The Milk Factory

By Alanna Iacovetti

Photo by Corinne Botz

Uncomfortable pumping rooms. Lack of privacy. The feeling of being worn-down and overwhelmed. That is the reality that many women face when returning back to work after maternity leave. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: breastfeeding and pumping are not easy tasks. There is the expectation that you will do so and an intense pressure to be successful at it, when it’s just not that simple.

It’s seen as something that just has to be done. Don’t get me wrong, It’s absolutely encouraged for moms to breastfeed, and we all know the amazing benefits that it provides. But the real problem lies with the lack of support for breastfeeding moms, especially those who choose to go back to work. With no guarantee of paid maternity leave in the U.S., many moms are feeling rushed back into their work life after a few short weeks. It can be a struggle to find a balance between new motherhood, pumping, and returning back to work. 

Corrine Botz, a visual artist and educator, captured dozens of lactation spaces and working conditions that mothers face in her recent photo series and documentary “Milk Factory.” There are requirements for most mandated companies to provide a space for moms to pump, but that doesn’t mean that they are always adequate. 

Photos by Corinne Botz

How many moms have had to take pumping breaks in cramped spaces? Why are we forced to pump in bathrooms, basements and boiler rooms? If we really did the math and calculated how many hours we spent on our pumping breaks at work, it would be a big chunk of time. One mom in the film estimated that she would spend about 4 work weeks out of the year hooked up to her pump in the lactation room provided for her. Comfortable, secure and private spaces to pump at work are a necessity. Botz captures the raw truth of these lactation rooms, some being designed to be as accommodating as possible, while others are a clear indicator of the disregard for a pumping mom’s comfort. 

Mathilde Cohen, writing for Time Magazine, explained “The title Milk Factory underlines that lactation is a form of labor, even if federal law conceptualizes it as a break from work, which employers are not required to compensate. Breastfeeding is not cost free. It can be painful; requires time, know-how, and equipment; and has an opportunity cost.” 

An unnamed mom in the documentary expressed “there’s like so much information out there that's very helpful, but then there’s also sort of this expectation that you kind of have to [breastfeed] and then if you’re not, you’re coming up short for your baby and I feel like that’s pretty unfair. Because, you know, your health and your happiness is really important during that early time period too.” Another mom referred to it as an “invisible leash,” which can feel so true when you don’t have a moment to yourself. You invest so much energy into pumping and nursing to help your baby thrive in the first years of their lives. Breastfeeding moms should have so much more support in the workplace, and comfortable lactation rooms are a great starting point. 

“Milk Factory” is an amazing work of art that brings attention to such an important subject. The moms in the film share a sense of companionship with each other behind the closed curtains of their pumping rooms. Hearing their stories of having to take out personal loans to pay bills while on maternity leave, or having to pump in a bathroom due to the lack of a private space is enough to make us call for a change. 

Moms, we need to advocate for ourselves. We need to put our privacy and comfort first, and make sure that we have adequate spaces to take our pumping breaks. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in that room, so let’s make it a happy place!

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