her. I was able to bond more and stress less. When my job made the decision for me I was only able to breastfeed 10 WEEKS and certainly was not allowed to have my priorities where I wanted them.  My job and my employer made the decision for MY life and MY family for me.

Oh… and just in case you didn’t catch it… guess what company Baby #2 was with? It wasn’t a start-up or Facebook or Google. It was an up-and-coming digitally reinvented company, the world’s Digital Industrial company - GE!

So again, I did not write this to discuss beliefs on breastfeeding vs. formula. What I hope to do is make you think about your decisions for your life, for your family. Where I work today allows me to make those decisions for my life. It is a place that empowers the decisions I make for my work/life integration, whereas I used to previously work in a place that made those decisions for me. 

Be sure when you are picking your next job and making a career move that you consider how a company will empower decisions you want to make for your life and your family!


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