When I first became a breastfeeding community supporter in 2007 one of the biggest issues breastfeeding parents faced in the work place was pumping their milk during working day separation. Moms shared creative work arounds they found such as pumping in their car, pumping with a homemade contraption to make the pump hands-free and “reverse cycling” where the baby and mom would bedshare and nurse all night long so the need for milk during the work day was minimal. Many moms even had to pump their milk in bathrooms on a break without pay while their coworkers received hourly smoke breaks on the clock.
I cried with moms who talked about childcare providers sneakily giving their child formula or solid foods without permission or need. Childcare Centers would often require 3 8oz bottles of milk a day for baby just starting solids. When the baby would only drink half of the milk, the milk remaining in the bottles was dumped down the drain.
In 2010 this all changed with the Department of Labor “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law, which required lactation rooms have running water and it could not be a bathroom. Unpaid break time was still the norm, but at least now those making human milk for their babies had some protection.
It’s not perfect, but it was a start. In the years since I mostly field complaints about a lack of adequate number of lactation rooms in businesses who under estimated the need and inadequate facilities. Since the law has been in place there is more willingness to solve this issue on the part of businesses. It isn’t perfect now in 2021, but it’s a huge leap ahead of where we were in 2007.
On July 20, 2021 California’s Department of Employment and Fair Housing filed a civil lawsuit against the video game producer Activision Blizzard, known for Skylanders, World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, over discriminatory practices geared towards women. The lawsuit followed a 2 year investigation over horrifying sexual harassment that women at that company endured. This article by Slate spells out some of the most egregious events that occurred at Activision Blizzard. Please be advised that it is very disturbing.
Buried down in the reporting was accusations regarding the lactation rooms at Activision Blizzard. Many articles discuss the practice of kicking pumping employees out of the lactation room so meetings could be held. This isn’t surprising because it happens way more than anyone would suspect unless they had fielded calls through the years on this issue. However, most of the articles do not cover the most disturbing accusation regarding the lactation rooms.
Trigger Warning: sexual harassment. Proceed with caution.
Those beautiful lactation rooms that so many fought hard for were the site of sexual harassment unique to breastfeeding mothers. The lactation room doors in Activision Blizzard did not have locks and men would often open the door and openly gawk at employees pumping. One employee reported to IGN that she would have to scream at these men in order to get them to stop staring and leave the room!
Who knew the Department of Labor should have informed businesses in 2010 that the lactation room should include locks and coworkers shouldn’t gawk at people using them? *raises hand* While most stories I hear don’t include sexual harassment many women have told me that they have had to wedge chairs, make homemade signs, and use their feet even to hold the door closed to ensure they could pump in privacy.
I bring this to you not just to pass along another story of sexual harassment, but to specifically make people aware of the sexual harassment that is specific to those who are Lactating While Working. Maybe you can pass this on to a coworker who needs to learn some lactation room etiquette (I also provide this service in person with the promise of a flipped table), or maybe those in your life need to know this is something you’ve experienced. Maybe you didn’t know that that creepy feeling when it happened wasn’t you overreacting (as the gaslighters would like you to believe). I want people to know that this behavior is not acceptable. Yes, no one should have to be told this, but here we are.
Lactating parents work so hard. Let’s all make sure coworkers don’t have to make it harder. And pick up a lock for your lactation room if it doesn’t have one already.