Workplaces must give moms space to pump breast milk. Women share what it’s really like.

Crystal Early’s son took to breast-feeding right away. At 10 weeks, James was already more than 13 pounds and “hungry all the time,” Early said recently. But in just two weeks, she would be back at work and would need to pump breast milk.

“I’m nervous about the time it takes out of the day, and making sure I can take that time to really do what I need to do and also not miss important pieces of my job each day,” Early said. “I never want someone to think that I’m taking a quote-unquote break, or that I’m missing out on work.”

Early is one of the lucky ones: Her company, a Tampa staffing firm where she’s worked for six years, has a new pumping room with a door that locks, and has even decorated the space with photos of the babies whose mothers are pumping. Even so, she worries — about leaving her son when he’s “still so little,” about what she might miss while she’s pumping and about how she’ll pump when traveling for work.

“That is one of the number one sources of stress: how they are going to manage” the breast milk supply, says Aimee Danielson, director of the Women’s Mental Health Program at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. “One of the biggest factors in whether it’s something tedious versus truly stressful is the ability of the workplace to have institutional support for pumping.”

Earlier this year, The Washington Post’s On Parenting section ran an article explaining what is required of companies that have workers who need to pump. In response, we received nearly 200 stories from federal employees, emergency workers, teachers and others at companies large and small. Some gushed about pristine pumping rooms, but many others had less pleasant tales.

In a country where there is no paid parental leave and where most leaves consist of just 12 weeks or less, women are returning to jobs when their bodies (and hearts) might be wanting them to do otherwise: They suffer from painful breasts, leaking milk, the stress of trying to balance a job with new family demands, plus a stigma that a mother can’t excel at work.

We heard from new moms who pump as they sit on dirty floors in storage rooms and watch as roaches scurry in dark corners. We heard from teachers who pump during a short free period in their classrooms that don’t lock, one with a video camera recording. And then there was this nightmare: “The CEO of the company used to announce when I was going to pump by singing a little song for everyone to hear: ‘Pump, pump, pump it up!’ ” wrote a woman who worked in a Silicon Valley tech start-up. She also recalled a time when she wasn’t permitted to leave a meeting and her milk began to leak through her shirt….

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