“Motherhood—it takes you to some rather undignified places, doesn’t it?”
This one came to me from a female colleague after I mentioned my latest twenty-minute breast-pumping session—in my car. I couldn’t help but laugh and nod. She knew too well how hard it is to be a breast-feeding mom while also being a woman who either works in an office or, say, likes to get out of the house on occasion.
It’s true. Motherhood has taken me to some undignified places. Like when I was about seven months pregnant with our third child and came down with a cold. I sneezed quite a bit and peed my pants, causing my 3-and-a-half-year-old son to urge me to try a little harder to have “dry days.” Undignified indeed.
Then there are the bathroom stalls. I don’t know a single person who enjoys spending time in a bathroom trafficked by hundreds of people a day, let alone for upward of twenty minutes. Crammed in a tiny stall, rummaging for equipment—this is a dreaded occurrence for a breast-feeding mother who dares to leave home. It’s a sacrifice many mothers are willing to make, but that doesn’t make it any nicer of an experience.
So you can imagine how I took the news this week that all Chicago airports will require breast-feeding rooms for moms. One small step for Chicago, one giant leap for womankind!
Governor Bruce Rauner signed a new law recently that will require large airports in Illinois to have lactation rooms by 2017. Both O’Hare and Midway international airports each have one lactation room currently, and O’Hare will have another three rooms by the end of 2015, according to the Chicago Aviation Commissioner, Ginger Evans. This may seem like a small change in terms of a remodel, but for working mothers and traveling families, this small change makes a world of difference.
Coming on the heels of World Breast-Feeding Week, this news is worthy of a celebration. As a working mother of three, I am thrilled to know that in at least two American airports, I won’t be relegated to the unpleasant bathroom stall. But more than just a perk for me personally, changes like these are a demonstration of a commitment to supporting mothers and families in all arenas, and that is a huge advancement for women.
NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION
Despite the undignified options offered to moms at many other airports and public places, I believe that breast-feeding is remarkably dignified and worthy of respect.
In 2011, the surgeon general issued a “call to action to support breast-feeding,” citing that “three-quarters of all newborns in America now begin their lives breast-feeding.” This is a major improvement from the way my parents were raised, but with breast-feeding becoming the norm, we’ve had some social changes to make as a country. The call to action states that “every mother in our nation deserves information, guidance, and support . . . from her family and friends, the community where she lives, the health professionals on whom she relies, and her employer.”
As a result, the medical field stepped up right away, and most hospitals around the country are now encouraging breast-feeding and offering lactation support. Federally funded health and nutrition organizations such as WIC are providing breast-feeding support and nursing classes while also providing access to breast pumps for women enrolled in its program. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance to cover at least a portion of—if not all of—the cost of a breast pump. Forty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breast-feed in any public or private location. Why Idaho hasn’t made the leap to join this list, I’m not sure, but as far as breast-feeding acceptance goes, our country has made great strides in the past five years.
Still, if you’re a mom who works outside the home, or frankly just wants to have more than two hours to yourself at any point, providing breast milk to your baby often requires some logistical shenanigans—namely, pumping. And until now, we’ve been woefully behind in offering comfortable and sanitary places for women to do so.
AND . . . MOTHER IS THE NECESSITY OF INVENTION
Most mothers can relate, I’m sure, to the plethora of negative pumping experiences I’ve endured. A few years ago, I was doing some freelance work in an older office building. My daughter was 7 months old, and even though she was spending the day with a sitter, I still needed to pump, both for comfort and to keep up milk supply. As I walked into the conference room where I would be working, I scanned the windowed walls and the glass double doors. Pumping in this space during lunch would be a no-go unless I wanted everyone in the surrounding courtyard to join me in my noontime milk-expression session. I had no desire to sit on one of three toilets in the women’s restroom while lactating for twenty minutes, so I did what many mothers do in these situations: I pumped in the car. Medela has manufactured a portable vehicle adapter specifically for this purpose. In fact, the tagline for the product is, “Need a private place to pump? How about your car?”
Small businesses aside, while the rest of the country is making efforts to provide spaces for nursing mothers (thank you, Target), airports still stand out as one of the biggest problem areas when it comes to family-friendly places. Yes, strollers and car seats can be checked for free, and very small children can ride in your lap. These are family-friendly measures that are helpful for vacations and trips, but moms traveling for business have been consistently out of luck. Heading out to pump in the car thirty minutes before a flight isn’t an option. Pumping on the plane is also unavailable. In order for airports to be truly family-friendly, they need to demonstrate support to nursing mothers by providing clean, quiet spaces for traveling mothers to nurse or pump.
Thankfully, our country and our culture is embracing breast-feeding as an option worth supporting for mother and baby. While breast-feeding is not possible for everyone, it goes without question that the practice is so “medically beneficial for mothers and infants” that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breast-feeding until six months and then continuing on with breast-feeding until a child is a year or more. Six months to a year is a long time, and for many working moms, that time period may include several business trips (and hopefully a romantic getaway or a fun girls’ weekend). For this reason, we need airport spaces that are accommodating to both nursing and pumping. The fact that Chicago’s City Council has made an effort to recognize the importance of these spaces and seek action on the matter is praiseworthy.
The act of sustaining human life is one of the most dignified actions I can think of, and it’s about time that dignity be acknowledged. I hope that airports around the country will follow Chicago’s lead. In the meantime, if you’re traveling without your baby in the future, you’ll probably want to schedule a layover at O’Hare: Relax, get some popcorn, and pump in peace.