Lessons Learned About Working and Pumping

Looking back upon my first week of breastfeeding, I almost cannot remember the toe-curling pain I experienced as my newborn son and I figured things out.  I am so thankful for my loved ones who encouraged and supported me through those days.  Though I never had a  I’m-going-to-throw-in-the-towel moment, it helped to know my circle understood how important successful breastfeeding was to me.  I remember laying on my hospital bed cradling my perfect baby boy in my arms sobbing.  He was one day old, and I was confused by the pain I felt.  Everything I read before my baby was born said, “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” I also remember being confused by contradictory nurses who told me our latch was fine or our latch was ineffective.   I remember being told by a pediatrician that my son had lost too much weight (10% of his body weight, which is considered to be in the normal range) at his 4 day check-up.  I remember my husband and I being sent home with boxes of Similac samples, which this pediatrician suggested we feed our son.  I remember the sense of true relief when my lactation consultant came to my home hours later to work with my husband and me on breastfeeding.  She gave me confidence. She reassured us.  She was a Godsend!  I remember.  Over the past 5 months, my son and I have worked together to create a fierce breastfeeding team.  That’s why it is sometimes hard for me to remember those difficult breastfeeding days.  Settling into the glider in his nursery is my favorite time of day…no matter what time of day it is!  We’ve got a great thing going.

As I write this, I’ve been back to work from my five month maternity leave for seven weeks.  Though I’ve tried to educate myself in preparation for this transition back to work, I am scared that the two of us may get out of sync. Before my baby was born, I set a goal to breastfeed until he was 6 months old.  That included just one month of working and pumping.  This seems to be the magic number with most of the women I work with.  It’s when many have decided to wean their babies.  Though I’m not sure how working and pumping will affect our breastfeeding team, I’m committed to extending this 6 month goal for my son and me.  In fact, it’s a goal that we’ve already surpassed!  It’s not going to be easy to keep this going!  As a teacher, I have curriculum night, parent teacher conferences, field trips, team meetings, Special Education Services meetings, and no true breaks except my 30 minute lunch to contend with. Yet when I stare into my son’s ocean blue eyes as we settle into the glider for our peaceful nursing time, I am reminded of the reasons why I’ve extended my commitment to breastfeeding.  I know I’m giving him the very best, and it’s our special way to reconnect after being apart for 8 hours.  

As a first time mom who’s breastfed her son for 6.5 months and just transitioned to working full-time, I realize that I am in no way an expert.  However, I thought it might be helpful to share what I’ve learned and experienced.  Here are my tips for getting ready to become a regular pumper:

1. You don’t need to have a huge stockpile before you go back to work.  However, there will be days when you suddenly do not pump as much as you did before, and having some frozen breast milk on hand may help tide you over those hurdles and relieve you of stress, which hurts your supply too.

2. Make sure your baby’s caretaker is on board with how to handle human milk and how to feed a breastfed baby a bottle.  I read and learned so much from Working Without Weaning by Kirsten Berggren.  In the very back of the book, she has provided handling instructions for caregiver.  I simply copied the pages, gave one to my baby’s caregiver, and taped one to our fridge at home for my husband.

3. Have extra bottles on hand so you don’t have to stress about washing bottles so often.  This has been change in my daily routine.  Because I breastfed my baby, I was not used to how much time it takes to clean and sanitize all those bottles until my first week back to work (I give so much credit to all of you exclusive pumpers out there)!  After a full day of work including three pumping sessions and a 30 mile commute home, bottle washing is the LAST thing I feel like doing.

4. Have pictures of your baby on hand for when you pump.  Also bring a bottle your baby’s lotion with you to work.  If your place of employment is anything like mine, you use lotion to combat dry air to begin with. You might as well use a lotion that reminds your senses and your heart of your baby.

5. Invest in a manual pump just in case your electric pump breaks down or you forget a part of your electric pump at home.  No matter how prepared I am for getting out the door, I’m positive that there will be a day or two in which I forget some important piece of my pump or when a part malfunctions.  I have left a manual pump in my desk at work just in case.  The piece of mind it provides is worth the $20!

6. Be honest about what you need from your boss.  I was so pleasantly surprised with how wonderful, supportive, and accommodating my building principal has been with my pumping needs.  In the same way, be honest with your co-workers too!  You might be surprised to discover other women and men who raised breastfed babies.  They can become a great source of support!

7. Feed as close to drop off and pick up as possible.  Doing  this helped me eliminate 4 oz of pumping each day!  In the morning, I drive my son to his caretaker, nurse him, kiss him goodbye, and then head off to work.  Once the work day is over, I nurse my son as soon as I see him, and then we’re out the door for home.

8. Do hands-on pumping at work.  I difference between what I can pump when I do this is remarkable! (link here: http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/MaxProduction.html)

9. Do something enjoyable not related to work while you pump.  I personally like to read books  about my baby’s development while I pump.  I believe it helps your output when you’re thinking about your baby.

10.  If you’re not already a part of one or two social network which focus on breastfeeding/motherhood, join one!  The exchange of ideas, thoughts, and information is priceless!  You post a question and you’ll most likely have several responses within an hour or two from other breastfeeding mothers AND lactation consultants.  For free.  At all times of the day!  Seriously, join one!

Some extra tips for all of you teachers out there:

11. Location, location, location!  Classrooms are hardly a private place in which to pump!  Most classroom doors have windows, which by law cannot be covered.  Many times, classrooms are shared, so even when a teacher has a break, she is unable to use her space.  I’ve found it to be extremely valuable to speak with your building administrator ahead of returning to work to find a comfortable place for pumping.  I am very fortunate in my situation.  We had a teacher resign right at the end of the summer, which worked out well since my school was over staffed by a teacher.  Since the teacher was not replaced, her old classroom became the pumping room.  Voilà!  I have a private, kid-free space.  While I understand that most teachers will not fall into the same good fortune as me, I do recommend you have an open and honest conversation with your building administrator about your needs!

12.  Get a fridge in your pumping  room!   As teachers, our schedule revolves around a bell schedule.  I have to get my pumping complete within established periods each day.  If I’m late, there will be 24-27 7th graders waiting in the hallway for me to open my classroom door.  Having a fridge in my pumping room saves me precious minutes that would be taken up by walking to the teacher’s lounge and back. Those a minutes I can spend pumping…not prepping.  A private fridge also reassures me that other staff members won’t accidentally and carelessly miss handle the bottles of milk I have pumped as the rearrange other people’s lunch bags in order to locate their own!

13.  Stick to your schedule!  During odd days with adjusted schedules or teacher’s institutes, remember to stick to the pumping schedule you’ve established.  Your baby is depending on you to do this.  If you are in a meeting, excuse yourself to pump.  If you’re sitting in a seminar, go take care of business…just let your principal know the importance of sticking to the routine you’ve established.  Obviously, there will be times when this is impossible, but try to stick as close to you regular-school-day schedule as possible!

14. Speaking of schedules, I thought if might be helpful to share my regular pumping schedule: Session 1 – 6 am in the car on my way to drop off at my childcare provider.  Session 2 – During my plan period at about 9:35 am.  Session 3: During my 30 minute lunch.  If I have not pumped 12 full oz during work, I add pumping sessions on the way home and after my son has gone to sleep.

Breastfeeding has become a beautiful journey for my son and me.  Though it was a challenge in the beginning, nursing my son is something I look forward to throughout my day.  My son and I have a great thing going, and I intend on keeping it going for as long as he needs me!

Joy DeFors has been happily married for two years, though she and her husband been together for 12 years.  She and her husband have a six month old son. Joy is a middle school English Language Arts teacher, and her family lives in Chicago.

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