Breast-feeding Execs Add Another Appointment to Busy Schedules

While Some Offices Offer Nursing Rooms, Often a Bathroom Stall Has to Do

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COLUMBUS, Ohio ( -- Heidi Singleton sat crouched inside a bathroom stall, rushing to squeeze in a breast-pumping session while a client waited in a nearby conference room, the unidentifiable swoosh, swoosh rhythm of the pump spurring a litany of questions from co-workers.
Zipatoni's Heidi Singleton and kids.
Zipatoni's Heidi Singleton and kids.

"'What is that annoying sound?' they kept saying," recalled Ms. Singleton, a creative director at St. Louis marketing shop Zipatoni. "They just wouldn't let it go and kept making snide comments, and I didn't want to say anything."

What could she have said -- in self-exile in the loo, two cone-shaped shields held to her breasts, waiting for that 8 ounces of liquid gold? Except maybe: Welcome to the world of the nursing mom/marketing executive.

Returning to work
More moms are returning to work after childbirth: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 3.6 million women who gave birth from July 1997 to June 1998, about 59% returned to work, about twice the percentage of women who returned to work in 1976.

At the same time, more moms are nursing, citing the health benefits and immunity-boosting power of breast milk proffered in the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation that mothers exclusively breast-feed babies until they're a year old. Nursing rates for newborns are up across the board: whites (72%), Hispanics (73%) and African-Americans (53%), according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

All of which raises the question: Are businesses doing enough to support working mothers who opt to continue breast-feeding? In an informal poll of a dozen agencies, the majority offered some type of option for nursing moms. At Leo Burnett, Chicago, there are two private rooms for nursing moms, and a third will be added soon. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and DDB, Chicago, both have nursing rooms. At DraftFCB, privacy rooms are offered in Chicago, San Francisco and Orange County, Calif.

BBDO's full-time nurse
BBDO has a health center available for nursing moms, staffed by a full-time nurse. Although Goodby, Silverstein & Partners does not have a formal "moms' room," Christine O'Donnell, agency relations manager, wrote in an e-mail: "In general, I'd say that we do our best to help new mothers transition back into the workplace."

Ms. Singleton, a mother of two who returned to work full time 10 weeks after having each child, simply shuts her door for two 15-minute sessions a day.

Business travel is another matter.

She has pumped in the cramped quarters of airplane restrooms, restaurant stalls and even closets. She's dumped bottles full of breast milk at airports, too, because of the liquids ban that extends to breast milk when traveling without a baby.

Most moms admit the biggest challenge is travel, and that includes managing an average of two 15-minute breaks while ensconced at a client's office for an all-day meeting.

"Sometimes I'll schedule it on my Outlook calendar," said Ms. Singleton. "You can't help with the timing."

For Joy Leemaster, a senior account supervisor at Columbus, Ohio, SBC Advertising, who returned to work 12 weeks following the birth of her 8-month-old, there's no dedicated nursing room, and working in a cubicle offers little privacy.

Helpful co-workers
With the agency bursting at the seams, there's no extra space for a pumping room, but her colleagues with offices are clued in. Usually without prompting, co-workers lend her their private space. She's even discreetly stored breast milk in a client's refrigerator when at an all-day meeting.

"I don't walk around and announce it," Ms. Leemaster said. "But I'm not afraid to let people know I'm doing it. And I make it my mission every day to figure out where to do it. "

The issue of explaining her situation to clients varies depending on her relationship with them, she said. "If it's a new client, I'll be discreet and just say I need to take a break," she said. "If you think you are going to run into problems, you just have to be honest about what you need to do."

Jennifer Ganshirt, a mother of two who's senior VP-director of strategic planning at Mullen's Winston-Salem, N.C., office and head of the agency's Frank About Women practice has continued breast-feeding after a 12-week maternity break.

The internal conflict
"It helped me manage the internal conflict, the feelings of guilt I had about coming back," she said. "It was something I was doing still for my baby."

In the process, Ms. Ganshirt paved the way for other moms at Mullen, in the Winston-Salem office as well as the Wenham, Mass., headquarters. During an office move and redesign, she asked Mullen President John Fitzgerald to add a mothers' room, which she defined as "a dedicated, private retreat for nursing and pumping."

She was prepared to pepper Mr. Fitzgerald with a long list of statistics, but his response was simple and unequivocal: "Get it done," Ms. Ganshirt recalled. After all, 64% of the office's staffers are female, and women make up 50% of the executive team.

"When you can do the right thing, send the right signal and it's financially viable on top of it, why not?" Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Even with the private space at work, Ms. Ganshirt likened the year of nursing her daughter to "running a marathon." She noted an almost futile attempt to pump in an airplane bathroom as the cross-country flight hit turbulence and the pilot asked everyone to return to their seats.

"I'm just trying to finish off; it's leaking everywhere," she said. "But I have all these stories that I can just laugh about with other working moms."
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