Why Is Pumping as a Teacher such a Challenge?

Inside: Teachers share their experiences with pumping in the classroom as a breastfeeding teacher

Who knew that pumping as a teacher would be such a challenge? Since right now I am not in the classroom, I try my best to stay up to date in all things education. I think that is super important as what I do now with creating my resources and blogging impacts educators every day. So one day, I saw an article that really intrigued me.

The title was, “Teacher sues, saying she was fired for taking breaks to pump breast milk for her child.” So of course, I immediately read the article and googled and read several other articles about this lawsuit, and found one that had even more information about it to dig into on Press Herald.

I shared this article and talked about it on my Instagram Stories, and it blew up. So many teachers had experiences to share about this. It was such an important conversation, that it led to a podcast episode and this blog post. In this post, I will discuss the lawsuit that started the conversation, experiences from teachers, and my own personal experiences with pumping in the classroom. Please note: This is more of an anecdotal article sharing experiences, so if you are looking for advice, be sure to check out my article pumping tips for teachers. 

Pumping Teacher Lawsuit

The Approved Pumping Schedule

This lawsuit is from a teacher in Portland, Maine. She was a 3rd-5th grade RTI (response to intervention) teacher- helping students who struggled with reading and math. Allegedly, she was fired because she needed to pump to breastfeed her child after returning to work after her maternity leave. She states that she had approved a schedule from her admin with 3 20 minute breaks to pump, which is what she states her body needed to maintain supply and to avoid clogged ducts and mastitis.

So 3 breaks is a reasonable amount of time to feed your child. As teachers we do know this can be tricky to do with our crazy schedules. It’s hard to find time to pee, let alone pump. But let’s remember that she had approved this pumping schedule.

What Happened Next

After the teacher had approved this schedule, her admin asked her to cut back her to only two pumping breaks- which were to take place during her planning period and lunch. The teacher said no, that this wasn’t enough and that her previous schedule was approved.

This allegedly, caused a hostile work environment with some co-workers. I’m not sure what exactly was going on there, I’m wondering if it has something to do with coverage. The article also states that people were giving her a hard time about her choice, causing the extreme animosity and hostility. This caused her to break down into tears and have stress related symptoms.

Two months after her return, she received her first negative evaluation when she had only ever had positive evaluations before her leave. She was later notified that her contract would not be renewed for the following year, and she claims it was because of her pumping. The school claims she was a provisionary teacher who was not up to their standards. From what I can tell from my research though, there was some definite discrimination going on.

The Important Instagram Stories Conversation

Fired up after reading the article, I shared my thoughts on my Instagram stories @wifeteachermommy with no idea what was to come.  If you’re reading this now and want to see how it all started, you can click here to see it in my Instagram story highlights under the “Teacher Mom” category. It’s the very first set of stories there.

The reason I decided to post is that I wanted to hear about other teachers’ experiences with this and start a conversation about it. While I help teachers a lot with planning their maternity leaves with my resources and blog, when teachers return from their leave is not something I had discussed with teachers as much. And really, I think that’s where more lack of support comes in.

I told this story on my IG stories, and asked the question “Do you think the school was in the wrong?” Can you guess what percent of teachers said “yes?”

94% of teachers answered that poll that they thought the school was in the wrong. Then teachers continued to share their own experiences with pumping in the classroom. I shared many of the responses within my stories, and the discrepancy was quite eye-opening. There were teachers who got the support they needed, and that was fantastic. But many more did not. And this is why this is such an important conversation.

Experiences Shared on Instagram

Lack of Support

Many teachers did not get the support that they needed as a new mom trying to pump breastmilk for their baby as a teacher. I saw sentiments like these below over and over again during this conversation.

  • “I put a cover over me and pumped. The principal made NO accommodations”
  • “Terrible- no one ever came on time and it decreased my supply”
  • “I wasn’t given any extra time. Recess, lunch, and whatever prep time”
  • “During planning time and lunch only! I hate to inconvenience others, so I made it work”
  • ‘I pumped for 8 months but due to not being able to have enough breaks, my supply took a huge dip and because of that my son weaned himself because he would get so frustrated when he wasn’t getting enough. He’s now formula fed going on two months”
  • “I asked for less rushed time and was given nothing.”

Where did Teachers Pump?

Classrooms during actual breaks, forced to pump in the bathrooms- which, according to law, should not be the case, computer lab, a tiny hall closet, classroom closet, during faculty meetings

  • “I pumped in the bathroom on my lunch break. The classroom had too many windows.”
  • “I was told to go pump in a bathroom…”
  • “It was stressful. My school did not have a designated place for me to pump, so I had to use the computer lab”
  • “I had to sit in an extra closet”
  • “It was tough! I had to pump in the closet of my classroom with my students there”

It IS possible to make this easier for moms!

