Ask for Accommodations

Coming back to work after the birth of my second child I thought there wasn’t much more I could learn about pumping milk as a working mom. With my first child I pumped a full year and even wrote a blog about how to be more inclusive of pumping mothers at work. And yet, while the fundamentals of pumping hadn’t changed, I was becoming stressed about balancing work and pumping. Our office was still very inclusive, with multiple mother’s room accommodations, the flexibility to work remotely, and supportive team members. But I still worried that pumping was going to get in the way of my work. I spent some time reflecting and tried to pinpoint what had changed. I realized that as my role on the Projectline Leadership team evolved to become more of a thought leader in our industry and for working parents, I was being asked to attend more events.

Being a lifelong learner, leader, and advocate are things that I find intrinsically motivating, and attending events and working with new clients would satisfy that piece of what I love about my job. If I didn’t need to worry about the logistics of pumping. And there it was, the realization that being a working mom was somehow holding me back from finding satisfaction in one of the things I love about my job. At first, I was deferring to my colleagues to attend the events, turning down opportunities that I felt would conflict with my pumping schedule. But then one day as I was reading a LinkedIn post from one of my favorite working parents, Amy Sterner Nelson, I thought why couldn’t I do both—attend events and pump? I’m not one to give up easily, so I decided to be brave and start asking for the accommodations I would need to still do the things I love about my job while being able to provide food for my baby.

If you are being asked to attend events, reach out to the event coordinators ahead of time and ask whether they have mother’s room accommodations and/or refrigerators to store breast milk. I think I was embarrassed at first to ask for help. It felt like it would be too much of an inconvenience. But once I started asking, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the event locations did have mother’s rooms. Event staff were more than happy to help escort me to the location, chat about my kids, and in one case where the only room was a vacant ballroom, someone stood outside the door just to make sure no one disturbed me. Even more importantly, people wanted me to attend these events. So if I didn’t ask about accommodations I was ruling myself out of an opportunity before even trying to make it work.

With my first child I never would have considered traveling and being away for a night to attend a conference. However, after having navigated some of the day conferences, and having a great childcare support system, I found myself planning a trip to Dallas from Seattle. Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous and intimidated by the logistics of transporting breast milk and timing flights around pumping. However, I did research around where the mother’s rooms were at the airport, what ways I could transport milk, and what you need to know to go through airport security with breast milk. I will say on that last one, I learned firsthand that if the milk isn’t frozen you need to have a pat down and all your stuff gone through by a TSA employee or have them test each packet of milk. So, depending on your situation plan ahead and give yourself time to get through security. While I ended up bringing the milk with me, through my research I also found out that my company allows for reimbursement of a milk transport service. Just knowing about this option could help relieve some of the self-barriers and hesitations about travel mothers might put on themselves.

By asking for the accommodations I needed I was able to take advantage of the new opportunities within my career without losing or resenting my identity as a mother. I’m proud to say that I’ve attended four events over the last month, I spoke at a conference which I otherwise wouldn’t have gone to, and I successfully navigated that first overnight business trip away from my kids. I hope by sharing my journey you will feel more empowered as working parents to ask for the things you need to be successful and remove barriers you might have at work.

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