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Warning: Breastfeeding Is Dangerous (to Your Career)

Vivia Chen

December 26, 2018

Add this to the list of possible reasons as to why women leave law practice: Breastfeeding. 
Yup, you heard correctly. I admit I did not take this as a serious factor at first, but it seems women who breastfeed still face challenges and prejudices—so much so that they might be abandoning ship.
According to a recent survey by Aeroflow (a breast pump provider—what else?), "half of the 773 women surveyed had concerns that breastfeeding at work could impact their career growth," reports Bloomberg." Moreover, "half of the breastfeeding working moms also said they have considered a job or career change."
Wait, are women actually quitting their jobs to breastfeed in peace? Well, the correlation isn't quite that clear because "women are more likely to quit breastfeeding than quit their jobs entirely," reports Bloomberg. That said, some women are bailing for reasons related to motherhood—and that contributes to the gender pay gap. 
In fact, one study finds a "breastfeeding penalty," reports Bloomberg: "Women who breastfed for at least six months suffered more severe and prolonged earnings losses than mothers who breastfed for less time or not at all." And considering "thatonly about 40 percent of women have access to a private space, other than a bathroom, to pump," there are plenty of employers who are not supportive of breastfeeding moms at all.
But is this relevant in the world of Big Law, which has made a big deal of providing lawyer-moms with fancy lactation rooms and overnight shipment of breastmilk, not to mention generous parental leaves?

Most firms seem to have the right physical facilities and policies but some aspects of the profession are not so accommodating.

Courthouses, for instance, pose problems because they often lack appropriate setups, reports Law.com's Angela Morris. "Most of these courthouses were built at times it was just white males going to court,” Sarretta McDonough, president of the National Association of Women Lawyers, tells Law.com. "We’ve focused so much on the private sector—we haven’t focused enough on public facilities."

The bigger problem, arguably, is that a lawyer's schedule is unrelenting and difficult for nursing moms. "Breast pumping requires a strict schedule that doesn’t fit squarely in the traditional workday," reports Bloomberg. "Pumping times can vary anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Women have to pump multiple times during the workday."

Moreover, there's also simple prejudice against breastfeeding moms. One Virginia-based lawyer with three kids told Bloomberg that her former employer accused her of lagged productivity when she started breast pumping, then laid her off.  

But are these concerns resonating with female lawyers, even ones who've breastfed their kids?
All the griping about having to choose between being a good mom who breastfeeds and a hardworking lawyer is "ridiculous," says an Am Law 100 firm female partner with three kids, all of whom she's breastfed. Women, she says, should "quit whining" and "do what you feel you need to do to deal with the eternal work-life struggle." 
This lawyer says that a woman with a new child has "an obligation to let the employer know she is the same devoted worker pre-and post-baby." After having her kids, she actually made it clear that she was more than willing to travel. "I was in it to win it." she explains. "If someone said to me they wouldn’t fly cross country for a meeting because 'I have a baby,' I would question that person’s commitment to their career, male or female."
Her advice "is to stay present in your job while pumping as much as possible." She adds, "Own it. I took conference calls while pumping and when someone said 'what’s that noise?' I responded 'my breast pump.' " 
So there you have it. What do you think? Is breastfeeding hurting your career?


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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