Breastfeeding and Balance: A Mom’s Journey at Hobsons

Categories: Breastfeeding, Employer, Pumping, Working Mamas
September 24, 2019

This is a guest post by Danielle Kline Haber.

Before I left my home in New Jersey one recent September morning to catch the 5:37 a.m. Amtrak train to Washington, DC, my fifteen-month-old daughter, Sloane, woke me up a half hour before my alarm was set to go off. We cuddled, I nursed her, put her back in her crib, and then I went about getting ready while my husband was still in bed sleeping. Despite my early wake-up call, it was a peaceful and calm morning, and I spent valuable time with my daughter — the kind of perfect start to a day that I savor as a working mom.

A year earlier, my June baby had provided me with a magical maternity leave. Sloane had taken to breastfeeding like a champion from the moment she arrived and had the chubby cheeks, thick thighs, and dirty diapers to prove it. We filled our days with long, luxurious walks throughout the 300-acre park that borders our neighborhood. I loved most everything about new motherhood, except for perhaps the bone-numbing exhaustion of caring for an infant, but still I was grateful. I had always wanted to be a mom.

“I began to feel as if dark clouds were just waiting in the wings ready to consume the precious new bond I was just beginning to nurture with my daughter.”

Motherhood can be daunting and the mountains we will be asked to climb will all look and feel different. I write with deep compassion and consciousness for the many moms who struggle more than I did in those early weeks with issues like antepartum or postpartum depression, a premature baby, breastfeeding problems, or a lack of financial resources and a solid support system. My mountain appeared when my three-month paid maternity leave began nearing its end, and the mere thought of returning to a career that I loved and valued as a director of a global NGO in New York City began to suffocate me. Three months was not remotely enough time, and the sadness I experienced at the thought of leaving Sloane was overwhelming. I began to feel as if dark clouds were just waiting in the wings ready to consume the precious new bond I was just beginning to nurture with my daughter.

Breastfeeding had become one of the most precious ways I connected with my baby, and I was terrified of losing that togetherness. Women are incredibly resourceful and resilient, and I planned on summoning as much of my inner strength as necessary so that I could return to work and keep breastfeeding, but the barriers seemed relentless. My commute was two hours each way door-to-door, and I was pumping 4 times per day for roughly 30 minutes at a time. That’s 2 hours per day and approximately one whole month per year. “How is this possible?” I agonized. Should I throw in the towel and be a stay-at-home mom? What about the career I had built? Could I step away even for a bit? Was this financially wise?  Before I made a drastic decision, I wanted to try to make it work, but the only way that seemed possible was to find more time.

Around the time I returned to work in September 2018, Harpers Bazaar published the article “Why Women Really Quit Breastfeeding.” One particular message stuck with me: “Breastfeeding is often framed as a matter of women’s individual choices, rather than of environmental supports and policies that influence behavior. That framing,” [Dr. Lauren] Dinour says, “can send the message that creating the circumstances for successful breastfeeding is a woman’s responsibility alone. It’s not just a choice of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to breastfeeding,” she says. “It’s a choice of, ‘Can I overcome these barriers that are in place for me?’ And for many women, the answer is no.”

“Any lactating mom knows that these bare bones federal requirements provide little support when you have to pump every day at work, no matter what meeting or event arises.”

In 2010, the Affordable Care Act amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act.  It required employers to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” The law indicates that the room must be private, and it must not be a bathroom. Any lactating mom knows that these bare bones federal requirements provide little support when you have to pump every day at work, no matter what meeting or event arises. I was fortunate to have had my own private office in which to pump. To save time, I chose to rent and keep at home the hospital-grade Medela Symphony Breast Pump because it was faster. I would leave my less expensive pump at work.

I tried to make it work, but I truly did not see how I was going to manage it all: sleep enough to get through my work day, pump enough milk to feed my daughter, stay hydrated enough to produce enough milk, and not to mention be alert enough to do my job well. If I was lucky, I reasoned, I might get to spend an hour of my day with Sloane.