Despite all of this, there WERE teachers receiving better support in their schools. Check out some of these responses:

  • “Amazing! My male principal understand the importance and is always accommodating!”
  • “I have a female principal and she was very accommodating”
  • “My boss made a spot upstairs for us new moms as best as she could so we could pump”
  • “My admin is amazing. I took breaks when needed!”

You can see more responses in my Instagram highlights by clicking on the “teacher mom” icon under my Instagram bio.

What Do the Laws for Pumping in the Classroom Say?

New moms should get adequate breaks for pumping. According to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee:

“A breastfeeding mother must pump her milk as often as the baby usually eats. During the early months of your baby’s life, you will probably need to pump your milk every 2-3 hours during the workday.”

The main law mentioned in this lawsuit federal Fair Labor Standards Act- section 7 R, “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” requires employers to provide a nursing mother reasonable break time to express milk each time she needs to do so for one year after the child’s birth. The act also requires employers to provide a place other than a bathroom for the nursing mother to use, but does not require the employer to compensate the employee for work time used for expressing milk. This is one of the laws that was used in the lawsuit, along with a Maine state law. These were all cited in the Press Herald news article from above.

However, after some further research, I discovered there are loopholes in this law. The law officially only applies to hourly employees. As teachers, we are salaried employees, so we are exempt from those protections. This was not mentioned in any of the articles I read about the lawsuit initially.

According to Kelly Mom, a breastfeeding website where I initially found this information, many states have laws that offer more protections than the federal law. For example, my state of Utah requires public employers to provide reasonable breaks, privacy, and a refrigerator for public employees. It looks like this law would extend to public school teachers. This law wasn’t passed until 2015, so it was not in place when I had my first child. I don’t want to give any outdated or incorrect information, so I will leave that up to you to research for your own state. But this is definitely something to look into.

My hopes are that with this lawsuit, more laws will be updated, and maybe that is what they are going for. Because you and your child’s needs don’t change whether you are an hourly or salaried employee.

The Podcast Episode on Pumping as a Teacher

Ronnie from Teach over the Rainbow saw my Instagram story, and invited me to join her on her podcast Close the Door and Teach. We discussed teacher’s experiences with pumping in the classroom, the laws, and more. It was such a pleasure to be on her podcast, and I think this is an important listen for any teachers who are pumping or who will be soon! You can listen to the podcast on Apple Podcasts here. You can also search for “Close the Door and Teach” to listen on Spotify.

My Personal Experience with Breastfeeding and Pumping

Since we are talking about breastfeeding and pumping, I decided to share a little of my experience about that as I introduce myself. My initial goal was to exclusively breastfeed and pump for my first child for a year. However, that is not how it went down. My supply struggled, a lot, from the get go. I did all the things, power pumping, fenugreek, lactation cookies and just kept breastfeeding amidst the struggle.

But as my son was not gaining enough weight- and as I started subbing and only being able to pump once during the day (during lunch)- that hindered my breastfeeding even more. We ended up supplementing at 3 months and beyond, until he became fully formula fed at 9 months. It was painful to give him that first bottle. I felt like I had failed.

Mommas, please know if you’re in my shoes that you have not failed. Breastfeeding is amazing, but there is only so much we can do and at the end of the day, your kid will be fine either way. In a few years, they’ll be eating McDonalds either way, right?

In my case, things were already pretty bad before I was subbing to begin with. I am proud to say I did breastfeed my kids for 9 and 6 months each, although they also had formula as well.

My Final Thoughts on Pumping as a Teacher

During my google time, I saw so many articles about moms and trouble breastfeeding in the workplace. One that really got to me during my initial research, and I couldn’t find it again, but it was about a mom who was basically forced to choose between feeding her child and her career as a teacher. She ended up giving up her career as a teacher. This is sad that we aren’t getting the support we need as moms! We are losing good teachers for many reasons, and one is due to the lack of accommodations during a short period of time when mothers need them.

I think this lawsuit will be an important one to keep an eye on, and see if it helps make any changes in federal law. I couldn’t find any updates in the case at this time, but I will definitely be watching for an update. As I learned from this conversation with teachers, there are principals out there who are being accommodating. So my hope is that in the future, more teachers will have an admin willing to do so.

My advice to Pumping Teachers

Be an advocate for yourself. Do your research on the laws in your state. Ask for help when needed.

Join a support group- such as our Wife Teacher Mommies Unite group on Facebook. The ladies in this group are AMAZING and will be wiling to support you and lift you when needed!

Read up on our pumping tips for teachers at school and listen to the podcast about teachers pumping in the classroom. Hearing other experiences will help you know that you aren’t alone!

At the end of the day, don’t be hard on yourself. You are doing the best you can!

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