Both of my babies were exclusively breastfed when I went back to work so I got to experience the fun of pumping while in the workplace. My workplace has been very accommodating of my needs, but I had to be vocal and specific about what those needs were because they wouldn’t know unless I told them. Now that I’ve been back to work for over a week, I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve found necessary to successfully express the amount of milk needed to sustain my chubby baby boy while I’m gone.
PreparationDaily pumping for your little one doesn’t begin the day you go back to the office. There should be previous preparation for both you and your baby if you want to make a smooth transition. The following are steps that I highly suggest one take before going back to work while still breastfeeding:
Get a top-of-the-line pump.With Bunny, I got a midline Evenflo pump. At first it was great because my milk supply was off the charts. But as I pumped throughout the year and my supply relaxed to meet Bunny’s need, pumping was less and less effective. Some days I got a full bottle or two, and other days I got nothing after a full half hour of pumping. Thankfully, this did nothing to diminish my milk supply, probably because she drank so little while I was gone. With Bear I saved extra money for a full three months until I could afford a Medela pump. That thing can express milk from a rock! It’s amazing and I’m really glad I put out the extra money for it—though I wish I’d have been less stingy when it came to my first breast pump. It would have saved that money in the long run.
Practice pumping.I started pumping almost as soon as my milk came in. I didn’t do it regularly, and I didn’t actually do it in order to practice, per say, but in the beginning, when I had an oversupply, it was necessary once every week or so to partially empty one or both of my breasts so that Baby Bear could catch up with production and I wouldn’t be walking around engorged all day. Also, there were times when I left him with his Daddy or a family member for a couple of hours at a time that required some pumping. This happened every week or two—enough that I knew how to use and clean my machine efficiently.
Have some extra milk.The practice with the pump gave us about 20 or so extra ounces of breast milk in our freezer. This has been helpful since it’s hard to know how many ounces a breastfed baby actually eats. When I first went back to work, having this extra milk meant my husband and I could figure out how many ounces Bear actually consumes in my absence, without having to resort to formula or having him go hungry if I didn’t pump enough.
Practice leaving.This is definitely easier with the second baby than it is with the first. I remember being in tears the first time I left little Bunny with my mom so I could go see my doctor for only an hour or two. I was sad to leave Bear for the first time, of course, but it wasn’t a big deal. Leaving your baby for a couple hours at a time to go shopping or to the dentist is good practice both for you and your baby. Also, it gives you a chance to practice pumping.
Introduce a bottle.This one is really important and can be somewhat tricky. If you want your baby to exclusively breastfeed, then it’s important to establish that first before introducing a bottle. It’s best to wait 2-4 weeks until introducing any other nipple—even a pacifier to your baby (although we broke that rule and gave a pacifier to Bear at about 3 or 4 days old, but he was already a strong nurser at that point). However, if you wait too long, they might never take the bottle, which they’ll need to learn how to do. Once the bottle is introduced, you should make sure that your baby practices with it once in awhile. Bear got a bottle once every week or two in the four months leading up to my returning to work. Bunny practiced with it nearly every day after turning two weeks old both because she hated it and because I went back to work when she was only six weeks old. Now, I’ve had two very different experiences with each child when it came to giving a bottle for the first time. Bunny hated it. It was traumatic and awful for her from the start. She wanted Mommy, and nothing else really helped. In the 9 months that I had to pump for her, she never ate more than 23 ounces in my absense. She ate as little as possible while I was gone and then made up for it by pouncing on me the moment I walked through the door. We did try a couple of different bottles with Bunny and found that the ones with the largest nipple base worked best—bottles like Nuk and Tommee Tippee. She liked to chomp on them and hold it the same way she did my breast. Bear, on the other hand, doesn’t really care where the milk comes from as long as it gets to his belly (though he won’t take it cold), and it doesn’t really matter which bottle we give him either. We do like the Playtex Nurser, however, because it eliminates air intake and lessons any gas problems.
Mom and the Bottle.It’s best if Mom isn’t the one to give the baby a bottle. The baby should be around Mommy and know that it’s time to breastfeed. This will help prolong nursing for as long as possible. I offered Bunny a bottle once, and it was out of desperation while we were in a car on a long trip. She didn’t take it, by the way. I did the same with Bear, and though he will take a bottle no problem, he didn’t want anything to do with it. I don’t know if this was because I offered it or if it was due to the restraint of the car seat.
