Being Mama: Abbey Donnell
After hearing one too many horror stories about trying to pump in the workplace, Abbey Donnell knew things had to change. By combining her experience as a Certified Lactation Counselor and background in advertising, she launched Work & Mother, a company that provides businesses with membership options for breastfeeding employees to access fully equipped mother’s rooms and nursing support.
Even though Abbey Donnell grew up watching her mother nurse her little sister, breastfeeding didn’t really enter her mind much until her friends began having kids and going back to work.
“I didn’t have kids yet, but I knew I wanted to some day. I started looking around and wondering what I would do at my own office. Designed with an open floor plan, glass walls and no private offices, there was absolutely nowhere to pump.”
That’s when Abbey started talking to friends and colleagues about what they do at work.
“Unfortunately, I hear far too many horror stories, even to this day. Some involve women pumping in closets, in their car in the office parking lot or even in the bathroom (keep in mind most public bathrooms don’t have accessible outlets and the toilets don’t have lids – one woman used a clipboard to sit on on the toilet).
One mom was told to use the conference room, which was all glass, had no lock, and was usually booked solid with meetings. Another mom had to roam the office every day at lunchtime to see if any of her managers (the only people with private offices) would let her use their office while they went to lunch…you name it, a mom has probably endured it.
On top of the space issues, the harassment stories are pretty disappointing. One thing I was surprised to learn about was that most of the harassment happened in the break room, where moms had to wash their pump parts and refrigerate their milk. Some stories include coworkers mooing like cows or calling moms ‘disgusting’ for putting the pumped milk in the break room fridge. That was really disheartening to hear and became a tipping point in my realization that moms really deserved a better solution.”
As someone who had a background in advertising and marketing and ambitions of running their own firm one day, the thought and desire to find a solution to breastfeeding in the workplace was certainly a departure for Abbey. But as she continued to witness injustices in the workplace and became more aware of the issues women were facing, it became something she just couldn’t ignore and thus – Work & Mother was born.
Currently available in Houston & Austin, Work & Mother provides memberships for breastfeeding employees to use their fully-equipped mother’s rooms during the workday.
“Originally, I just set out to tackle the physical space issue, though part of that was creating a natural support system of members. I often heard that if a mom was struggling with something at home (breastfeeding, sleep, etc), she likely wouldn’t feel comfortable opening up to a coworker about it because moms currently feel like they have to give 120% and really prove they’re “back” when they return from maternity leave. However, if they were in a space like ours, where they’d run into other working moms going through similar experiences, there would naturally be a level of camaraderie and support. So I always had envisioned the support community, but it wasn’t until I started talking to our initial members, and then went through it myself, that I realized we needed to offer a lot more support resources throughout the 4th and 5th trimesters.”
While this may seem like a no-brainer to women and breastfeeding mothers, we asked Abbey how men reacted to the idea.
“At first it was intimidating to talk to a lot of people, particularly men, about breastfeeding and pumping at work. But I got over it pretty quickly and actually found that plenty of men are really receptive to this because they’ve watched their wives or daughters struggle with it, so they get it and are supportive.
In fact, most are quite happy to hear about it! We just had another company enroll, even without a current need, but because they wanted to be able to offer membership to new recruits. We do get a few who are still hesitant, though with any new thing that’s to be expected. Also, I think we’ll find that those who don’t adapt and begin better supporting their working parents are going to have a real issue remaining competitive in the future.”
One thing Abbey credits the success of Work & Mother to is her ability to listen.
“I interviewed so many moms, moms-to-be, employers, and real estate professionals and really tried to listen to their pain points and understand what would be of value to them. Then, once I had my own baby, I was able to test our solution myself, which was helpful because I made a lot of adjustments!”
Speaking of Abbey’s own baby, who is now a toddling 16 month old, we were curious how her own breastfeeding journey went…
“I did skin-to-skin in the hospital after I had my baby, and thankfully, he latched well immediately. I was so happy and relieved that we got the hang of it right away. However, what blindsided me is that when my milk came in days later, the shape of my breasts changed, and suddenly my baby, who had been nursing the colostrum like a champ, could no longer latch. It was nighttime, he was screaming, I was panicking, and so my husband ran out and bought a nipple shield. Thankfully, that did the trick. But then I couldn’t nurse without the shield, which was fine at the beginning because he transferred plenty of milk with it and it was easy, but eventually I started to feel like a prisoner to the shield. So I called a Lactation Consultant at about 8 weeks, and it turns out he had a minor tongue tie. She gave me exercises to do with him, and some tricks for weaning off the shield, and by 9 or 10 weeks we were free from the shield and he was nursing well.
At first I was so embarrassed to call them, considering I’m a CLC myself! But when I told her that, she smiled at me and told me she had also used a Lactation Consultant with all three of her babies! She said, sometimes you just want the reassurance and comfort of another professional in your corner. That was truly a blessing to me and helped me keep going.
It was the best feeling in the world to find help that worked because in those first few weeks, you are so frazzled and worried and their little mouths are so tiny so you have to have them positioned just right to latch… but by the 10 week mark, when he learned to latch without the shield, it got so much easier because he was bigger then and we could nurse so easily, in any position, and it just kept getting easier and easier. It was such a sweet thing that I feel lucky to have experienced. We started solids at 5.5 months, started gradual weaning at 12 months, and ended our breastfeeding journey just shy of 15 months.”
Today, Abbey can be found rolling out new Work & Mother locations and advocating for breastfeeding mothers to be provided a safe, private and comfortable place to pump or feed during the workday. She’s also very passionate about finding ways to help women take longer maternity leave to honor the fourth trimester.
“Flex work scheduling and better child care opportunities are a must. A blanket 10 or 12 weeks off and then suddenly back in full swing all at once during a very difficult time is a very tough situation for new moms. Some moms are ready then, some are not. Some babies are ready then, some are not. I think what would be best–and hopefully might be some sort of silver lining of this whole pandemic–is if moms had the flexibility to gradually return to work in a very flexible way.
As far as childcare is concerned, there needs to be more affordable options available. I don’t know how we get there – we need some more entrepreneurs tackling that one!”
If you’d like to find out how your employer can provide Work & Mother membership options for breastfeeding employees, simply visit the Work & Mother website and submit a suite request form. You can also get in touch via hello(@)workandmother.com.
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