Working and breastfeeding is hard. Studies say support from coworkers is key to success.

Breastfeeding can be a challenge all on its own. What happens when you add working to the mix?

Compared with the rest of the industrialized world (and much of the rest of the world, actually), the U.S. makes working parenthood difficult. As the only developed nation with no guaranteed paid family leave, many new parents find themselves having to return to work within a handful of weeks after having a baby.

Image by The DataFace, LLC.


And when you're a breastfeeding parent, that also means having to figure out how to pump breastmilk while balancing job duties. Sounds simple enough — if you've never pumped before. At best, it's a lot of work and not the most fun way to spend a break. At worst, an employer who is exempt from the federal requirements to provide time and space to breastfeed can make it darn near impossible to pump at the office. Even with time and space, some are never are able to pump efficiently.

For many, breastfeeding and working is doable, but difficult. But there's one thing that is proven to make it easier.

When coworkers are supportive, people have greater success with breastfeeding while working.

According to researchers at Michigan State and Texas Christian University, support from colleagues is a major factor in parents feeling confident that they can continue breastfeeding. In fact, surprisingly, coworker support has an even stronger effect than the support of family and friends.

One of the researchers' studies found that around 25% of participants decided to breastfeed while working because their employers created a breastfeeding-friendly environment. And about 15% said that direct support and motivation from supervisors and coworkers inspired them to keep breastfeeding after going back to work.

The study data showed that simply going back to work was enough to make many folks decide to stop breastfeeding, but those who chose to continue cited colleague support as a primary factor.

"In order to empower women to reach their goals and to continue breastfeeding, it's critical to motivate all co-workers by offering verbal encouragement and practical help," said Joanne Goldbort, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at MSU, who collaborated in the study. That means accepting that breastfeeders will need extra "breaks," encouraging and supporting them in taking those breaks, and providing a clean, quiet, private space for them to pump.

We've seen progress in the past decade, from laws supporting breastfeeders to better breast pumps.

Thanks to provisions of the Affordable Care Act, federal law mandates that employers provide time and a clean place to pump — a place that is not a bathroom. Not all employers are bound by that law, but it's a good start. And recently, the final two states passed laws protecting the right to breastfeed in public anywhere in the U.S.

In addition, technology keeps getting better and better. Those of us who breastfed a decade or two ago had no choice but to use pumps that were basically the human equivalent of a commercial milking machine. While they got the job done, they were cumbersome, uncomfortable, loud, and not particularly dignified.

Now there are pumps that you can wear inside a bra, with no tubes, no electrical hookups, and no bottles connected. I recently found out about this Willow breast pump and was blown away by how much better it is than what I had available when my kids were babies. While on the pricey side, it's whisper-quiet and can be totally hidden inside your clothing, so you could pump while working and no one would ever know. Mind. Blown.

Willow Testimonial Mashup

Chances are, you’ve heard the buzz about Willow. Now watch what women are saying about their personal experiences with it and how it’s a must-have and a game changer. www.willowpump.com

Posted by Willow Pump on Sunday, July 1, 2018

With more and more working parents in the picture, we have to be creative and flexible when it comes to balancing breastfeeding with work.

There is a lot more America could do to help make breastfeeding easier for working parents. But until we catch up with the rest of the world in providing guaranteed paid leave, we'll have to approach breastfeeding and working as individual employees, employers, and coworkers.

The more we can voice our support for breastfeeding and make it easier for folks who work to get the time, space, and support they need to pump, the happier and healthier our communities will be.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less