Last week, Adia Barnes, head coach of the University of Arizona Wildcats basketball team, was coaching a championship game, but she had something else on her mind: she could feel that one of her breasts was engorged and the other had started to leak. She needed halftime to come fast.
“As soon as we got to the locker room I started pumping. It felt amazing,” said Barnes, who has a six-month-old daughter, Capri. “I had a blanket over my chest but then the blanket fell off and everybody started laughing.”
Barnes’ mid-game pumping first came to light when ESPN reporter Holly Rowe shared how Barnes was multitasking during the game.
“For those of you who think this is too much information, let’s normalize working mothers and all that they have to do to make it all happen,” Rowe said.
Soon, other media were covering Barnes’ pumping, and she was even asked about it during a press conference, after the Wildcats lost the championship.
Adia Barnes was late coming out of the locker room because she was pumping breast milk for her baby during halftime. She’s doing that while getting ready to coach the 2nd half of the #NationalChampionship game. Women are freaking amazing man!
— Women’s Hoopz (@WomensHoopz) April 4, 2021
Barnes said she’s one of the only female coaches with an infant, which can be challenging.
“It’s hard. You wonder, is it possible? ” she said. “I’ve had my moments of breaking down and being like, ‘I just can’t do this. It’s too much. But this is what I’m meant to do.”
Plus, she has a great support system. Soon after Barnes pumped, Suzy Mason, Arizona assistant athletics director, gave Capri the bottle.
“Women look after women,” Barnes said.
Protecting Nursing Moms Returning To Work
Barnes was lucky to have support at hand. Yet, as more women return to work, it’s clear that we still face challenges when it comes to making time to pump at work. While Barnes’ pumping moment was public, many women quietly struggle to find a private space to pump or somewhere to store their milk.
As women get back to their offices, they’re also facing new challenges, like employers claiming that pumping milk is a cause for concern about COVID transmission, Tina Sherman, a senior campaign director focused on maternal justice for Moms Rising, told USA Today.
“There will be a myriad of issues we’ll need to address with women being forced out of the workplace, and this is definitely going to be one of them,” Sherman said.
One poll found that 9 our of 10 moms who are currently nursing plan to continue even as they return to office work. However, many women are anxious about the transition.
“We have already heard from many parents who have concerns about what it would look like returning to work,” Sherman said.
The passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 mandated that employees provide pumping space for working moms. However, up to 25% of working moms aren’t covered by the law. Because of that, legislators have introduced the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act, which would expand the existing protections.
A Blessing In Disguise
Working mom Lindsay Craig has been thankful during the pandemic that she doesn’t have to let her boss of colleagues know when she’s pumping. Even if pumping time overlaps with a meeting, she can just mute herself and turn off her video. However, she’s a bit anxious about returning the the office, she told USA Today. She’s not particularly comfortable talking openly about her need to pump.
“It feels like a private thing I shouldn’t have to share,” she said. Now that her son is almost one, she’ll likely just skip pumping at work, and she’s happy to have worked from home for his first year.
“For me, it’s been a blessing in disguise working from home,” she said.
Many moms — including teachers — are transitioning back to work just as research shows that protections can pass from vaccinated mothers to their infants through breast milk. That has some moms feeling extra enthusiastic about continuing to breastfeed.
“I feel like I have this newfound superpower,” mother Olivia de Soria to The New York Times.
Still, pumping at work can be challenging even for women who understand the benefits and have a supportive employer. Cannon Dean, an OB/GYN, has to make sure that she makes time in her day to pump, and she’s been surprised about how difficult that is.
“My work is super supportive, but it’s still hard, just logistically,” she said. “I had no idea how hard it was going to be.’’
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