My Experience Pumping And Working In Law Enforcement

Erin posing with 2 bottles of pumped milkErin, Illinois

I have five children. I have breastfed for a total of 10.5 years (and counting). I am a La Leche League Leader and a former doula. I am also a police officer. My two youngest children were born after I made the switch from birth work to police work. While the fields are very different, they have a commonality of bearing witness to people in times of great intimacy, and I feel proud to have held both of these titles.

As the day neared when I would return to work following the birth of my first “police baby”, I felt unsure of what to expect when approaching my supervisors at the police department. However, I felt hopeful that I would be able to pump for my baby without much issue because of federal laws which require employers to accommodate lactating employees.

Unfortunately, pumping at work has been an uphill battle. I have pumped in co-ed bathroom/locker rooms next to urinals. I have pumped in female-only locker rooms in plain view of my female co-workers. I have pumped in storage rooms and had to dispose of milk that was contaminated due to debris falling from the ceiling. I have developed mastitis due to the lack of pumping breaks or interruptions during the breaks, plus the added issue of wearing a ballistic vest which acts as a compression garment to engorged breasts. I have had to tirelessly advocate for myself and decline suggestions from supervisors to “pump in the back seat [of the squad car]” and other unsuitable locations. I have been embarrassed both accidentally by well-meaning supervisors attempting to help and intentionally by those who seem to think that a pumping break is some kind of workplace perk.

Erin pumping at workThere have been positive parts of this experience as well. My husband unconditionally supports my choice to breastfeed. As a 25-year veteran of the department — and a supervisor — he has been taken aback by the unfolding saga. Unfortunately, my experience is not unique, and I am not the first department member to encounter these obstacles. I have connected with a group of other female police officers who are currently pumping or who have in the past. Together we share stories of success and heartbreak. And it truly is heartbreaking for a parent to have to stop breastfeeding due to a lack of safe, sanitary, and private spaces to pump.

I am now breastfeeding (and pumping for) my second “police baby.” The battle has continued, with small victories along the way. With the help of a civil rights organization, I filed two Illinois Department of Human Rights complaints. Since then, my employer has updated its department policy on lactation accommodations. The new policy supports lactating department members more effectively, but from my perspective it has been a struggle to enforce.

Through this experience I have reflected on how lucky I was in my previous profession to work in a space where supporting lactating parents went without saying. My hope is that this will become the norm. I also have a deep appreciation that I came into this with the background and knowledge that I have. I know that if I had walked into work as a first-time mother without a decade of breastfeeding experience, I would never have been able to endure the embarrassment of all of this. But, after all these years of talking about breasts as they relate to feeding our babies, it really went without saying that I would continue to look at every officer, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and commander and respectfully insist that I be able to pump milk for my babies in a sanitary location.

Editor’s Note: Look for a second blog post from Erin next week where she shares her “bag of tricks” for pumping!


Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].

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