Guys, I have been meaning to write a series of posts about breastfeeding for ages. It is something I never knew I would come to feel so strongly about, but sometimes the more I have to say/more I feel about something, the harder it is to write about. You know, those good long letters you plan to write are the hardest ones to get to? In my plan, I kicked off a whole week of breastfeeding posts by an intro about the topic (and my experience with it) in general.
But life being what it is, I am going to jump into a later topic, returning to work while breastfeeding. I had NO idea what I was in for. I knew that plenty of women went back to work full time, and continued to pump milk and breastfeed, and I had NO IDEA what a challenge it could be. I have a lot of lessons learned that I think others can learn from! Warning, this is a LONG post. I am not good at editing, and it is made for mamas who need specific and practical advice, so I am putting it all out there.For this reason, I included a "jump."
When Henry was just over 3 months old, I returned to work full time. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, emotionally. Making sure our little baby (who we hoped to keep exclusively breastfed till 6 months) was well stocked up on milk was a challenge both emotionally and physically.
Most of what I address here will focus on the physical challenge, but there is some unavoidable over lap. Also? This is just my personal experience. I know some of you have had/will have wildly different ones, but I think mine might be somewhat typical.
First of all, if there are any of you in the thick of it right now, just returning to work, let me say this. IT GET'S EASIER. The part about making enough milk? Gets easier. The emotional? Gets easier. Don't get me wrong, I am still in the middle of an ongoing battle to get my job to allow me to work part time so that I can be home more with Henry. But the hormones have slowly chilled the eff out, and my little tiny guy is so much less dependent on me specifically. And the struggle has TOTALLY been worth it, to continue nursing him! For many many months now, pumping has just become another boring part of my day, and I am so glad we got to continue as planned for feeding the little guy.
First, some things you can do ahead of time:
- GET A GOOD PUMP. I was given* an older madela pump in style. It seemed to work just fine. I didn't think much of it. Once Henry broke a part on it and I had to borrow a newer madela until I got the replacement part, and it was totally wimpy compared to my workhorse! A shop like this can probably help you by picking out a pump with good suction.
- Start building your supply early. After a few weeks, once we were staring to get in the swing of things, I began pumping milk daily. You can either pump a little right after a feeding or (if your baby is like mine and needed to be held ALL OF THE TIME) you can pump on one side while baby nurses on the other, then switch. I just kept the pump hidden under a table next to our bed and during our morning feeding (when I had the most milk) I would pump a little extra. Don't expect a lot at first. Just an ounce or two maybe! But it will gradually increase.
- Practice early (but not too early, after nursing is WELL established. For more, read this.) with the bottle, and be patient. We tried 3 different bottles before Henry would take one. And at first he would only take the bottle for me. Ben was VERY stressed that when I went to work Henry wouldn't take a bottle. But of course he did.
- Be confident with your caregiver when you go back to work! It worked REALLY well for us that we saved a bit of Ben's paternity leave for after I went back to work. He only took off a few weeks after Henry was initially was born. Of course, this gave them a time to bond, but it also made it so much easier for me to go to work everyday knowing Henry was at home with his dad.
- Know your handling and storage guidelines. Print it out or keep it on your phone for yourself and your caregiver.
As it is time to go back, I borrow advice from Robin again:
- Talk to your boss ahead of time. Even though I read this advice, I didn't follow it. Duh! I work for a place with TONS of employees, so I never thought it would be an issue that they would have somewhere for me to pump (as state law requires.) and it wasn't, but we had to scramble to find a place for me. It was stressful, and it wouldn't have been had I prepared early.
- Go back on a Wednesday. Who says it has to be a Monday? A shorter week is a much gentler transition.
- Have support. Whether it is a group of mom's who have been through something similar, a good lactation consultant (I called or texted or emailed Robin SO many times during this transition, woman was my ROCK!), you need someone who can offer advice or commiserate. There are also tons of message board groups out there, really specific to pumping moms!
