breast_pump_myra.jpgIt shouldn't be a shock to anyone to hear that an executive at Starbucks has a better work environment than a lowly barista. Other than higher pay and a far sweeter benies package, Gothamist imagines the Starbucks executive enjoys a quiter, less asshole-ridden workday (maybe). While to hear that there is a 2-class system for nursing moms on the job there is not surprising, it is still disturbing. Whereas the executive has a comfy and well-equipped lactation room at her disposal, the coffehouse worker has to use the bathroom during her break (assuming their isn't some undesirable in there clogging up the works).

This isn't new and it is in no way limited to a particular industry or geographical area. The fact is that breastfeeding is faciltated for women with higher level, more autonomous type jobs while it is exceedingly difficult for women who lack a certain amount of money or status. And, if you give any credence at all to the value placed on breastmilk (as all health organizations and professionals do), you can see how this perpetuates a rift in the classes...and is making many working moms understandably upset.

The CDC promotes breast feeding on the basis that it boosts immunity in newborns and helps to lower the rate of certain breast and ovarian cancers in mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics goes even further to dispel any commercially espoused belief in the equality of formula to breastmilk, stating, "Human milk is uniquely superior for infant feeding and is species-specific; all substitute feeding options differ markedly from it." Gothamist found a wealth of experts touting the holiness of breatmilk. So, assume we all agree that the breast is best...and put aside any issues of it being gross or inapporpiate in public (that is a different article completely), why then aren't all mothers encouraged to breastfeed?

It seems a small concession to provide the time and space for a breastfeeding mother to pump. Really, all she needs is a small private space (converted closet perhaps?) and roughly 20 minutes every four hours. In return, the employer would be reaping the benefits of a healthier and happier employee, one that doesn't need to take as many days off to be with a sick infant. It seems like simple logic and, yet, breastmilk pumping in the workplace remains taboo, and, for many, impossible.

Gothamist can speak from experience. As an elementary school teacher, it was nearly impossible to pump for Gothamist Baby. Whether as a direct result or not, Gothamist had to take an extended leave (from which we have yet to return) when, after nine days of daycare, Baby became very ill. This is a situation in which an educated professional, in a female dominated, children friendly industry was discouraged from pumping. With no private space to do it, and only one lunch break during which it would be possible, pumping became too stressful to be efficient. (Note to the unitiated: it doesn't happen if you're tense.)

The US Dept of Health and Human Services tells women to just not go back to work, stay home. Yet our government does not provide for maternity leave. Gothamist was only able to take the most basic leave alotted by FMLA (the Family Medical Leave Act) which was three months UNPAID. And if you must go back, they tell you to request a space from your supervisor, their office perhaps, as if this was something readily handed over. Some states have addressed the problem with legislation, but not all. New York State was, in fact, the first to enact breastfeeding legislation, but it simply allows women to breastfeed in public without the threat of being arrested for indecency and grants breastfeeding rights to incarcerated women.

And where does that leave our engorged barista? La Leche League is an advocacy group that offers support to nursing mothers. However, with no enforcable legislation on the horizon, she's still waiting in line for that bathroom hoping to fill a bottle or two before the next guy's cigarette break.