I was at lunch with a fellow attorney (and mommy) a couple of weeks before returning to work from a four-month maternity leave when she leaned in, winked, and said conspiratorially, “I’ll bet you’re excited to be done with breastfeeding!”
Breastfeeding is such a personal decision. Breastmilk has proven benefits, but that said, I’ve known many moms, both working and stay-at-home, who have had perfectly happy, thriving, formula-fed babies. Still, all working moms should know that they DO have a choice. I repeat: You don’t have to give up breastfeeding just because you go back to work.
We didn’t. It was a roller coaster ride, but it was worth it! And it’s completely doable with a little organization and lots of planning ahead…which is pretty much what we do as parents every day anyway, right?
I crafted my strategy from repeated trial and error, and I really wish I’d had someone to walk me through it at the time. Here are my tips based on what worked for us:
Invest in a high-quality pump.
I was so excited when I got a small single, manual pump as a baby shower gift. Cute! I thought to myself. I can stash this in the car or on my carry-on to use when I’m traveling!
They are so tempting and so affordable, but I’m telling you, your life will be so much easier with a double, electric pump. My Medela Freestyle changed my life. Once I had my routine down, I was able to pump, clean up, and get back to work within about 15 minutes. Plus, the Freestyle has a rechargeable battery, so I didn’t have to go hunting for outlets in airports and conference rooms (or my car, for that matter!).
Electric pumps are pricey, so if a pump doesn’t fit your budget or you’re still saving up, consider renting one from the hospital. Our hospital had a lactation center where you could literally just walk in and rent a pump. It was incredibly convenient.
Start storing early.
I started pumping, storing, and saving early—by Papito’s second month. This meant pumping after he finished nursing, while giving him a bottle (of breastmilk), or while he was napping. I used and date labeled storage bags, which were also very convenient for thawing milk and prepping bottles for daycare when I went back to work.
We used the following “expiration” guidelines from our pediatrician:
Frozen milk: six months
Freshly pumped milk: three days
Thawed milk: 24 hours
Papito was drinking formula by the time he turned one year old, but I would estimate that we were able to supplement more than half with breastmilk. By that time he was already receiving a lot of his nutrition through solid foods anyway, so I considered our efforts a success.
Plan out each day the night before.
Papito was waking up for 4:00 A.M. feedings until he was about six months old (probably older—it’s all a blur now), so I would often get up at 3:30 A.M. to pump and then nurse him. Even though I pumped at the office and still nursed at night and in the mornings, not nursing during the weekday definitely caused a decrease in my supply right away. I am confident the early morning pumping sessions helped keep up my supply.
I also used that early morning time to look at my Outlook calendar for the following day, block out pumping times on my calendar, and plan out my needs for pumping during the workday. This included questions like:
Where will I be when I need to pump tomorrow? Do I need to find a place to pump?
Will I have access to an outlet? Or do I need to charge my pump?
I’m traveling tomorrow… Do I need to leave a little early/plan to stay a little late to pump?
Do I need to stock up on extra wipes? Snacks? Did I pack my water bottle?
Yes, it’s strange to “plan time” to think! But these are just not the types of things you’re going to stop to think about when you’re running around trying to get yourself and your newborn out the door to daycare…
Sanitation + shortcuts = sanity.
One of the most difficult pumping transitions for me when I went back to work was going from pumping in the comfort, privacy, and cleanliness of my own home to…well, just about everywhere else. Airport bathrooms. Restaurants. Parking lots. My car.
Yeah, it was nasty.
I tried to have an extra set of pump parts handy and also used wipes so that I didn’t have to stress or waste time cleaning after pumping. I kept microwave sterilizer bags at the office in my desk. I stored milk in a cute lunch bag in the break room fridge. When I got home, I would clean multiple sets of breast pump parts and set them out to dry for use the next day. Fresh milk went in the freezer. Finally, a hands-free nursing bra was a must. While pumping, I would often handle conference calls on mute, review and respond to emails, or draft and edit documents. The ability to multitask is key.
Have a talk with your boss.
When I returned to work, I let my boss know I would be pumping in my office on a daily basis, with my door closed and a sign on the door.
It generally doesn’t hurt to give your boss a heads up and let him/her know you want to carve out time to pump at work. Under federal laws, employees have the right to reasonable break time and a private place to accommodate pumping. However, the rule doesn’t apply to companies with less than 50 employees. Plus, your boss may not realize what your rights are, or that you even want to pump.
Your workplace may already have a policy for pumping. I will never forget being at a deposition in the large offices of a very conservative Austin law firm, and being asked if I needed a key to the “Lactation Room” for use during the break! I accepted and was able to pump in a converted office in a comfy chair. It was private and clean, and there were magazines and streaming music. Know whose idea that was? A working mommy at the law firm! If your office doesn’t have a space for pumping, why not ask if you can set one up?
Be kind to yourself.
Know your limits! Although I started exercising regularly relatively soon after my son was born, I didn’t diet. I drank a lot of water. I ate a lot of snacks. I tried not to push myself too hard to “lose the baby weight.” Pumping, breastfeeding, working, and adjusting to being a new parent…it was all overwhelming enough without trying to fit into my pre-pregnancy suits.
Did this mean I was still wearing maternity clothes more than half a year after I went back to work? Yes. But my sanity was worth it.
Also, there will be embarrassing moments. Be prepared for them, laugh from them, learn from them! Even though I put a sign on my office door while pumping, I did have a co-worker walk in once while I was pumping. Solution? I wore my breast cover while pumping in my office, just in case. I also had some leakage once during a court hearing. Solution? Breast pads stored in my desk, purse, and laptop bag. Another time, I was out of town for a conference when I realized I’d forgotten a pump part and found myself frantically driving around the city looking for a Target or Babies”R”Us. Solution? A set of extra pump parts in my laptop bag.
I know it doesn’t feel normal, but it really is. Know that there are many working mommies who are going through the same thing. We’re all in it together!
Do what works best for your baby AND for yourself.
This is a lot of information! But remembering the essentials eventually became part of the everyday routine. All moms (and dads, for that matter) become jugglers when they become parents. Breastfeeding is part of that, but just remember: it won’t last forever, and it’s very, very worth it. For me, it was gratifying to know that Papito was receiving the health and nutritional advantages of breastmilk, even when I wasn’t there. It helped me feel connected to him during my workday, and helped us reconnect at the end of the workday because he still wanted to nurse!
But if pumping is not working for your family, there is no rule that says you can’t change your mind. I think working moms often worry that they won’t be able to provide their babies with the same advantages that stay-at-home moms do—I know I’m no exception. At the end of the day, a happy mommy is a happy baby, so if it’s not working for you, it’s not working for your baby. Don’t be afraid to trust yourself! Happy pumping!