Establishing a breastfeeding relationship with your infant can often be more challenging and time consuming than you imagined. When Baby Z was born, I had visions of blissful breastfeeding in the glider in her nursery before she slept peacefully in her crib. You can stop laughing now.
Even with loads of support from her pediatrician and local lactation consultants to help with any issues I had establishing breastfeeding, it took more like months than weeks to really feel like baby and I were in the breastfeeding groove. And then, it was time for me to return to work. I had so many questions about if and how our breastfeeding relationship would change, how I would balance pumping with my regular work duties, and all of the details that come with planning to pump at work. It seems that just when we got things on the right track, everything was about to change again.
As it turns out, while you will never hear me say that pumping at work was "fun" or "enjoyable", it was easier than I had made it out to be in head once I knew the right questions to ask and how to set up a routine that worked for me. Here are a few tips to help you get off on the right foot if you are planning to return to work and pump after baby.
1. Find a pump you love and test it out.
Most health insurance companies are now required to provide a breast pump to new mothers, however, the type and quality of those pumps varies. Check with your health insurance company first to see what they provide and try that out. You will have the most success with a hospital grade pump (but these can often be pricey) and a double pump will save you time so you may want to shop around for a pump if the one provided isn't working well for you.
Try it out. Don't be upset if you are only pumping small amounts to start with. It takes time and trial and error to develop a good pumping system that gets you the best output. Many pumps either come with a variety of breast shield sizes or have them available for purchase. Use their recommendations to find the ones that have the best fit and comfort for you. I even had to adjust which size I was using after a few months when my daughter's breastfeeding needs started to slow down and. Adjust the speed and strength of the pump until you find your ideal. Do all of these things before you return to work so that you are ready to be successful from day one.
2. Have an open conversation with your employer.
Most employers are covered by state and federal laws requiring a reasonable amount of break time and space to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother. Find out what the laws are in your state and whether or not you will be paid for this time (which is not a requirement of the law).
- Where will you pump? Having a location where you feel safe and comfortable pumping will make the process much easier. If you have your own office you may be able to pump there with a sign on your door. However, for the many ladies for which that isn't an option, you'll need to determine a location that works for you and your employer. Can you borrow an empty office or room during that time? Is there a designated lactation location in your office? The federal statute requiring most employers to allow time and space for pumping specifically states that the location cannot be a bathroom, so we ready to discuss that with your employer if needed. Think about what you will need in that space to be successful at pumping. This often includes an electrical outlet for your pump, a (hopefully comfortable!) chair for you to sit in, a table for your pump and supplies, and nearby access to a sink to clean your pumping parts afterwards.
- When will you pump? As a rule of thumb, you will need to pump as often as your baby nurses. When I first returned that was every 2-3 hours, but baby continually stretched that out as she got older and I was able to adjust and drop pumping sessions accordingly. This meant scheduling a mid-morning and afternoon session into my daily work plan, and pumping during my lunch as well. Discuss this with your employer so you can plan ahead for these sessions, especially if someone else will need to cover your duties during this time. Pumping both breasts at the same time is more time efficient and you can plan around 30 minutes for the pumping process each session.
- Where will you store your breast milk? The ideal location for storing your breast milk is in a refrigerator, but if that isn't possible, you can also use pre-frozen ice packs to keep it cold for a period of time. You can store the milk itself in sterile plastic bags, or plastic or glass bottles, all which can easily be purchased. I stored it in our office refrigerator, in a discreet bag, but almost cried on day when someone had taken my bag out (presumably to make room or rearrange things) and not put it back. Since I didn't know how long it had been out, I didn't feel comfortable saving it. Luckily that was only a one-time event, and I learned to think about where I put the bag after that.
3. Develop a pumping routine that is comfortable for you.
You will pump more milk when you feel relaxed and comfortable in your pumping situation. Not always easy to do at work right? Many women find that their output increases when they focus on their baby by looking at pictures or videos of them. In my case, answering emails and getting other computer tasks done while I was pumping helped me because I wasn't focused on pumping itself and how much I was producing.
In my case, to be able to work on my computer while I pumped I needed my hands free. Having the right nursing bra and tank top under my shirts made that easy and simple. I also occasionally pumped on my way to or home from work in my car depending on my schedule. I needed the right pumping accessories to make that work, like a car adapter for my pump and my nursing cover that I used over myself while driving. Determine what accessories will make your pumping routine simpler and less stressful for you and your pumping sessions will be more successful.
If you’re struggling with pumping, contact resources that can help you with advice and tips. Many lactation consultants can sit with you while you pump and help you establish whether your fit and routine are the best for you. Start by contacting your health care provider for resources or contact your local La Leche League.
Regardless of how much planning ahead you do, returning to work and pumping will take some time to adjust to. Establish a network of friends, coworkers, and family who can help support you during this time to help ease the transition and don’t forget to be proud of the great start your are giving your baby by continuing to provide them with breast milk during this time!