Nipple confusion.Nipple confusion might happen, even if you do wait up to as much as four weeks before introducing a bottle. It happened with Bunny and for a week or two she resisted both the bottle and the breast. It required patience, perseverance, and a good bit of walking and bouncing as I nursed her, but I didn’t give up and I didn’t offer her the bottle. Eventually, she became comfortable doing both. Even though she didn’t drink much from the bottle, she became comfortable enough with it that she didn’t scream and arch her back when it was offered.
Talk to your superiors.Legally, your workplace is obligated to provide you a place (a private place that is not a bathroom) and the time to pump. My job was extremely accommodating and obliging about this.
Find a place to pump.Depending upon where you work, finding a private, comfortable place to pump may pose a challenge. A month before I had to be back at my job, I went in on a day my husband had off (which gave me an opportunity to pump and give my son some bottle practice) and I not only observed my long term sub and looked over my teaching materials, but I also spent an hour or more scoping the school and talking to secretaries and administrators about finding a good place to pump. Originally, I was given the visitors locker room. It was ideal because it locked from the inside and had a place where I could sit and relax in privacy. However, once I went back to work, I found that this locker room is often used as a storage space. Pumping while squished between the benches and folded up choir risers wasn’t working. One of the custodians kindly gave me use of his office for pumping. Three times a week I have a schedule that requires leaving a classroom full of kids to pump, so I go in his office which is maybe 30 feet from mine, lock the door, and pump in privacy. Thankfully, there are also times where I can just lock myself in my classroom and pump. When Bunny was nursing, I pumped during lunch, but since I go in earlier and leave earlier for Baby Bear, that’s no longer possible.
Schedule it.When you’re at home taking care of your kids, they are the priority. You don’t have to remind yourself to meet their needs. When you’re at work, your job is the immediate priority. Your thoughts are constantly on your to do list and ways to make things more efficient. It’s really hard, sometimes, to stop everything and pump. When my schedule is super tight—like the days I have four classes in a row without any prep time—I’m actually better about remembering to pump. I have one day where I have only one class to teach. This is the day I prep for the next week and tie up loose ends. It’s harder for me to remember to pump then because my schedule is more open and I have so much to do, but pumping has to be a priority for working mothers who are still breastfeeding. You need to plan when you’re going to pump in a given day and then follow that plan. The times may change from day to day depending upon meetings, appointments, and deadlines, but the frequency should not.
Be comfortable.Get comfortable not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Your best let down will happen when you’re relaxed, so do whatever you can to make sure that happens—which can be difficult to do at work. My advice for this is to forget about your job for a moment and leave any spreadsheets, phone calls, or papers to grade elsewhere. When I pumped with Bunny, I tried to do all those things and I noticed that I got less milk on days when I was trying to multitask. Now that I’m back at work after having Bear, I literally drop everything and just pump.
Find a happy place.A very effective way to help milk letdown while away from your baby is to have photos or videos of him or her handy to look at. I like to prop my iPhone up and watch recent videos of Baby Bear that I’ve taken, or set my phone to show a slideshow of all my photos. Then, I just relax and focus on my kids and how much I love him. Sometimes I peruse Facebook or read a book because I also find these things relaxing. Once, I even Facetimed my family while pumping because I knew my husband hadn’t left for work . That was the best! The other day, I was reading an interesting article and I hadn’t been pumping for 3 minutes when I looked down and realized that the bottles had already filled. So, it’s actually more efficient for my time and to do list if I just drop it all before pumping.
Find a Routine.It helps to have a routine for storing milk and washing all the parts of your pump when you get home and before you go to work every day. I like to have my daughter’s lunches and my son’s diaper bag all set up the night before they have to be in daycare and that’s the time that I get my pump all ready to go for the next day. At some point, I really want to buy a hand pump to have at work just in case I ever forget some necessary part to my pump. That happened a couple times when Bunny was a baby and I had to figure out a way to awkwardly hand express the milk—which I’ve never been very good at.
Bunny nursed for 25 months and I pumped for one school year (8 months, factoring in my maternity leave). When she was a year old, and I returned back to work, I didn’t continue to pump. This was only possible for me, though, because I work part time and I was at a place where we nursed only 3-6 times a day and she wasn’t dependant upon breast milk as her only form of nourishment. Towards the end of our nursing days, she only nursed in the wee hours of the morning and before bed. That’s a very easy nursing schedule to maintain around even a full time job.
I realize that some moms look at going back to work as a death sentence to breastfeeding, but it really doesn’t have to be that way. As long as pumping is a priority for you, and you are properly prepared to do so (this is barring any other breastfeeding difficulties you may have), you should be able to continue breastfeeding just fine while working. Stress can be a huge contributing factor to diminishing milk supply, so remember to relax. Keep calm, and pump on!