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I have a coworker, whom I have good professional relationships with (let's call her Jane). Jane and I are at the same level in the company hierarchy (small company of about 10-15 people). Jane recently went on a maternity leave for a couple of months and came back into the office a few weeks ago.

Ever since she came back, I noticed that Jane started to use extensively and without the slightest discretion her breast pump all around the office (not only at her desk but also in the break room), while still covering her breast. Not only that but I would also find her cleaning up her pump using the water from the boiler, while other people are serving themselves coffee/tea.

This morning I meant to drop my lunch in the fridge when I saw her pump laying next to food and beverages.

I am starting to get a little bit uncomfortable by the omnipresence of this device around the office but nobody seemed to have complained about it yet.

My question is: Is this something I should/could raise ? If yes, how should I address this concern of mine, without sounding misogynistic or inconsiderate (I am a male in my 20s). Should I just talk to her or bring it up to my boss ?

EDIT:

I should have mentioned that there are plenty of isolated/quieter spaces in our office space, including her own cubicle, that she could use in order to use her pump. She definitely isn't compelled to walk around or sit in the busy common areas in order to do it. She simply takes the freedom to be very explicit and demonstrative about it, which is what makes me a bit uncomfortable.

Again, I am young with very little professional experience, so I would just like to know if it is something I could bring up or, as a few people mentioned, should I just let it go.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Mar 14 at 6:56
  • I'm a bit confused by "... without the slightest discretion her breast pump all around the office (not only at her desk but also in the break room), while still covering her breast." Is her use without any discretion or does she remain covered and only use it in two locations? I'm finding it difficult to mentally reconcile exactly what the issue is and this seems to be the crux of it. If it's without discretion every location and every circumstance are equally likely to start pumping but your example doesn't seem to support that. – Myles Mar 14 at 15:05

10 Answers 10

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So, the first thing to accept is that this sucks worse for her than it does for you. You're creeped out by the reminder that we're mammals, and female mammals use their secondary sexual characteristics to lactate in order to feed their children. She has to deal with the breast pump, and everything that goes with it. That thing is uncomfortable. It is a hassle. It causes mild unpleasant medium-term physiological side-effects when around construction equipment. Really, this isn't about you.

Fortunately for both of you, it'll eventually be over. In the meantime... unfortunately, you basically can't raise the issue without risking sounding misogynistic or insensitive. Given the number of inconsiderate and/or misogynistic young men out there, that well is by now thoroughly poisoned. Still, it's causing you some distress, and it seems like she might be letting things go a bit further than she should be. I'd say you have two reasonable choices.

The first, if she's usually pretty reasonable about things, is that you ask. Let yourself show your embarrassment, apologize for bringing it up, and express that it has made you feel uncomfortable. Ask for a few, small things. For example, request that she not breast pump while in a meeting with you (perhaps rescheduling when necessary), and perhaps that she bring a plastic bag to put around the pump while she keeps it in the fridge. If she's reasonable, she should respond well enough to such requests. Maybe ask if there's anything you can do to help. Showing that you're aware that she's a person who's also dealing with stuff right now (and as a new mom, she is absolutely dealing with Stuff) will help fend off the appearance of insensitivity.

The second is to bring it up to someone else. Speak to one of your coworkers who is not a 20-something male (looking for older, female, has had kids, in position of authority), express your uncertainty and discomfort about the matter, and ask for advice from them. First, they'll have a better perspective on the matter than we will. Second, they may approach your coworker themselves, and they'll have much better standing to address the issue.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Mar 14 at 11:20
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    Answer is good but the beginning paragraph is pretty accusatory. I personally am not creeped out by mammals' biological need to urinate but then again I'd also be a little nervous seeing someone's catheter next to my lunch, even though I understand that putting a tube through your body is worse than mild paranoia over urine particles in my food. However, the rest of your answer has some great advice about addressing those concerns. – Clay07g Mar 14 at 21:07
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Your coworker has a biological need. You should respect that. She needs to pump regularly. It's part of the process and failure to do so can negatively effect her supply. Depending on locale this also may very well be protected.

Lets talk a little bit about your points though.

Jane started to use extensively and without the slightest discretion her breast pump all around the office (not only at her desk but also in the break room), while still covering her breast.

Should she be ashamed? Relegated to some hidden place? (If you say bathroom you should know that that is unhygienic and would constitute a catastrophic risk for the baby.) Maybe a dark unlit closet somewhere? Her needs, which are likely frequent, shouldn't make her coexistence untenable for her. Okay, to be fair there are other locations that are less insulting or dangerous, but she shouldn't have to hide.

Not only that but I would also find her refilling her pump using the water from the boiler, while other people are serving themselves coffee/tea.

She needs to clean out the apparatus. It's a hygiene issue. Once again bathroom is not an option. Any other suggestions?

This morning I meant to drop my lunch in the fridge when I saw her pump laying next to food and beverages.

