“It’s Really Hard to Pump as a Teacher!”: An Inquiry into the Embodied Experiences of Lactating Teachers

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


“It’s Really Hard to Pump as a Teacher!”: An Inquiry into the Embodied Experiences of Lactating Teachers

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


This qualitative research study is the first in education to explore the daily, visceral experiences of K-12 lactating teachers in the United States. Across disciplines, scant research has been conducted that focuses on the embodied and emotional experiences of lactating people at work (Gatrell, 2019; Ryan, et al, 2011; Stearns, 1999). Bodyfeeding is a marker of “good” citizenship and “good” parenting, yet teachers, charged with reproducing state ideologies of citizenship, don’t have the space or time needed to express milk at work. This research fills a gap in cross-disciplinary literature focused on remedying the ways capitalist, patriarchal institutional structures sidestep the bodily needs of workers for the sake of workplace efficiency. It shows how lactating teachers navigate and make sense of two conflicting imperatives: On the one hand, the engrained ways they have learned to orient their time towards the reproduction of schooling norms, and on the other, their embodied need to produce milk. Informed by feminist approaches to qualitative research, I conducted 20 in-depth qualitative interviews with teachers in the Twin Cities metro who have expressed milk at work since 2010, and another 15 interviews with union leaders, administrators, and public health officials across Minnesota. I frame my study using social reproduction theory (Bhattacharya, 2017; Federici, 2014) to show how reproductive labor like expressing milk is framed as “not-work” within a capitalist understanding of production. I use poetic transcription to foreground the firsthand accounts of teachers and to demonstrate the embodied and emotional resonances across participants’ accounts (Cahnmann-Taylor & Siegesmund, 2018; Faulkner, 2016). For data analysis, I take up cultural historical activity theory (Engeström, 2001) to argue that the need to express milk functions as a crucial moment because teachers cannot fulfill their role as professionals as mapped out by current expectations. I take up Garland-Thomson’s (2011) concept of misfits and Sarah Ahmed’s (2017) subsequent application of this concept to show how the onus is put on lactating teachers to navigate incompatibilities between their bodily needs and the school day regime and positions them as “misfits” in schools. I draw from the concepts of outlaw emotions (Jagger, 1989), pleasure activism (brown, 2019), and the uses of the erotic (Lorde, 1984) to highlight the how the emotional experiences of lactating teachers need to be considered when creating policies and practices about lactation. Findings illustrate how patriarchal, capitalist logic is at play in how time and space are organized in schools, and how lactating teachers’ bodies are positioned by this logic, while they also resist and transform the organization of schools. My study shows that a lack of structural support for lactating teachers contributes to an inequitable work environment in schools. Implications include that individuals, buildings, and districts can create more humane conditions for lactating teachers by enacting modest reforms like creating school lactation spaces and providing additional time, outside of existing break times, to pump. Yet while stop-gap reforms in schools such as creating lactation spaces are one step in the right direction, more sweeping change is necessary.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2022. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Timothy Lensmire. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 279 pages.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Toedt, Elise. (2022). “It’s Really Hard to Pump as a Teacher!”: An Inquiry into the Embodied Experiences of Lactating Teachers. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/250065.

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.