Earlier this month, Emily Edgington was working alone at a Family Dollar in Mansfield, Ohio and needed to pump breastmilk for her three-month-old baby. There was no one to relieve her during the break, so she scrawled a message on a scrap of paper reading, “Sorry. Had to pump for baby + no1 else is here. Be back in 30. Thanks.” Then she posted the sign on the door of the store and closed up shop.
While she was taking her pumping break—which is a federally mandated right for hourly employees under the Affordable Care Act—a potential customer snapped a photo of the sign and posted it to Facebook, writing, “I’m sure there’s gonna be at least one customer who complains, but I support this 100% it’s not the employees fault at all, pumping at work is a right and employers can’t take that away.” Since then, the post has been shared over 20,000 times.
This seems on the surface like a feel-good story about a woman giving a public pat on the back to hard-working mom. But Yahoo News reached out to 23-year-old Edginton and found that her Facebook-able sign was an act of desperation following previous attempts to get Family Dollar—one of many dollar stores seeing a boom in business alongside complaints about worker rights—to provide her with adequate pumping support. (Family Dollar did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment.)
Although Edgington had informed several other managers and the district manager that she would need a place to pump when she was three months into her pregnancy, she said the Family Dollar store neglected to prepare the adequate employee and location resources when she came back eight months later. Despite Edgington’s calls to her local Family Dollar district manager and the Family Dollar corporate human resources, she said the company simply “apologized for the inconvenience.” According to Edgington, an employee with corporate human resources told her to “run back and forth every couple of minutes to pump in between customers,” which may be in violation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The fantasy of pumping for a couple minutes here and there, whenever convenient, is a lovely one, but it’s a fantasy nonetheless. Experts recommend pumping for at least 15 uninterrupted minutes. Edgington’s story gets worse, though:
By her second week back [from maternity leave], Edgington said the Family Dollar store had scheduled the new mom to work several five- to seven-hour shifts alone, with no one to man the register while she pumped milk in the back. After working two shifts without pumping that left her “feverish, engorged, with sharp pains in [her] breasts and chest,” she took matters into her own hands [and posted the sign].
Delayed pumping can not only cause painful breast engorgement, as Edgington describes, but also reduce the milk supply. Feverish pains, in particular, can be signs of mastitis, a painful condition arising from blocked milk ducts, and which can be brought about in part by nursing or pumping delays. In the beginning, nursing parents may need to take 15 to 20-minute pumping breaks as often as every two to three hours during the day.
Despite limited federal protections for some nursing parents, a 2015 study found that only 40 percent of working mothers actually had access to “break time and private space” for pumping. Earlier this year, a study found that two-thirds of mothers who accused employers of breastfeeding discrimination over the last decade ultimately lost their jobs.
So, no, this isn’t a feel-good story. It’s a story—one of many—of a mom navigating a world that talks a whole lot about breastfeeding as essential and “best,” but does little to support it.