Jessica Shortall: Moms Going Back to Work

By: Jessica Shortall


Dear Working Mom About to Go Back to Work After Having a Baby,

I know what you’re thinking. You’re going back to work, probably criminally soon after having a baby, and you’re suuuuper excited. Not only do you get to leave your baby and not fit into your work clothes…if you’re breastfeeding, you get a whole additional prize package!

  • Leaking through your work clothes while talking to Tim from Accounting? Check.

  • Talking to the person who signs your paycheck about your breasts and a bodily fluid? Check.

  • Explaining to your co-workers why you have to leave every meeting halfway through? Check.

Awkward conversations are THE staple of being a breastfeeding, working mom. I’m here with my top three tips on how to survive them.

  1. Get proactive with your planning.

Yes, your employer should be on top of this, with managers trained in the fine art of supporting a breastfeeding worker, and a super-deluxe lactation suite. But you might be the first person to attempt to pump at work. Your workplace layout might not be conducive to a lactation suite. Your manager and HR team might just be clueless.

In other words, you’re going to need a plan. To start, if there are any pumping veterans at work, ask them how they did it. Then map out where, when, and how you plan to pump while at work, and make note of any problems that will need to be solved: do you need a lock added to a door or a small refrigerator to be provided? Figure out how to solve those problems (hint: talk to the office or facilities manager) and how much that will cost. Set a meeting with your manager or HR person to present your plan, complete with “look how amazing I am” solutions. That way, when you do have a few areas you need them to help you with, they’ll know you went above and beyond on your end.

  1. Rip off the Band-Aid and just talk about it.

I’ve learned from talking with hundreds of working, breastfeeding mothers that there is one thing that is guaranteed to make pumping at work more awkward. That thing is: trying to avoid talking about pumping at work. It seems like a good idea at first. After all, nobody wants to talk about your breasts, least of all you. But what ends up happening is that the people around you only sort of know what you’re up to, and you waste a lot of time worrying about what they think you’re up to, and why.

Just take a deep breath and take it head-on, once, right at the beginning. Tell your boss, “This is awkward, so let’s just get it over with. I am breastfeeding my baby, so three times a day I will be excusing myself to go and pump milk for him.” Then show him your awesome plan (see #1). Do the same with any co-workers you interact with regularly: “We don’t need to go into detail, but I wanted you to know that because I’m breastfeeding, I will sometimes need to go pump milk for my baby. I don’t need you to do anything in particular; I just wanted you to know so it’s not so awkward.”

I know that you are probably cringing at this idea, but you just have to trust me on this. Otherwise, you will find yourself stammering awkwardly every time you have to go take care of business.

  1. Have some comebacks ready.

You know that thing where you think of the world’s wittiest comeback to something, about 6 hours too late? Don’t do that. Have some comebacks in your mental back pocket for when co-workers get inappropriate (it’s going to happen).

  • When a co-worker asks you why you’re “still” breastfeeding (#noneofherbusiness), try, “I’d like to stop, but my husband insists on fresh milk for his coffee.”

  • When a co-worker makes “milk the cow” hand motions as you walk toward the lactation room, try (loudly), “Yes, ERIC, I’m going to make food for my baby now. Thanks for always being SO interested in this!”

  • When anyone goes beyond your comfort zone, drop the jokes and go talk to human resources.

Now…get out there and do a really weird thing at work. You can do it. We have your back.


Jessica + gazillions of working moms everywhere 

Jessica Shortall is a working mother, and the author of Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work.

work. pump. repeat.


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