I was chatting with one of my very best friends this morning, bright and early as she is returning back to work soon from maternity leave. She’s a truly amazing mama, it has been an honor watching her become a mama. I knew it was a job she would succeed in and was born to do, it has been so fun to be a part of her transformation.
Anyways, we were discussing pumping at work and how to prepare for all of it and what to expect and I thought, hey what the heck, why don’t I just blog about it because maybe my experience could help another mama that is returning to work, in addition to my friend. This blog is such a great tool because it has given me the ability to share my experiences in an effort to maybe help someone else along the way. I think that sometimes people forget to share or are too afraid to share, and honestly sharing is when we learn the most about each other and situations.
So here it is, my tips, experiences, and tricks that helped me in my pumping/breastfeeding journey. If you have any questions or want further advice, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is my pleasure and passion to help others, especially mamas and papas that are getting used to this whole parenting thing. I am no expert, but I’m happy to share what has worked for me, maybe suggest some ideas that may work for you, or just commiserate and support you because being a parent is HARD.
The first thing that I think is most important before you return to work is to really analyze the situation that you are returning to, of course keep in mind that a lot can change when you return and set the expectation that you need to be more flexible than ever and also practice gratitude in the fact that this amazing company you work for has given you the opportunity to have your baby, spend time with your baby, and come back to work…unfortunately we live in a country where this is not a right, it’s rather a privilege (even writing that sentence made my skin crawl). I would suggest asking yourself these questions:
1. How many times a day do I currently breastfeed my baby?
This question will help you guesstimate how many times you will be pumping throughout the day. I wish I could remember how many times I breastfed before going back but sometimes even I forget things haha.
2. How old is my baby?
This will give you an idea of how much you need to pump in a day. You can definitely seek out advice from your pediatrician to find out exactly how many ounces your baby needs at his/her age & weight. Full disclosure, my baby was 4 months old when I went back and I think I pumped about 4-5 times per day in the beginning.
3. What will my job look like when I have to spend roughly 30-45 minutes a few times a day pumping? How can I plan my schedule to allow for these breaks in the day?
If you take the time before you return to visualize your schedule and even schedule out specific times to pump, you may have an easier time returning to work. When I first went back I picked very specific times (ie. I would pump in the morning before I left around 7:45 am, then I would pump again around 10, again after I ate lunch maybe 1 or so, and then again around 3:30…this was what worked for me, but my job was a little more flexible and I could build my own schedule).
4. How am I going to manage my feelings and expectations if I fail?
This is one thing I didn’t plan for and I didn’t even think about, but with hindsight being 20/20, I wish I thought this through ahead of time. I was fortunate enough to continue breastfeeding for 14 months. It was 14 months of ups and downs and all arounds, but it was honestly probably, to date, 14 months where I was most proud of myself and my body. The one thing I can say and I wish I could shout it from the rooftops is that IT IS OKAY TO NOT BREASTFEED YOUR BABY. I’ve actually received a very snarky and honestly unkind response from a fellow mama when I said this out loud one time. She said, “that’s easy for you to say, breastfeeding was so easy for you.” The fact that she said this crushed me because breastfeeding was actually so incredibly hard for me in the beginning, especially while recovering from a C-Section. I don’t even know this mama that well and the fact that she came up with that response to me, while trying to make herself feel better about switching to formula, was just so so hurtful. It’s an exchange I will never ever forget, especially because she knew very little about my breastfeeding journey. Formula exists for a reason and we are SOOOOOO lucky it does exist. So, if things aren’t working out for you breastfeeding and pumping at work, please mama do what is best for you and for your baby and switch to formula. You are a better mama when you are a happy mama and giving your baby formula and making that financial sacrifice is a feat in and of itself. Formula is freaking expensive and you should be proud of yourself that you can afford it!!! And, if you ever ever ever feel down on yourself, just hug your baby and think about how lucky that sweet baby is to have YOU as a loving mama.
5. What can I do now that will make it easier when I return to work?
I think that if you can start getting ready to go back to work at least 3 weeks before you actually go back, you will thank yourself later. I did some really weird things like practiced getting ready for work, showering, doing my makeup and hair with my baby before I actually went back. It really helped. But, in terms of pumping and breastfeeding my #1 suggestion is to order enough pump parts for your pump for the amount of times you will be pumping at work. I thought I would be all environmental and save the planet by washing mine throughout the day, but what I found out was that my pump parts never quite dried enough unless I let them airdry overnight, and my pump did not perform as well with semi damp parts, so just get enough parts for the day, maybe even order a few extra sets so that you aren’t in panic mode if you lose one little piece that you need. Also, prepare two bags to keep with you, one labeled “Clean” and one labeled “Dirty” and once your dirty bag is full at the end of the day give yourself a huge hug and pat on the back and clean those suckers at home.
