The New White/Blue Collar Divide: Pumping

August 31, 2006

Editor’s confession: I want to hang out in Starbuck’s corporate Lactation Room. Thanks for highlighting this issue, Hillary! -Amy

Revisiting the issue of breastfeeding, The New York Times documents the reality of the two class system that exists in the workplace

When a new mother returns to Starbucks’ corporate headquarters in Seattle after maternity leave, she learns what is behind the doors mysteriously marked “Lactation Room.”

Whenever she likes, she can slip away from her desk and behind those doors, sit in a plush recliner and behind curtains, and leaf through InStyle magazine as she holds a company-supplied pump to her chest, depositing her breast milk in bottles to be toted home later.

But if the mothers who staff the chain’s counters want to do the same, they must barricade themselves in small restrooms intended for customers, counting the minutes left in their breaks.

“Breast milk is supposed to be the best milk, I read it constantly when I was pregnant,” said Brittany Moore, who works at a Starbucks in Manhattan and feeds her 9-month old daughter formula. “I felt bad, I want the best for my child,” she said. “None of the moms here that I know actually breast-feed.”

Of course, working in a professional environment doesn’t always guarantee a supportive environment:

Shortly after Marlene Warfield, a dental hygienist in Tacoma, Wash., began pumping on the job, she said her boss wore a Halloween costume consisting of a large silver box — his interpretation of a pump, perhaps — with a cutout labeled “insert breast here.” When he instructed Ms. Warfield to leave her pump at home, she said, she quit her job– and consulted the local human rights commission, which found nothing illegal about the dentist’s actions.

Can you BELIEVE that?!

Still there is some promising news:

Public health authorities, alarmed at the gap between the breast-feeding haves and have-nots, are now trying to convince businesses that supporting the practice is a sound investment. “The Business Case for Breastfeeding,” an upcoming campaign by the Department of Health and Human Services, will emphasize recent findings that breast-feeding reduces absenteeism and pediatrician bills.

It’s good to see a recognition of the disparity of support for women in the white collar environment, which still has its challenges, and women in the service sector, where the challenges are often simply insurmountable.  Let’s hope and work for better conditions for all working and nursing moms in the future!