And then the big day. Here is where it got hard for me. I had dad at home, a good supply in the freezer, a great pump, a baby who would switch back and forth between bottle and boob, what could go wrong? Well, it turns out getting milk out of a bottle is a lot easier than getting it out of a boob. And to compound that, it is a lot easier for babies to get milk out of a boob then it is for a machine to get the same amount out of milk from the same boob. So when you leave a little baby at home with an endless (or so they think) supply of their favorite snack, it can be hard to pump as much as they are inclined to drink. Guys, I can't even tell you how many tears I shed in those early weeks. He was rapidly drinking more than I was pumping, and our once bountiful supply was dwindling. There was the time I forgot the milk in the office fridge (which he needed for the next day) and I had to go back for it, resulting in me missing our post work feeding. Meaning I would have to pump again when I got home. I cried the whole way there and back. I was a WRECK. But you know what? Eventually it worked out, and within a month or two I was pumping more than he was drinking, and we were rebuilding our freezer supply. (I even ended up donating our extra to the family of a little boy's whose birth mother was a drug abuser, so they were doing everything possible to increase his health and immunity, including using donated breastmilk.) Here are various things we did to help my supply match Henry's need:
-Limit the milk he drank during the day. (What? I know!) At first, during feeding time, Ben would let Henry drink as much milk as he wanted. I was finding that he wasn't too hungry when I got home in the evening! I asked Ben to limit the feeding amount. I don't remember what we started with, maybe 3 ounces? A little less? And gradually only offer more if it was clear that Henry still needed more. We eventually found a happy medium that made Henry satiated but not stuffed. It took a week or two, but I think this was SO important for us. This is where it was nice having Ben at home, or having a supportive caregiver in general. This might be a little harder in some day care situations?
-What I mentioned above is basically reverse cycling. Because we co sleep, we were able to really reverse cycle. Instead of eating more during the day and sleeping through the night, Henry was given a little less during the day and allowed to nurse on demand all evening and throughout the night. It also helped me emotionally. Because I was away from him for so many hours a week, it allowed us to bond and be together even while sleeping. I know this isn't for everyone, but I think it was a key point for us.
-See if there is any flexibility in your work schedule. I tried to time it so that I left Henry with a full belly in the morning and came home to him with an empty one in the evening.
-Don't give up that morning pumping- yet. Until worries of supply were just a memory, I continued my morning pumping routine in addition to pumping at work, since this is when I had the most milk. It was a pain, lugging that stupid pump back and forth everyday, but whatev.
-Drinking lots of water and taking fenugreek. I SWEAR I saw my supply go up and down with the amount of fenugreek I took. I also made theseyummy bars, but have no idea if they helped my supply, or just gave me a good excuse to say to Ben that he couldn't have any of my treats. ;)
-I followed my let down, and gradually decreased the amount I pumped. I went from up to 4 times a day (I work longer shifts) down to 3, then 2, eventually I found I could pump as much in 1 sitting as I could in 2 or 3.
I wish I could tell you exactly when my supply issues became less of a stressor, but it could not have been more than a month or two.
Now here are a few general ongoing tips/thoughts/suggestions:
-I am not terribly modest, but it was still hard dealing with some awkward situations. I work with almost all men, and most would get so squeamish when they realized what I was up to every 2 hours. We all got over it sooner or later. If I have to go to an all day conference, I just call ahead of time and ask to be accommodated. No big. And to avoid weirding people out, I bought a little cold pack type lunch bag thing to put the milk in, in the fridge, so that no one could see it. (People and can be dumb and weird, I just tried to avoid it.)
-That said, I hated washing my pumping parts in the kitchen. It took too long, the office kitchen is nasty. Drying them was a pain. Instead I spent 40 bucks and ordered spare parts. I brought 3 sets with me to work, one for each time I had to pump, then washed them all when I got home. (Or rather, Ben washed them while I snuggled the baby.) I have 2 zipper pouches, I keep clean/unused ones in one bag, dirty ones in the second. (I used tupperwear at first, too clunky.) Just wash the bags once a week. Saved so much time in the office!
-My boobs were not leaky faucets forever. I don't remember the last time I "leaked" or had to wear a pad. (MAN! I remember being in the shower when he was a small infant, and with the warm water, the milk just shooting out like a sprinkler!)
-By now, I only pump once toward the end of the day. I have also gotten a lot less fussy about the milk. That stuff is resilient! If I pump at 3 and go home at 5, there is no need to bother putting it in the office fridge. If I forget parts at home, I just pump when I get home and make sure to leave a little extra in there for Henry.
WOW! I think I have said enough. Except, I am so extremely fortunate that I have been able to nurse Henry from birth. Not all bodies and babies and mommas are as lucky as us. I am every grateful for this, and throughout of all our challenges am still thankful.
So. What tips do you have?
*sharing pumps is FINE even though some places say not to? You just buy new parts, so anything that is actually touching the milk or your body is new or sterile. The pump is just a machine to create suction.