amalgamating parental and work responsibilities in the workplace: one recommended reading

While at a conference in California during grad school, a fellow attendee had to run back to her hotel room at mid-day. To me, she explained that she had to pump breastmilk for her baby, who was back at home in the Midwest with the other parent. This was one of my first encounters with breastfeeding workers, one that “normalized” the amalgamation of parental and work responsibilities. Given pediatricians’ recommendations of breastfeeding until babies reach at least 6 months or preferably 1 year old, if possible, and parents’ return to work after a 3-month-long leave (or earlier), employers and employees are likely to confront the practicalities of pumping – how to pump, when to pump, where to pump, and how to store the milk.

Now, some conference sites and workplaces have designated lactation rooms so that parents don’t have to search for a private place to pump. In NY state, this room cannot be a restroom.

Despite changes to legislation and workplace policies, some workers still face daily challenges when pumping. As recounted in a freshly minted Culture and Organization publication by Prof. Noortje van Amsterdam at Utrecht School of Governance, the Netherlands, finding a place to pump and storing the milk was fraught with anxieties (i.e., “have I produced enough?”, “will the students notice if I have changed my shirt?”) and shame, as well as awkward exchanges with gatekeepers to offices and the canteen fridge.

After hitting the 6 month milestone, van Amsterdam ended pumping. To her surprise, one of the building workers, in charge of the canteen fridge, tells her that he misses their previous interactions over the milk storage. Such an exchange evidences how what might feel difficult or awkward to one party becomes part of a welcomed routine for another party.

One morning, I run into Ben in the hallway. “You’ve stopped expressing, haven’t
you?” he asks.
“Yes. I’m all done,” I reply.
“I do miss you, you know”
And in spite of everything that happened, this makes me feel a little better.

Here’s the full abstract:
“Othering the ‘leaky body’: An autoethnographic story about expressing breast milk in the workplace”


In this paper, I present an autoethnographic story about my experiences of expressing
breast milk at a Dutch university department. My story illustrates how interrelated
and conflicting discourses about gender, motherhood, breastfeeding, embodiment
and professionalism raised issues about (in)visibility, embodied control, spatiality
and discipline of my body and shaped my experience as a newly maternal
employee. This paper thus aims to include bodies and embodied experiences in
organization studies and highlights the need to consider spatiality as an important
topic of research. I address these issues in my writing and use insights from
feminist poststructuralism to show how the experiences I describe are part of a
larger cultural framework of power structures that produce the ‘leaky’ maternal
body as the Other, subject to (self-)discipline and marginalization. I hope my story
inspires reflexivity and empathic understanding of the complex reality of
experiences related to expressing breast milk in the workplace.

…An ideal read for those who want to become more attuned to how workplaces and colleagues can better support working parents.


Written by katherinechen

June 11, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Posted in academia, culture

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] “amalgamating parental and work responsibilities in the workplace: one recommended reading&#8… […]


  2. This brings back a lot of memories. A lot. Another thing that could make combining work with a baby easier is a baby-friendly workplace, including on-site child care so that breast feeding could be accomplished with a short walk to the baby.



    June 11, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: