I was a construction worker by day and a mom breastfeeding a 4-year-old by night.
For valid reasons, most of the talk about breastfeeding at work focuses on breastfeeding an infant. Beyond that, most people assume that extended breastfeeding is the domain of the stay-at-home mom.
But breastfeeding looks different for everyone.
There are possibilities that aren’t talked about much, like dads and nonbinary folk who chestfeed; new moms who exclusively pump; people tandem feeding two kids of different ages; mothers who induce lactation after adoption; and moms who switch to formula after a difficult struggle.
When it comes to working moms, we seldom hear about breastfeeding moms who work outside of an office, and certainly nothing about people who breastfeed while working a “man’s job” like construction — especially when they’re breastfeeding toddlers.
But that was me.
I started my electrician apprenticeship when my child was 3. Economically, it was important to my family that I work.
My pre-baby career was in academia and advocacy, but I needed something more viable after I became a parent. So I made the switch to a skilled trade.
Meanwhile, at home, I continued to breastfeed my child until she was 5. I feel awkward about writing that in public… I would never judge anyone for stopping earlier — or for not breastfeeding at all.
Extended breastfeeding is not for everyone, but it felt like it was the easiest thing for my little family and it worked for us.
Still, I felt like I was living some kind of impossibility: not only was I nursing much longer than most moms, but I was doing so while working in a field of mostly men.
In Canada, Australia, and the United States, women make up only about 3 percent of the construction workforce.
As a construction electrician, a typical day for me was spent with a jackhammer-type tool in my hand, attacking concrete, trying to uncover plastic electrical pipes that were accidentally buried. Or it was spent lifting and carrying 100-pound bundles of pipe around the job site, constantly walking up and down temporary stairs, and running around on the slab trying to catch up to the guys laying down iron rebar.
But I was often thinking about my precious baby and how I wanted to be with her instead of a bunch of construction co-workers.
I kept quiet about breastfeeding on the job — which was only possible because I didn’t need to pump. Breastfeeding an older child is supplemental nutrition and bonding, so I was able to go longer periods without major discomfort or leaks.
It’s a good thing, too, because I worked on sites with no possibility of a private space.
On one job site there was no place to actually wash your hands properly and there were only two portable bathrooms for 50+ workers. I was the only woman on the construction site and I didn’t even get a women’s restroom. I didn’t dare request accommodation for breastfeeding — especially as a new apprentice.
Once, I admitted I was still breastfeeding to my co-workers, who by that time I knew very well. By then, I felt accepted by them and it was OK to let my secret out. They did kind of think it was ridiculous, and I have to admit I sometimes felt ridiculous myself.
I found that breastfeeding in the toddler to small-child years was very different from breastfeeding a small infant.
Breast milk went from being the only food to being a supplemental food and drink, and I felt like my body started to understand that. But feeding my child was about so much more than her nutritional needs.
My daughter missed me so much when I was at work, and it helped to have the breastfeeding bond. We reconnected with each other each night as she nursed.
With such limited time after working and commuting, it felt important to keep our quality time together, and breastfeeding felt like part of that. We practiced the opposite of night weaning: day weaning.
My child is 7 now and our breastfeeding years are behind us, but I am grateful for every part of my nontraditional nursing experience.
Whether you’re breastfeeding an infant or a toddler; whether you’re working in an office or surrounded by men in construction; whether you keep your nursing journey public or private, you will always face judgment over what you did or didn’t do.
Despite others’ opinions, do what’s right for your family.
One day, when breastfeeding is over, you’ll look back on the experience. If you stay true to yourself, you’ll ensure that you feel positive about the choices you made along the way.
Megan Kinch is a construction electrician and writer based in Toronto, Canada and the mother of a 7-year-old.