It's milk. It requires refrigerated storage. Everything, especially your raw beef, should be stored in accordance with proper food safety guidelines. But I'd be more concerned with you contaminating her milk than her contaminating your lunch.

In short: Let this one go!

22

This is an issue you should raise with your employer, not Jane. In the U.S., by law, companies are required to provide a space for Jane to use the breast pump. There are a few reasons why she is doing what she is doing:

  • She is unaware of the proper location
  • Your company does not have a location
  • She doesn't care

You should mention this to your employer and ask them to inform Jane of the proper place at your place of work for using the breast pump.

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    The FSLA provisions about pumping might not apply to businesses with < 50 employees. Sec. 207(r)(3). dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FairLaborStandAct.pdf – swbarnes2 Mar 13 at 21:27
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    I will just quote the beginning of your answer "This is an issue" and say that you are wrong. This is not an issue. This is completely normal. – ElmoVanKielmo Mar 14 at 6:49
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    @ElmoVanKielmo And you are breaking Hume's law. – d-b Mar 14 at 9:08
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    @d-b possibly but I'm not a native English speaker, so please forgive. Using "to be" in this context is valid in my native language. – ElmoVanKielmo Mar 14 at 10:32
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    You know I believe that requirement is intended to provide a safe space for women who desire privacy, and that restricting their mobility is still considered discriminatory. – bruglesco Mar 14 at 13:27
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Breast milk is a kind of food, so yes, it belongs to the fridge where other food and beverages are. The same logic applies to the pump which belongs to the kitchen among the cups and coffee machines.

As an example, imagine I feel gross about curry and go complain to my boss about Indian colleagues storing their food next to mine. How do you think my boss would react?

Unless your colleague is overly sloppy (e.g. the milk is dripping form her pump on someone else's food or on the clean dishes), there is nothing you can do but deal with it.

13

This is about providing and storing food. I guess, since you have a fridge and some sort of cafeteria (break room), both is accepted in your company. So this seems to be some sort of a non-issue.

  • As she still covers her breast I conclude there is no sexual offense.
  • The fridge is an appropriate storage for milk
  • Cleaning breast pumps with boiled water is good hygiene. (Should be done with coffee mugs too, from time to time).

You can be proud to work for a company that has no problem with that.

11

You should absolutely, 100% not bring this up with either her or your boss because you are absolutely, 100% wrong.

You say:

without the slightest discretion her breast pump all around the office

but then contradict yourself in the very same sentence:

while still covering her breast

She is showing discretion. She is only pumping at her desk and in the break room. Where would you have her do it? During a meeting? In the bathroom?

The breast milk is no less unsanitary than any other food. The pump is no less sanitary than anyone else's food containers.

10

This reminds me of a case when I was young and we went to a restaurant for a family meal out. My mother tried to breastfeed one of my younger siblings, and one of the restaurant staff said that the breastfeeding should be done in the toilet instead (i.e. the same as using a breast pump).

My father then asked the staff if they would setup a table for us in the toilet so that we could all eat there. They refused as it wasn't hygienic. To which he pointed out that it wouldn't therefore be hygienic to feed a baby in the toilet. They continued to complain about my mother breastfeeding, so we walked out without paying even so our order was in the kitchen.

In most offices/companies it's perfectly possible to eat or drink at your desk or in meetings. Breastfeeding gives children the best start in life, and it needs to happen as and when the breast is full or the child needs the milk.

Think of the breast pump as a natural important thing that the mother was doing, and if maternity leave lasted at least 6 to 9 months after the birth then the mother wouldn't need to use the breast pump as much in the office. Maybe you should start or join a campaign to give mothers the maternity leave that many other developed nations have, so they can care directly for the baby without having to go back to work so quickly.

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    Sorry the downvote, but althoug this reflects a positive opinion about brestfeeding, possibly easing the OP, this is not giving an answer to question at hand. – Marcel Mar 14 at 12:20
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    @Marcel it does answer the questions asked near the end of this question's body albeit indirectly and somewhat vaguely. This answer alludes to the fact that it may not be up for discussion for various reasons, of that raising the issue won't end in anything useful for the OP. – rubenvb Mar 14 at 12:42
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    Nice history, congratulations to your father for doing the right thing. I agree it's a non-issue and OP is overreacting but just telling it doesn't suffice for a good answer. read carefully the top upvoted answers. They give OP a direction to take action, mainly talk to others. I especially like the suggestion to talk with a senior female coworker. – jean Mar 14 at 12:51
  • I upvoted but I think it worth mentioning that even were we to have a more supportive maternity leave system in place, a woman should still have the choice to return to work. There are plenty of valid reasons a woman could have to chose to return to work even if not compelled by finances. – bruglesco Mar 14 at 14:31
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Unfortunately, the way things are these days, it's difficult to raise these types of issues even in an innocent way without being labeled as an "-ist" (in this case, "sexist" would be the word of choice for you). That said, if this coworker is leaving her breast pump in the kitchen where food is to be stored/prepared/eaten, that's simply unsanitary. The issue should be raised, and the more people who raise it the better, and you can be one of them.

