By Jen of Quarter Life Crisis
The thing I loved the most about breastfeeding when I was on maternity leave was the ease. When I needed to feed the baby (read: ALL THE TIME, it seemed), my milk was always just ready to go. It was the perfect temperature and consistency, and I didn’t have to fuss with formula and bottles. If I needed just a few more minutes of precious sleep in the early morning hours, my husband would bring the baby into our bed so I could nurse him on my side while I continued to snooze. And thanks to a recent law passed in my state making breastfeeding in a public place a civil right, I could feed my baby wherever, whenever.
The plan was to breastfeed for up to a year, for the bonding experience and health benefits it provided my son, yes, but mainly because I didn’t want to pay for formula on top of all our other newly acquired baby expenses. As my maternity leave came to a close, and I started to prepare for my return to work, continuing to breastfeed suddenly seemed difficult. I began to feel a little apprehensive about the prospect of pumping at work – would it interfere with my workflow, would I be able to produce enough milk for my son’s insatiable appetite, would my co-workers look at me differently as I made the twice-daily trek to my make-shift lactation station?
All were valid concerns, but fortunately for me, the answers were mostly no, mostly yes, and definitely not. I got lucky in that my employer was extremely supportive of my endeavor to continue breastfeeding. Before I came back to work, I sat down with my boss and let her know my plans. I was very clear about when I would need to pump (once in the 10 a.m. hour, once in the 2 p.m. hour), and that if it ever interfered with meetings, I could easily adjust my schedule. Cognizant of the time I’d spend away from my desk and work, I proposed a shorter lunch break to make up the time. Thankfully, my boss wasn’t too concerned about the time it would take to pump. “Just do what you need to do,” she said.
Having your employer in your corner is half the battle in successfully continuing to breastfeed while working full-time. I realize not every mother is as lucky as I have been to be able “do what I need to do” in order to breastfeed my son. A friend of mine, who works remotely, mostly out of her car on sales calls, has to seek refuge in the dark corners of parking garages so she can pump in her car. Not an ideal situation, but we all make sacrifices.
Besides a supportive employer, there are a few other things that make breastfeeding and working a realistic undertaking. Here’s what’s made my experience a positive one thus far.
A quiet, private and comfortable space in which to pump.
At my office, the most logical place for me to pump was the phone booth. The phone booth is essentially the size of a closet (boo), but it has a locking door (yay), no windows (boo/yay, depending on your need for a view), an office chair, an electrical outlet, and a phone. Ideally, I would’ve also wanted a computer in this space so I could continue to work if I needed, but my department has a laptop we all share, and as it turned out, I enjoyed a break from my computer screen. The phone booth doubled as a lactation station, as I staggered my pumping schedule with another breastfeeding mother who recently returned to work after having a second baby. At first I worried about the wheezing sound of my pump, as the phone booth is directly across from an almost-always occupied conference room, but it’s never been an issue. No one has ever asked me what I’m doing in there (thanks to an announcement made at my insistence to the company about my plans to use the phone booth for this exact purpose), and whenever my close co-workers see me in the hallway with my pump bag slung over my shoulder, there’s no discussion about where I’m going. It’s simply understood, and it’s respected.
A good breast pump.
I was extremely lucky to be gifted a Medela Pump In Style breast pump with a shoulder bag. I’ve been using the pump twice a weekday for the last four-plus months, and never once have I had a problem. I plug it in, hook it up, and go. Most days, I’m able to pump two 5-ounce bottles (one on each side) in about 15 minutes per session. I enjoy the discreetness of the black shoulder bag (I guess that’s the “in style” part?), and it easily fits in my backseat with all of the other baby gear I haul around. If buying a breast pump is not an option (hi, expensive!), I understand that one can be rented from hospitals and maternity shops. I wouldn’t advocate buying a used pump from Craigslist or eBay from a stranger for hygienic reasons, but I would consider borrowing one from a close family member, if I’d been in a pinch, knowing that replacement parts are easy to purchase.
Hands-free pump bra.
There are hands-free breastpumps on the market, but they are even more expensive. For the first couple weeks back at work, I didn’t have a hands-free system for pumping, which made double pumping quite an adventure. After blogging about said experience of having to hold both breastshields against my chest, a good friend recommended I pick up a PumpEase bra (there are other brands on the market with similar products), which is basically a tube top-type garment worn over a nursing bra or tank with slits in the front to hold the breastshields, valves and bottles to your chest, leaving your hands free to do whatever! Genius! And why I suffered for as many days as I did is beyond me.
Get yourself plenty of nursing bras and tanks (Glamourmom offers them in lots of styles and colors, perfect for layering) and choose work outfits with easy access in the front, such as button-front blouses or wrap tops. Trust me, you don’t want to have to take off a dress entirely in order to pump. Awkward!
Proper milk storage.
My breastpump came with an ice pack and small cooler that snugly fits four pump bottles. I could easily store my pumped milk in the fridge at work, but oftentimes I just store it in the cooler with the ice pack so I don’t forget to take it home with me. Even if you’d rather store it in a fridge (probably better), it’s a good idea to bring an ice pack every day for transporting your milk during a long commute. I also have plenty of milk freezer bags on hand that I use for the milk I pump on Fridays for Monday.
Extra set of bottles and pump parts.
I never did get an extra set of bottles (for the baby or pumping) or pump parts, but if I could do it all over again, I would highly recommend doing so. Because I only have one set of bottles and parts, I have to wash everything every. single. night. And I don’t have a dishwasher. This will save you time and aggravation, especially on the mornings when you’ve forgotten to wash and prepare bottles the night before.
Herbal supplements and healthy snacks.
Before I returned to work, I would pump once in awhile to build a small backup of milk in the freezer for the rare times we’d get to go out, sans baby. About a week or so before work started, I tried pumping and wasn’t able to produce very much milk, which caused much (undue) panic. Naturally, I went to the Internet and found out about Fenugreek, an herbal supplement that supposedly boosts milk supply (and makes your pee smell and sweat like maple syrup!). Of course, I rushed out to get some, and after about two days of taking it, I did notice an increase in my supply. I haven’t taken it regularly since returning to work, as my milk supply has been mostly fine, but it’s a natural remedy worth trying if lack of supply becomes a concern. When breastfeeding and pumping, I also recommend having on hand a bevy of healthy snacks to keep your energy up. Pumping is a drain on a mother, literally, so best to feed your appetite with satisfying foods to keep up with the demand.
Use the time in a way that’s meaningful for you.
Pumping at work can be stressful, especially if your job is high-pressure or demanding, but it doesn’t have to be. I thought I would want to be able to continue working on projects while I pumped, but I find it’s less stressful if I just use the time to check in with my husband (who always asks me if I’m “expressing” myself, oh ha!) or read a book. I rarely have time to read anymore, what with a crawling baby who keeps me on my toes ALL THE TIME, so it’s nice to lose myself, even if just for a few minutes, in a book. (I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit the last book I finished while pumping was Tori Spelling’s autobiography.)
And if all else fails, try to relax! It’s hard to do, but I’ve found that whenever I think too hard about the task at hand, my milk supply is affected. It’s as if my body just knows I’m putting too much pressure on myself to perform, and it’s trying to tell me to chill out already.
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