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Ask Brian: Maternity Leave: What to do about nursing mothers – returning to work?

September 12th, 2009 · Leave A Comment

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Just Trying To Work asks:

I have a question about a touchy/socially taboo subject: nursing mothers in the workplace.  A woman that I work with who is still on maternity leave, comes into the office at least once a day for an hour or two.  She always brings her newborn baby with her, and at first it was a novelty to see such a little baby, that nobody complained.  She is one of those very pro-nursing women that insist upon physically breast feeding (not pumping and then giving the baby a bottle) at any time or location.  As a woman, myself, I think that nursing should be done in private because I know it makes people uncomfortable (that and I’m not about to whip out a boob in public). In addition, she changes the baby’s dirty diapers on her desk in the middle of the open office.  The smell alone is unbearable.  I should also mention that our office is mostly men and you can see them wince when she does these thing, but nobody has the guts to say anything to her face.  Everyone is complaining about it behind her back and it’s making for an unpleasant work environment.  Also, today was the last straw for me when I was on the phone with a client and I had a crying baby in the background.  What should/can I do?  Management is tucked away in their own little offices and are oblivious to the shenanigans going on.  I don’t want to seem like a complainer, but then everyone is complaining about this.

Thanks for any insights you may have!

Brian Sayz:

The debate of to breast feed or not to breast feed, is not as explosive as whether or not is is socially acceptable to nurse in public or private. 

There are laws to protect nursing mothers in the work place, so it is a subject that should be dealt with delicately and on a managerial level. 

In many states, you’ll find the verbiage that goes something like this, “Private place for nursing mothers. An employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where an employee described in Section xx can express her milk in privacy.” 

Therefore, you need to have a discussion with either your boss (if you are close and feel comfortable with disclosing such feelings) or Human Resources. 

Of course, there is a “whole babies in the work place” movement (, so be prepared to hear that in the fine print of your employee manual is a clause allowing such behavior. 

Even if you hear that your co-worker having her baby at work is okay, changing the diaper in the middle of the office is not okay.

I would approach this subject from the angle that, the baby while cute and you understand the benefits of breast feeding, it is a distraction from from your work. 

You have heard others talk about the distraction and feeling uncomfortable as well, and if at a minimum, can you be relocated to a desk in a different part of the office so that you can concentrate.

Companies do not like distracted workers.  Distracted Workers = Low Productivity = Bad for Business!

Good luck!

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Tags: Ask Brian · Getting Ahead · Office Politcs