When the PUMP Act was signed into law last year, it expanded the legal rights of some 9 million more lactating individuals, including teachers, who had been previously excluded from the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers law as it only applied to hourly workers.
But even with the revamped legislation, teachers are in a unique position.
In Jill Inderstrodt’s I Study Breastfeeding Behavior. Here’s Why Nursing Teachers Have It So Tough, she explains: “…The bill’s prescriptions are often at odds with the day-to-day logistics of jobs.”
Inderstrodt goes on, “In many cases, teachers have to choose between finding coverage for their classroom or forgoing pumping. With one or two pumping sessions per day, this could mean finding coverage 40 times a month.”
Stacy Synold is an educator and part of the leadership team at a small, private school in the Midwest. She breastfed all three of her biological children, now 25, 22, and 19, beyond their second birthdays.
“I never thought I would breastfeed as long as I did but I followed their lead and found it to be supportive of my parenting choices,” Synold shares.
She continues, “Breastfeeding was so important for my kids, who all had asthma and allergy issues. I shudder to think of what their health may have been without nursing. What started as a nutritional imperative for me became some of the most treasured [moments] in my life. Given that I nursed toddlers and even a near preschooler, they were all very verbal and verbally loving about breastfeeding, and I remember all the little names and words they had for breastfeeding.”
There was “sie-sie” for nursies and “noonies” and “nonnies”.
“One time… my son said, ‘I give hugs to the nurse and hugs to the other nurse,” in reference to breastfeeding, Synold remembers.
As it sometimes is, weaning was a momentous event for Synold’s family. When her daughter was about to turn three, she hosted a weaning party.
“We had pink cupcakes and the whole family celebrated. She had stopped nursing except for once every few weeks so we decided to support her into her next phase. We gave her a baby doll to nurse if she wanted to and that was her favorite doll for a long time.”
Besides feeding her own children, Synold pumped her milk for the adopted newborn of a local woman who endured the death of her biological baby a year earlier.
“She had high hopes of relactating, but I very much wanted to help her in the short-term,” Synold says. For eight weeks, she pumped on a three to four hour schedule.
“It was almost like having a newborn again, and my 18-month-old daughter loved my increased production,” Synold remembers. “I would do it all again to see the smile on that mom’s face each time I delivered the milk!”
Synold served as a La Leche League Leader for nearly a decade under the mentorship of Kay Batt, who has been a LLL leader since 1967. Batt invited Synold to an evening meeting which turned out to be a meeting with an emphasis of supporting mothers and families who worked outside the home.
“She helped me become a better mom and shared so much knowledge, especially about how to support the unique needs of working families who breastfeed,” Synold reflects.
Since breastfeeding her own babies, Synold has witnessed a shift in infant feeding culture.
She cites being appreciative of the laws passed in protection of breastfeeding and the increase in designated places for mothers to breastfeed in public.
“I wasn’t bashful, but my children were easily distracted and needed a quiet place to nurse],” she begins. “I was kicked out of a restaurant in Mayfair Mall once in 2001 for breastfeeding at the table. Apparently, men and boys ate there…who knew! I said to the woman who was kicking me out when she stated about men and boys, ‘I know, I am feeding a little boy right now!’”
Because of the nature of her work outside of the home while she was breastfeeding, Synold didn’t find herself in the position of needing workplace accommodations. For instance, as a nanny at one point, she says she was easily able to nurse her son without special accommodation. In a different position, her daughter was two, so she was able to withstand longer stretches without emptying her breasts. Her toddler would then nurse throughout the night as they coslept.
In her recent leadership roles, Synold facilitates safe lactation spaces for her colleagues.
“I always have a comfy area in my office, I offer flexible schedules and plentiful breaks if needed, and seek better locations,” Synold explains. “One year, I had seven teachers give birth and my office was the only office with a lock. I ended up out of my office most of that year, so we gave a locking large closet a makeover for pumping. I did realize I sometimes needed an office!”
Like Inderstrodt concludes, “If we are going to recruit and retain our teaching workforce under such circumstances, teachers need all the accommodations we can give them. That means that legislation such as the PUMP Act must be accompanied by scheduling accommodations at both the school and district levels so that the legislation for lactating mothers transcends paper.” Even before it was signed into law, Synold has exemplified this support.