In 2018 my son’s Maplewood, NJ, elementary school principal was suspended for allegedly not allowing a lactating teacher time to pump, resulting in mastitis. I remember saying to myself, “Seriously!? At MY school?!”
As an IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) and active PTA parent, I felt compelled to show up at our Board of Education meeting to implore the district to put a policy in place protecting time and space for pumping parents. But also to make sure that our administrators have the support from higher up to find coverage for and shift schedules.
So many of my clients are teachers — and every day I feel their dread and anxiety about returning to a job they love, but which often feels incompatible with nursing their babies. People often choose education as a career not just because they are passionate about teaching kids, but because it feels like a profession that will be family-friendly when they choose to become parents. But whether you’re going back as a teacher, school nurse, administrative assistant, custodian, paraprofessional, social worker, therapist, bus driver, security officer, or other school-based professional, it can feel overwhelming and unnecessary to have to “invent the wheel” in uncharted waters.
I put out a call on social media to hear from teachers across the country about what worked — and what didn’t — when they returned to school after parental leave. Some feedback so positive: schools with clean, locking lactation rooms, administrators who went out of their way to accommodate and support new parents. Other feedback was dreadful: pumping in nurses offices with sick students, getting walked-in on when doors didn’t lock, negative comments from colleagues, and often weaning way earlier than planned. These were compiled along with my recommendations into a 40-page report. I also provided a 2 page document of bullet points to include when writing policy.
I met with our district superintendent to talk about a district-wide policy to support pumping staff (and their colleagues and administrators.) I brought a pump to plop down on the desk. And left him with my recommendations. Now our district has a policy.
I continue to share these documents with teachers who contact me about their own return to work. Feel free to download and share with your administrators and encourage your school districts to have CLEAR, WRITTEN POLICY in place to protect your rights, and the support the administrators who oversee your school and schedule.