This Mother’s Day, give her what she really needs: An advocate
Returning to work as a new mother is an Olympic sport. You have to navigate a sea of feeding methods and pumping options, all while facing feeding stigma from everyone and their mother. Even for the two of us, who are fortunate to be established in our careers, we remember and still face judgment for pumping, ineffective pumping spaces, and feeling guilty for not “doing it all” effortlessly.
The United States is nowhere near a supportive and equitable place for new parents attempting to take care of their children, especially as they return to work—an increasingly non-negotiable economic imperative.
This Mother’s Day, all we want is for companies to do better by moms through active support and advocacy in the workplace.
We, Dearica Hamby, WNBA player and forward for the LA Sparks, and Laura Chambers, CEO of Willow, have both felt and seen the angst of new motherhood, particularly as we returned to work. According to Motherly’s annual State of Motherhood report, 31% of mothers said they could not successfully feed or pump because they were unsupported in their return to work. We have felt this acutely. Whether it’s working in the WNBA or in an office, you feel like you’re failing your baby if you’re too stressed to pump, and you feel like you’re failing at work if you need to pump. With no federal paid family leave, either, it can feel impossible for moms to make time for critical bonding with their babies and to determine and successfully establish the feeding method that is best.
Related: Motherly’s 2023 State of Motherhood Survey Report
Seeing firsthand the heartbreaking decisions our colleagues and friends have had to make about having children, we can’t help but wonder if men have the same decision-making process. For example, during the ongoing NBA playoffs, has even one male player on that court had to consider whether or not their fatherhood would impact their ability to play? (Spoiler: most haven’t). Meanwhile, women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to have their employment affected by caregiver responsibilities.
With five children between us, we’ve navigated our fair share of feeding trials and travails. Whether it’s pumping around the clock for weeks to make an overseas work trip possible, or openly nursing in front of a professional sports team, you learn quickly what your baby needs and how to make it happen.
It’s critical that employers responsibly and proactively create a physical space for breastfeeding, and a culture that supports and encourages moms.
But even when pumping rooms are available, they often aren’t designed with the realities of working moms in mind. According to a recent survey by Willow, a whopping 90% of moms reported that “pump rooms felt like an afterthought.” There’s nowhere to take calls, no space for a laptop, and nowhere to sanitize your pump. These are not “lounge rooms”—they are spaces that are critical to a parents’ successful return to work. We need to do more than check a box. We need to make them effective and inclusive or we will see fewer women and mothers returning to work, furthering an already yawning gender gap and hurting the American economy. To put it in perspective: a recent analysis by Moody’s found we’re missing out on $7 trillion of global GDP due to a gender gap fueled in large part by a lack of maternal support.
Related: Working moms have to look out for one another—because no one else will
Many new moms are uncomfortable, scared, or unsure of how to advocate for themselves, or even know where to start. That’s why Willow is leading the charge to provide all the information businesses need to be compliant with the PUMP Act, which extends much-needed protections including designated time and space to pump to millions of feeding mothers at work. We are also calling on organizations to treat the recent federal compliance date not as a nuisance, but as a catalyst to do better for this critical part of the workforce.
For each of us, it wasn’t until we had our second kids that we felt we had the knowledge and saw the need to advocate not only for ourselves, but for the more than three million women in the country who are returning to the workforce annually while feeding their babies. Many don’t have access to childcare or have family nearby, further contributing to the fact that mothers are 14 percent less likely than other women to participate in the labor force. The odds remain stacked against women and moms—particularly for mothers who don’t have the option to work from home and must pump at work.
Moms have enough to worry about without parsing legalese to understand and enact their rights as they navigate going back to work. It’s critical that employers responsibly and proactively create a physical space for breastfeeding, and a culture that supports and encourages moms. And until paid family leave is a guarantee for all parents, this fight will never truly be equitable. In addition to advocating for a widely-enforced PUMP Act, this Congress must pass the FAMILY Act, which with 81% bipartisan support, demonstrates just how strong this need is for moms across the country.
Related: Motherhood has been my greatest career asset
This Mother’s Day, do more than send a card and flowers or make her breakfast in bed. Thank the mothers in your life for their hard work, determination, and truly incredible strength. The moms in our lives are elite athletes. They train and learn on the job to raise a child, all while continuing putting their A game forward at work. But, they can’t do it alone. Together, we can all create a future where motherhood is celebrated and supported like the heroic feat it is.