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Getting pumped

Breast-feeding moms find innovative places and times to express milk

Tuesday, June 05, 2001

By Ann Belser, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Twice a day I step into the darkroom that has been, essentially, abandoned by my coworkers in this age of digital photography. There, I set up my equipment, the bottles, hoses, suction horns and electric cord. The dark room smells like chemicals and is dirty with residue of photo processing, but it is also private. I can go in and leave without being self-conscious.

(Anita Dufalla, Post-Gazette)

I raise my shirt, unclasp my bra, position the suction horns against my breasts and hit the button. The "whoosh, whoosh" of the pump drowns out the noise of news gathering and milk flows into the bottles.

Anyone who has romanticized the special bond of mother and child while breast-feeding has not spent any significant time expressing their breasts at work.

New mothers are inundated with information about the benefits of breast-feeding. The U.S. Surgeon General's latest report said breast-feeding helps develop babies' immune systems and may reduce the incidence of ear and respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and bacterial infections.

New moms are told its best to breast-feed through a child's first year, but a 1999 survey by the Ross Products Division of Abbott Laboratories showed that 67.2 percent of new mothers breast-fed in the hospital and the rate of breast-feeding six months out dropped to 30.7 percent. In Pennsylvania, the rates are slightly lower: 59.2 and 28.5 percent.

When asked about Pittsburgh's attitudes toward working women who breast-feed, Allegheny County Lactation Consultant Becky Ulke said "I think we're kind of behind. If you were out in California, I think they're way ahead of us."

Ulke's suspicions are borne out in the Ross survey, which found that in California, 79 percent of new mothers breast-fed in the hospital and 39 percent were still breast-feeding six months later.

"A lot of employers on the West Coast, particularly in Silicon Valley, find it's important to balance work and family," said Debra Kurtz, the director of marketing for Medela, which makes and sells breast pumps.

One way the Allegheny County Health Department promotes breast-feeding locally is with its breast-feeding help line at 412-247-1000. Ulke said the lactation consultants handle 500 calls a month.

The department also hands out an annual award for the most breast-feeding friendly workplace -- a company that provides a private area and time for women to express milk at work.

One of the past winners, Deloitte Consulting Group in PPG Place, Downtown, has a "Mommy Expresso Room," which has a leather recliner, a white noise machine and a refrigerator. Noemi Tomarkin, the marketing director for Deloitte's Pittsburgh office, said the room was set up about three years ago. It is off of a side corridor so women can enter and leave unobtrusively without having to encounter a bunch of coworkers.

While Allegheny County gives awards for breast-feeding friendly workplaces, it isn't about to win one. Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said it's up to each department to accommodate women who are trying to breast-feed.

Assistant District Attorney Angharad Stock, 36, of Oakmont, is giving up breast-feeding her 5-month-old son, John, because it was just too uncomfortable and impractical to pump at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. did everything he could, she said. He made sure there was a chair was in the secretaries' private bathroom, but it had no electrical socket. So she had to run an extension cord through the reception area to operate the pump. She also endured the comments of coworkers who wanted to know why she was spending so much time in the boss' office, not realizing she was in the boss' secretaries' bathroom.

Mothers of invention

Women who continue breast-feeding after returning to work often have to improvise their own lactation lounges.


Resources for moms

La Leche League hot line for Greater Pittsburgh Area, 412-276-5630. The hot line provides numbers of local La Leche League leaders who are available to answer breast-feeding questions. You can also find which of the 18 area La Leche groups is closest to you.

Magee-Womens Hospital Lactation Center, 412-641-1121. Lactation consultants can answer breast-feeding questions by phone. If more extensive help is needed, outpatient consults are available by appointment for $35 per hour.

Allegheny County Department of Health, Healthy Start/Breastfeeding Help Line, 412-247-1000. Answers 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

In addition to assistance by telephone, written materials are available on how to talk to employers about breast-feeding at work, choosing pumps and storing milk.

Many local hospitals offer lactation consulting services and pump rental through their maternity departments.