And that was unacceptable to me, which is why I knew I needed to leave.

I did not set out to find perfection. I set out to take a step in a more fulfilling direction by finding a company that would value me and the contributions I could make as a working mom. That’s when I discovered Hobsons, an educational technology company that lives and breathes student success. Based out of Arlington, VA, and Cincinnati, OH, its mission is to connect learning to life by matching students to opportunities across a lifetime of education decisions. Unbeknownst to me when I began interviewing, Hobsons also values work/life balance and flexibility.

When I began my new position as a remote employee, my daughter was six-months old. I accepted the fact that there would be a day or a week here and there when I would be apart from Sloane — and that was OK with me. What kept me up at night was how I was going to start a new job while learning how to navigate traveling, pumping in the workplace (as well as the train station or airport), and then transporting milk back to my daughter. I was cognizant that any barrier to this process would likely derail my ability to feed her.

“There are clear cost-saving benefits for employers when mothers breastfeed.”

Even though the World Health Organization recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age and beyond,” it’s very difficult for working moms to fulfill those guidelines. In fact, I recently read a statistic indicating that only 26% of mothers who choose to nurse while working full-time are still breastfeeding at six months. And yet, there is little question that breastmilk and breastfeeding have far-reaching health benefits for both mom and baby. Several studies indicate that breastfeeding mothers often have an easier recovery, as well as reduced rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease, and depression. Other established studies indicate that there are countless benefits for baby like reduced rates of middle ear infections, respiratory tract infections, colds, gut infections, intestinal tissue damage, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), allergies, Celiac disease, diabetes, and childhood leukemia. There are clear cost-saving benefits for employers when mothers breastfeed. Breastfeeding moms and their babies who are valued in the workplace take fewer sick days and have better morale and higher rates of retention.

Photo credit: Phoebe Bouras’ new “Hobsons baby”

On my first day, one of the first stops on the office tour at Hobsons was the Moms’ Room — a private, locked room with a comfortable couch, relaxing lights, a sink, a refrigerator and freezer, soap, sanitizer, towels, disposable breast pads, and lots of snacks. There were boards to share photos of new babies at Hobsons. Later that day, I would learn that a private Moms’ Room Outlook calendar allowed lactating moms to reserve the time necessary, and an internal Slack channel provided us with the opportunity to connect with and support each other. Hobsons had booked me a hotel room with a full kitchen including a refrigerator and dishwasher — a necessity when sanitizing pumping parts and freezing milk. All of this was fantastic. But what I came to learn that I believe sets Hobsons apart is that our leadership is listening. On one of my first weeks in the office, I worked up some courage to express a concern about pumping in the workplace to one of my new, thoughtful colleagues. His response: “Don’t worry. Kate is a mom. She gets it.” Kate Cassino is Hobsons’ CEO.

Expressing milk is a profoundly personal experience. Having to navigate the personal in a professional setting is tough and requires immense support.  It requires legislation. It requires supportive employers and colleagues. It requires many conversations on this topic so that every workplace can learn how to invest in better breastfeeding programs and policies.

“If I can be one small voice advancing this conversation forward, I aim to keep doing so until all companies in the United States step up.”

I am deeply aware that I fall into the minority of working women who have made it past a year in their breastfeeding journey. Today, Sloane is a vibrant and healthy little girl who, I am proud to say, has only been absent from daycare twice with brief illnesses, likely because I have had the ability to breastfeed. I still nurse her every morning, although I now only have to pump once per day. I primarily work from home, which gives me time in the morning and evening to enjoy my daughter. That is four hours per day — 20 hours every single week — that I would have lost if I did not work for Hobsons.

If I can be one small voice advancing this conversation forward, I aim to keep doing so until all companies in the United States step up. Until that day, it’s a joy to work for Hobsons, a company that keeps getting it right for its working and breastfeeding moms.

 Danielle is the Director of Development and Institutional Advancement at Hobsons.