6. How can my partner make my pumping dream more successful?
This is if in fact you have a partner, some mamas are doing it on their own and all I have to say is GOD BLESS YOU, I don’t know how you do it, but you are my idol. One thing my husband did, which I also saw shared on one of the mama groups I follow along with, was that he cleaned my pump parts. Not all the time, but definitely more than I did. My husband usually does all the dishes because I do the shopping and cooking, and in my opinion it’s only fair if he does the dishes. I felt like if I was taking the time out of my work day multiple times, to feed our child, the least my husband could do is clean the parts and line them up for the next day. He did get off the hook sometimes though because my mother-in-law used to stay with us to help care for our sweet girl and she almost always cleaned my pump parts when she was there. She was completely amazing and such a huge help when I had my baby, I don’t know how my husband and I will ever repay her for driving 2 hours each way every single week to help us. She’s so selfless and if you’re reading this Granny Janie…We Love YOU!
7. What bag am I going to use to store everything? Do I have a little cooler I can use to put my milk in or will I keep it in the fridge until I go home? Can I start prepacking my bag so it is ready for day 1?
I was really lucky because my pump came with a cool (haha!) bag and cooler that I used and it worked really well for me. I used the Ameda pump and I loved it because it was small and super easy to operate. I am in outside sales, so my day to day is predominately spent in my car or in a dermatologists’ office. I loved the bag and cooler I got with my pump. It worked so well, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. I know a lot of people that used a backpack because they found that easiest because let me tell you you are going to have a lot of crap to haul around. Some women I know even got an extra pump for work, and then had one for home too, so maybe that situation works best for you. I was lucky because my sister had an extra pump that I used. I am not sure what everyone’s feelings are on sharing but we are pretty open with one another about our health and felt that sharing would be great. She also had the Ameda so I was very familiar with how to use it and we were able to share all the parts. I pretty much do whatever my sister tells me to do because she is super successful, and breastfed twins for close to 14 months, so I figured she must be some kind of expert, at least in my eyes!
8. Where will you pump and where will you store your milk, your parts, your bag and how will you transport it back and forth from home and to work?
I sort of touched on this above, but I think it’s really important to think through the logistics of basically adding the job of milk lady to your already demanding title. Does your work have a lactation room? If it doesn’t, how do you feel about pumping in your car? I personally loved it and pretty much always pumped in my car. I called a friend while I was pumping, took conference calls (and got called out by my manager on the weird noise in the background when I thought I was on mute but wasn’t, and then proceeded to tell my whole team “Sorry, I am just pumping,” which everyone laughed about, but also probably felt really weird picturing me topless and milking myself in my car while talking to them haha). As far as transportation goes and storage, I became the ice pack queen, who knew I would gain yet another title in this journey?! Since I was always in my car I had to keep my milk in a cooler at all times or drop it off at daycare or home, along my route, which I did sometimes.
9. Is there anything I need to be more comfortable while I pump?
Someone once told me while you are pumping if you aren’t getting much milk start looking at pictures of your baby or better yet listen to your baby cry, how terrible!! But, the body works in amazing ways. I actually recorded a video of my baby crying that I used when I wasn’t getting enough milk and, my gosh, I think it worked. Another thing in this category would be a nursing cover. I would love to say I used a nursing cover in the front seat of my car when I was pumping, but I honestly didn’t because I didn’t really care if people saw my boobs. I was a pretty out there breastfeeder and didn’t cover up, it just wasn’t my thing, I got hot, felt weird about my milk getting on the cover and I guess I’m just more of a hippie mama than most. Sorry if you’re offended over me feeding my baby, but ya just need to get over yourself and realize I’m doing what I want to do and you can do what you want to do by looking away if it really bothers you.
10. How will I provide the electricity/battery power that my pump needs?
I just hooked my pump into my car and all was peachy in the world, but some are not that lucky. Some pumps can use batteries and some can’t so check that before you leave for day one if batteries are your plan. Also, I suggest getting a hand pump just in case you have any emergencies where you just need to relieve a little pressure but can’t get to a plug.
11. Do I have enough snacks, a big enough water bottle and how will I accommodate making sure I eat and drink enough during the work day to sustain my pumping?
I feel like pumping made me more hungry and thirsty than actually breastfeeding did at home. It was crazy and something I didn’t even expect. The one thing that I can say is that I honestly use to sometimes forget to eat when I worked because I would get so busy, and all a sudden it was 4:00 and I was like OMG I haven’t eaten today. THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN WHEN YOU ARE PUMPING. You will probably pass out if you don’t eat or drink, or worse just won’t get any milk when you hook yourself up. So make sure you pack snacks, eat a big lunch and drink SO much water. It will help your health and your output, I promise.
Hmmm, so these are all I can think of right now, but if I think of anything else, I will certainly add them to the list. All in all, I will say this, pumping and breastfeeding are not easy. They are a huge challenge, some may even say an inconvenience, but if it’s a challenge you choose to take on just make sure that you set up your expectations, organize your thoughts, and spend the time you need in advance getting yourself and your bag prepared for day one.
Above anything else, don’t be too hard on yourself. You are going through some really HUGE changes and if the whole breastfeeding and pumping thing is making you incredibly sad, defeated or just not working it’s okay to switch to formula. I read an article at some point that said that even the shortest time breastfeeding a baby can make a huge impact on the baby’s entire life. So if you made it a week, two weeks, 3 weeks or 3 years….YOU ARE AMAZING and you are doing amazing things for your baby.
GOOD LUCK ON DAY ONE, you’ve got this!!!!