In the spring of 1999 when Rebecca Staffel, 33, of Seattle, had her baby, she didn't have her own office and didn't have a room where she could pump in private. So Staffel asked her office mate if she minded if she pumped at her desk. At first she would put a sign on the door but people would come in anyway.

"One guy came in and asked what the weird techno music was that we were listening to. 'Um, my breast pump,' I said. He flew out of there pretty quickly," she said.

Eventually, Staffel said, she lost all modesty. Coworkers would come and go, not noticing that she had her hand up her shirt. She even had meetings in her office while pumping.

"I figured out that I should unbutton my blouse from the bottom instead of from the top. For some reason, no book mentioned that. So really, there wasn't a lot of breast to be seen," she said. now has a room set aside for lactating mothers. Staffel said she hasn't had the opportunity to use it.

The commitment to continue breast-feeding by pumping at work doesn't just take time, it also takes money. A double breast pump built into a bag, such as the Medela Pump in Style, which looks like a thick brief case, costs about $250. A single electric pumps costs about $80. Hand pumps cost about $30, and renting a hospital-grade pump can cost between $40 and $65 a month.

Staffel said when she did the math on renting a pump for a year vs. purchasing one, it came out just about even, so she bought her pump.

Pattie Sullivan, 36, of Forest Hills, decided to rent the hospital-grade pump.

Sullivan, who works for Magnet Communications, a public relations agency on the 48th floor of the USX Tower, left the pump in her private office because it was too heavy to carry back and forth.

While pumping sometimes three times a day to feed her daughter, Shannon Hope, Sullivan learned to multitask. She would hold one suction horn with her left forearm and the other with her left hand while she used her right hand to answer the phone and respond to e-mail.

She also let her coworkers know not to knock and come in when her office doors were closed. The system worked well -- usually.

"One day I heard a knock and said 'yes?' Imagine my horror -- and his -- when it was the window washer. I think I was as embarrassed as he was."

On the road

K. Sidick, 31, of Shaler, gave birth to her daughter Camry a year ago. Sidick, a physical therapist at the Children's Institute in Squirrel Hill, has used the observation room, a small room with a one-way mirror in it.

Sidick sits in the dark to keep anyone from being able to see into the room and puts a "Please Knock" sign on the door.

Another physical therapist, who asked that her name not be used for a reason that will be obvious by the end of this sentence, used to pump her breasts -- while driving. Her son was born in December and she had trouble producing enough milk to feed him. Lactation consultants had recommended that she pump every hour but when she went back to work she realized that the only time she could pump was on the road while she traveled to visit patients.

Her pump has an adapter that fits into the car's cigarette lighter. She would hook herself up, placing the horns into her bra straps, before she started the car. She would then drive with the pump running and her shirt pulled down over the horns and bottles, and unhook herself after she parked.

Kurtz, the Medela marketing director, said her company started selling a product that lets women pump hands-free after hearing of women trying to pump and drive.

State trooper Robin Mungo, 32, of Monroeville, said pumping while driving is not illegal "as long as she can control that vehicle safely."

As a mother of a 5-month-old, Mungo also pumped after she returned to work. She said she is lucky because she is a criminal investigator, so she could take the time she needed, pull out her manual pump and use it in the ladies room at the Uniontown barracks.

"It wasn't the most comfortable place to pump. We just had lockers and a bench," she said. But, she added "I have a scheduled shift and a little more freedom than what we call a road dog, which is someone in uniform."

Not on the bus

Port Authority of Allegheny County is one organization that encourages women to continue to breast-feed by pumping their breasts at work. The authority, however, does discourage pumping while driving, though it would add new meaning to the term "express bus."

In the authority's main offices in the old Gimbel's building, Downtown, lactating mothers can use any of the 11 small conference rooms that have doors that lock.

Drivers can use bathroom stalls in the comfort stations and the authority is considering providing facilities at the garages, said spokeswoman Judi McNeil.

She said the encouragement for breast-feeding is part of an overall wellness program at Port Authority that includes smoking cessation and Weight Watchers programs.

"Babies who nurse are healthier, ergo the parents of healthy babies miss less work because the babies are sick less often," she said.

You can reach Post-Gazette staff writer Ann Belser at

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