Pumping sucks, both literally and figuratively. After two
kids, I estimate I’ve spent 19 months of my life expressing milk while attached to cold plastic
at various times of the workday. I’ve learned a thing or two in
those over-air-conditioned offices with only printer paper taped to the windows
to shield my coworkers from my boobs.
If you intend to pump, here are few tips from me and International
Board Certified Lactation Consultant (“IBCLC”) Avery Giordano to make the first
days back to work a little easier.
These things look like medieval torture devices. Practice
assembling and disassembling your pump a few times before you need it.
Eventually, you’ll be able to snap that thing together while typing an email to
your boss. Just don’t wait until you’re engorged and trying to squeeze in your
first pump session before a conference call to attempt it.
“Most Lactation Consultants recommend that you begin pumping
once or twice a day, once breastfeeding is well established, usually around 4 to 6 weeks,” Giordano said. “This will allow you to put away a nice freezer stash of
expressed milk and relieve some of the pressure when you first return to work.”
Obviously, your baby has to learn to drink from a bottle if
you’re not there to nurse on demand. It’s best to introduce the bottle after
breastfeeding is established but early enough that your baby adapts easily.
“Begin offering some expressed breastmilk by bottle around
4 to 6 weeks,” Giordano said. “Using expressed milk one or two times a week
will help the baby become comfortable with bottle-feeding.”
From my experience, I recommend handing someone else the
bottle and getting your boobs out of sight. Truth is, most nursing babies would
100 percent rather have the real thing. Instead of hovering nervously nearby, go take
that shower you’ve wanted for the last couple days.
“We do find that some babies will refuse bottles despite
their parents’ best efforts,” Giordano added. “Of course this is super
stressful for parents and adds to the already mounting ‘return to work
anxiety.’ The good news is that once your baby and their caregiver establish their
own routines, this problem usually resolves.”
The first week is usually a tough transition for everyone. Don’t
get frustrated if something isn’t working.
3. Know your childcare provider’s rules.
Any childcare provider with multiple breastfed infants
should require that all breastmilk be marked with the child’s name, the date it
was expressed and the ounces. In addition, most will have rules about the age
of breastmilk (both frozen and fresh). Knowing the rules will help prevent
waste. I once had to throw away 18 ounces of breastmilk because both the
teacher and I thawed frozen bags for the same day. (Yeah, I’m still bitter
According to provisions in the 2010 Affordable Care Act
• You have a
right to take unpaid breaks to pump whenever you need.
• You have a
right to a place to pump at work other than a bathroom. (If you wouldn’t eat
your lunch there, you shouldn’t pump there.)
Individual state laws may provide additional rights as well.
It’s important to know the rights granted by your state and any exceptions to
federal and state laws governing your employer. For example, if your employer
has fewer than 50 employees they may be exempt from the ACA.
5. Before you return to work, notify your employer that you intend to express milk.
You need to know where you’re going to pump and store your
milk. They probably want to know why you disappear for 15 minutes, three times
a day. It’s probably not a conversation you’re eager to have with your boss or
HR personnel, but it’s an important one. Having your employer’s support (or at
least making your employer aware that you’ll be exercising your rights to
express milk) is key to pumping success.
6. Brace yourself.
Unless you work at a strip club, the first time you expose
your breasts a work, even behind closed doors, is beyond awkward. What if
someone walks in? What if my coworkers hear the pump? Is the printer paper I taped
on the window really opaque? Just make sure the door has a lock and try not to
worry what anyone thinks.
Once you get over being half naked and switch on the pump,
you’ll think of your baby (because the bitch Nature decided THAT was the best
way to get the milk flowing) and may experience crushing mommy guilt. Or, and I
hope this never happens to you, you’ll knock over one of the bottles at the end
of your pump session. Go ahead, cry over spilled milk. You’re in excellent
7. Ask for help now and whenever you need it.
After a long day in the office, spending all my breaks
expressing milk, the last thing I wanted to do was clean pump parts. Anyone can
soak and sterilize plastic, so let anyone else do it. Manufacturing and
harvesting liquid gold takes effort. It’s OK to ask for help when you feel
overwhelmed or tired. Often your partner, friends and family are more than
willing to step in. You just HAVE TO ASK.
The most important piece of advice, according to Giordano,
is to be flexible. “Being a workingbreastfeeding
mom is an ever-changing role,” she said. “We encourage moms to plan for their
return to work and consider logistics, but we also stress not being rigid.
Sometimes when you get back into your work environment things need adjusting
and tweaking. The first week is usually a tough transition for everyone. Don’t
get frustrated if something isn’t working. Just try something different.”
Yes, pumping sucks, but I have zero regrets. Providing
breastmilk helped me feel connected to my girls while I was away from them. And
as much as I loathed feeling like an engorged cow in the milking barn two to
three times a day, I loved nursing my girls in the mornings, evenings and
The most important tip I can offer is to make the choices
that best fit your family. That may
mean pumping for months, supplementing with formula or weaning entirely. Whatever
your decision, you should feel ZERO guilt.
“Breastfeeding is not an all or nothing experience,” Giordano
added. “If you are experiencing difficulties with pumping at work consider
reaching out to your local IBCLC or a working mom breastfeeding support forum
online. There are many solutions that allow the breastfeeding relationship to
continue even if Mom is unable to continue pumping at work.”