Social Appropriateness While Pumping

The unbelievable just happened to me not ten minutes ago… When I first came back to work after having my daughter, Amara, I would sit in a restroom to pump breastmilk for her twice a day. Sometimes I would have a chair to sit on, sometimes I’d have to stand or sit on the floor (hygienic, I know). There was no lock on the door, and the bathroom was commonly used by both staff members and the people we serve who have developmental disabilities. I would tape an “occupied” sign on the door, but there would always be someone who didn’t look and would start to open the door. Met with complete embarrassment when they heard a voice shout “I’m in here!”, the door would immediately close before the person even got his or her head in the door. I would be met with an apology later, even though the person knew I was pumping and probably not all that exposed.

After a while, the three coworkers in my office (2 males, 1 female) suggested that I just put a privacy screen up in front of my cubicle and pump here instead of in the bathroom. I was elated to know that they wouldn’t be uncomfortable hearing the “whish-whoosh” of the pump and spray of the milk! Since that time, I’ve been pumping in my cubicle with no problem. Until today, that is.

Prior to today, people have just spoken to me through the screen or handed papers over it if they need to give me something while I’m busy. Today, though, I actually just had a woman enter my cubicle while I was pumping. She said my name when she came into the office, and I thought we’d have a conversation between the screen as usual. Then I notice that she’s moving the screen while talking. I immediately say “I’m pumping in here,” just in case she didn’t understand the concept of a privacy screen (she already knows that I pump at work and that’s what I’m doing when I have the screen up, but I thought I’d remind her in case she really was just naive). She continued to enter while I frantically tried to cover my completely exposed top, replying “oh, I’m not going to let the screen fall down. I just thought if you had the list of names that I need then you could give it to me.” Dumbfounded and concerned that my coworkers could now see in too (I don’t think they could, though), I replied that I wasn’t sure where it was and wasn’t going to look for it right now, so I would print it for her. Then she stayed in my cubicle while I brought up the document on my computer and hit print! (All the while trying to hold my jacket closed, balance an open bottle of milk, and prevent myself from leaking everywhere with my other hand). After leaving, she placed the screen back but managed to leave a gap that would have allowed someone to see in without even trying should he or she be standing in the right location.

Come on, isn’t it obvious that a privacy screen is there for a reason, like that you want to be private? Should I be any less outraged at this than if it had been a man? I don’t mind breastfeeding in public, but pumping is a completely different thing to me. Where does the line cross from cluelessness about social norms and appropriateness to sexual harassment? I’m a big advocate that nursing breasts should not be considered sexual, but what about in the environment of pumping at work?

Oh, what to do. *sigh*

4 thoughts on “Social Appropriateness While Pumping

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  1. The line between social inappropriateness and harassment comes when you’ve explained in a concrete manner that the privacy screen is to be respected and not touched to your co-worker, and they repeat the infraction again. Until you have been expicit about your wishes to be left alone, it is possible that they don’t realize that it means them, too. Sorry to say it, but until they ignore your expressed wishes, it’s not harassment, it’s just idiocy.


  2. Did you speak to her about this? I would just talk to her and tell her exactly how you feel, so this does’nt happen again. I would tell her that the screen is up not just up for the men in your office but includes women also. That you would like to have your privacy and would prefer no one sees your breasts. Sounds like she viewed her behaviour as no big deal as your a women she’s a women, but that does’nt mean what she did is okay, or right.


  3. I don’t think you will ever be able to escape the sexualization of breasts; breastfeeding or not, breasts are sexual in our culture. Even if they don’t seem that way to you, others will still see it that way.

    Remember that breastfeeding has not been accepted in modern society all that long. Even though it has a human history old history, modern society is still coming to terms with it as it was considered unsafe, unhygenic and unscientific for much of the 20th century. I am surprised I was breastfed for the three months that I was as an infant as it was still very much taboo in the early 80s. It’s only with the advent of research into the benefits that breastfeeding has made such a recent comeback. I think many people are still very uncomfortable with it.

    Consider yourself fortunate though that you have a breastfeeding friendly workplace and environment. We already know that if we choose at some point to have children, that won’t be an option for us, as I can’t ever guarantee there will be enough time to pump. And since if we have a baby, it will live at grandma’s for twenty four hours at a time, some things will simply have to be foregone. And thinking over the jobs I have had, I don’t think I’ve ever run into one where pumping was an option.

    In any case, you have to do what you know is best for Amara, even if it disturbs someone or makes other people uncomfortable. The baby isn’t their responsibility; it is yours and Ron’s alone. Hopefully, someday the cultural shift back to breastfeeding will be complete, and these sort of things will no longer be an issue.



  4. I hope you told someone about this. It sounds like you made it more than clear that the privacy screen was there for privacy. (Seems like that would be obvious though…)
    Whether or not nursing breasts are sexual really doesn't matter. They are still your breasts, on your body. Just because you happened to be using them for a practical purpose doesn't mean they (you) deserve any less respect or privacy.
    I, for one, would have been furious!


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