Whether you raise this concern with Jane directly or with management depends largely on your relationship with those in question. If you and Jane are on medium terms, then a simple "hey, I know you use this device, but it's kind of unsanitary to leave it lying around, especially in the kitchen, could you be a bit more careful?" might not be bad. If you and Jane are simply acquaintances, then I wouldn't bring it up with her directly and instead raise it with either her manager or with HR as a safety concern. Try to come at the problem clearly from a place which is difficult to argue about; workplace safety is something that all companies should practice and respect. That said, in today's political climate that doesn't necessarily mean you will be excused from the "-ist" label anyway, and if you do, well, govern yourself accordingly (personally speaking, I wouldn't want to work for such a company).

EDIT: As for specifically the issue about using it all the time, if it makes you uncomfortable, once again: If you and Jane are on good terms, mention that to her, in a friendly and professional way (if you are not on good terms, then mention it to her manager, once again, in a professional way). As professionals, it should be mutually agreed to not do things which cause the other discomfort, and if you make it known to her that this causes you discomfort, then you should expect that she should do whatever possible to mitigate your discomfort, just as you would do for her if the situation was reversed. If, however, you simply noted that this was a thing she does but you don't really care, then don't raise it at all and let her do her thing.

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    Is breastmilk really all that unsanitary? That sounds like an excuse for people who are grossed out by it. – Kat Mar 14 at 7:13
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    No more unsanitary than cow milk. If you’re not concerned about a bottle of milk from the supermarket there’s no reason to be concerned about breast pump related paraphernalia. – rhialto Mar 14 at 8:51
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    What "safety concern" exactly? This seems like a strawman argument: OP doesn't like something his coworker does, so he should claim that there is some sanitary problem? – Alexander Kosubek Mar 14 at 8:52
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    Isn't breast milk anti-bacterial? – JohnSmith Mar 14 at 9:45
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    @JohnSmith It's kind of besides the point but I think it's both anti-microbial and a potential growth medium. It's not particularly unsanitary compared to [insert generic food] though and the needs of the apparatus-washer/milk-storer in this scenario trump any hygiene concerns that the OP has (if a normal-ish amount of care is being taken not to spread milk around). He's FAR more likely to get sick thanks to that one guy who never washes his hands after wiping. – Brent Hackers Mar 14 at 10:05
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Definitely mention something. This is making you uncomfortable. That’s all you need to say. Ask if there’s some fire of time frame to work out or some sort of area it can be done to stay out of your path. Maybe the break room and put a sign on the door?

  • What does "some fire of free time" mean? – user87779 Mar 14 at 20:57
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I definitely agree some discomfort is understandable. This woman is drawing attention to her breasts at work, and that's not appropriate at most workplaces. The fact that she's pumping milk is secondary. In addition, any type of secretion expressed from the human body is generally off-putting for most people. To deny that is to deny the human experience.

If someone was regularly dealing with some type of personal hygiene/cleanliness issue at the food/coffee station, it's fair to feel uncomfortable.

If there was a co-worker who had to temporarily use a catheter and urine bag, due to a recent surgery, and this co-worker repeatedly got their urine bag out or cleaned it openly using hot water from the coffee maker, I think most people would find that disturbing. (Urine actually has less bacteria than water and breast milk, because there are no living organisms.) The issue here is that it's a body fluid.

My view is that Jane is maybe taking a few more liberties at your office because it's so small and maybe she's under the impression that her office mates can handle this type of display of personal activity. Maybe she sees you as very close and understanding friends. Obviously, that's not really the case. She may be temporarily misguided due to lack of sleep from having a new baby. Who knows.

Anyway, I think your concerns are real and I suggest you discuss it with a manager or someone from HR, from the perspective that drawing attention to breasts at work and/or personal hygiene/cleanliness is not appropriate.

As far as storing her milk in the fridge, that's OK. But she can put it in an opaque bag that hides what's inside.

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    The OP clearly states that she pumps "while still covering her breast". So she is not openly taking her breasts out. – L.Dutch Mar 14 at 7:19
  • @JonCuster A workplace isn’t a public location. Those laws don’t apply. A private employer has the obligation to accommodate everyone at the office, including making sure people don’t feel uncomfortable. – user70848 Mar 14 at 12:20
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    @user70848 - true, one should not need laws to enforce normal adult level behavior in a workplace. It isnt middle school. – Jon Custer Mar 14 at 15:31
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    What are you talking about, "not based in reality"? There have been multiple studies on this. You may have read some study refuting this conclusion but it's not like Marcel just made it up. – BSMP Mar 14 at 17:33
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    @user70848 which makes everything related to breast-pumping relevant. Knowing that it reduces breast cancer risk may help OP overcome their discomfort caused by a co-worker openly pumping milk at work. Also, not being relevant is VASTLY different than not being based in reality (which is very insulting, and factually untrue) – user87779 Mar 14 at 18:55

protected by Mister Positive Mar 14 at 13:37

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