Breastfeeding is magical; pumping is mechanical. That’s how I described it to my best friend, my co-worker and my husband. My brand-new breast pump collected dust in the corner for weeks after my baby was born while I avoided it at all costs, intimidated by the unfamiliar device that would all too quickly become intimate with my breasts.
But after a generous maternity leave, my return to work drew near, and I knew that if I wanted to continue to be the sole source of my daughter’s nourishment, I’d need to play nice with the whirring, milk-retrieving machine.
Now, many of you probably don’t have the flair for dramatics that I did when it came to introducing a pump into my breastfeeding relationship. In fact, you might have pumped early on in the hospital because your baby was born prematurely or you needed to stimulate your milk production. Or maybe you’ve been pumping since your milk came in because your overachieving breasts need a little extra relief. Maybe you’ve pumped on occasion simply so you and your partner could attend your college bestie’s wedding or enjoy an overdue date night.
But even if you and your pump go way back, going back to work will weigh on your pumping experience. There are logistics to consider (where you will pump, how long your pump will hold a charge) and awkward social scenarios to fret over (the possibility of getting walked in on, storing your milk next to your boss’s lunch). But these things will get sorted out soon enough, and before you know it, you’ll be responding to emails while expressing your baby’s next meal.
Still, being a working, pumping mom requires patience, persistence and preparation. Since my initial encounter with my pump, I’ve used it hundreds more times and, as of this writing, am three months into providing my baby expressed milk while she’s in child care. It’s been draining—both literally and figuratively—but also very much doable, especially once I found my rhythm. And while I’ll always enjoy nursing my baby more than pumping for her, I’m so grateful I’ve been able to provide for her while I’m away. (It seems to help me offset at least a little of that working mom guilt.)
So, in case you’re heading back to the office soon and are unsure about what to expect, I thought I’d share a few of the things I found to be most helpful.
Depending on how soon you’ll return to work, it’s OK to put off pumping for a bit while your milk supply regulates and you and your nursling get comfortable with your routine. If you’re returning to work between two and six weeks postpartum, begin pumping seven to 10 days after birth, advises Lindsey Shipley, RN, IBCLC, founder of Lactation Link (lactationlink.com), a private lactation consulting company. If you’re returning six to 12 weeks (or more) postpartum, you can wait until three to four weeks postpartum, she says.
Building up a stash of extra milk can be slow going when you’re feeding full-time. “Remember, you’re already meeting baby’s needs, so it will take a little time for your body to adjust its milk inventory to the extra stimulation you offer by pumping,” says Shipley. But even small amounts will add up faster than you think.
If you can, squeeze in a pumping session first thing in the morning, before baby wakes, because that’s when Shipley says you’ll likely get the most output. Otherwise, “Aim for in between feedings and about an hour after baby has breastfed,” she says. “You can also set up a ‘pump station’—put the pump and anything else you might need (ice water, snacks, etc.) in an open area that you pass by often. Whenever you walk by, pump for five to 10 minutes, and stop anytime you get antsy.” You might be surprised by how quickly your freezer fills up!
Before you head back to work, plan to have at least enough milk to cover baby’s first day without you, although if you manage to accumulate a couple days’ worth of milk, it’ll do wonders for your peace of mind. In case milk gets spilled or you forget it at the office, it’s helpful to have some extra ounces on hand at home.
Make it work
As a general rule, you should pump once at work for every missed feeding to express what baby will need for her next day’s meals. For most moms, this amounts to three times in an eight-hour workday. (Although you may need to add in a session before or after work—or even both—depending on your output and your schedule at the office.)
Prior to your return, talk to human resources or your 15 minutes boss to figure out where you’ll be pumping. Under the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of time for a mother to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth, as well as a private place that’s not a bathroom to do it. However, this law applies only to companies with 50 or more employees, so see what the setup will look like in your workplace.
If you have a private office, you might want to have a door lock installed to keep out unwanted visitors while your blouse is unbuttoned. You might even purchase a mini-fridge to store your milk in, so you don’t have to use the one in the common area down the hall.
If you don’t have an office you can pump in, perhaps there’s a conference room available to you or even an unused break room. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Remember that clean is imperative; comfortable is preferable. Once you’ve gone through the routine a few times you’ll begin to feel at ease with it and become an expert on the best way to execute the mission.
During your actual pumping sessions, do whatever it takes to relax. You can meditate, scroll through Instagram, or close your eyes and let your mind wander. When you’re stressed and tense, your output will almost always be less, so it’s worth actively ignoring deadlines and upcoming presentations for a few minutes while your body provides for your baby. Try looking at photos, watching videos or listening to audio recordings of your little one to help encourage letdown. (Once the milk begins flowing, it’s OK to check your inbox—as long as it doesn’t send your stress level through the roof.)
When your pumping session is over, you’ll need to store the milk and clean the pump parts. New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that breast pump parts be washed after every use and then air-dried. (See sidebar on page 52.) If you don’t have a place to clean them or time at work is limited, consider purchasing extra pump parts, so you have a fresh set for each pumping session. You can wash all of them when you get home in the evening and let them air-dry overnight for the next day.
Milk it for all it’s worth
A breastfed baby consumes about the same amount of milk each day for her first six months of life (and then tapers off with the start of solid foods). So don’t worry that you’ll need to start filling the 6- or 8-ounce bottles your baby’s formula-fed peers are downing. Most infants need (and most moms make) 19 to 30 ounces of milk daily.
“Milk production peaks right after they’re 1 month old, and babies will consume 2 to 4 ounces per feeding session from then on, regardless of their age,” explains Shipley. Your milk will change to meet baby’s needs as she grows, and because it’s digested more efficiently than formula, she’ll need less of it.
Use slow-flow nipples with baby’s bottles, and make sure she’s not rushed through her meals. “Talk with your baby’s caregiver, and be sure she is using paced bottle-feeding techniques,” suggests Shipley, who warns infants are often uninten- tionally overfed at day care. “Paced bottle-feeding allows for breaks while baby is feeding to help her brain catch up with her tummy, so she knows when she is full.”
If you aren’t producing 1 to 1.5 ounces of breast milk for every hour you are away, Shipley advises meeting with your health care provider and a board-certified lactation consultant to help troubleshoot and create a customized care
plan to boost your milk production.