Friday, May 4, 2012

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.


  1. This is awesome advice. I also went from 4 sessions a day to one - and now none. It's liberating, but I think pumping that much actually helped me transition back to work. I needed those breaks in the day to set aside time to deal with all the hormones and emotions of leaving my kid with his dad.

    And a big fat YES to buying extra parts. Office sinks are gross and there are a lot of parts to clean. I bought enough so that I could take 4 sets with me to work (I only did one side at a time) and then had another 4 so my husband could clean the dirty ones during the day while I was at work. I also bought 4 wet bags, so I had one for clean parts and one for dirty parts each day. It made everything way less stressful.

  2. Yes to lots of spare parts. It is the key to sanity. Also- if you can get two pumps, ssssssoooooo worth it not to lug back and forth.

  3. I had only one spare set, but I'm lucky to work in a very small office with people who were totally cool with seeing my bp parts. I had the spare set in case I forgot to repack all of the supplies after I washed them at home.

    However, I totally splurged and bought the microwave sanitizing bags and the wipes from Medela. They were a total godsend. I'd steam clean post-pump and then do a really good wash at home. I've also heard that if you can't wash, just throw all of the parts in a bag or tupperware in the fridge between uses.

    And yes, it gets soooooo much easier over time.

  4. Thank you for sharing this advice. I am currently pregnant but feel very strongly about breastfeeding and I'm sure I'll find these words useful.

  5. Thank you for this! It is hard but so worth it, if you can.

  6. this is an AMAZING post. i am sending it to all my working mama friends. infinite thank-yous.

  7. Oooo so helpful! I just wrote about pumping/formula/breast feeding dilemmas on my blog. How stressful this all can be! I'm going back to work in a month and a half and this advice couldn't be better! Do more breast feeding posts!!! Thanks!!!

  8. Oooo so helpful! I just wrote about pumping/formula/breast feeding dilemmas on my blog. How stressful this all can be! I'm going back to work in a month and a half and this advice couldn't be better! Do more breast feeding posts!!! Thanks!!!

  9. I love reading about mom's who pump. I was going to stay home full time with our baby and *planned* on exclusively breastfeeding on demand. As a result I had no bottles & no pump (so naive). Six weeks into breastfeeding and many many specialist visits later we came to the conclusion that we could not breastfeed successfully or happily. We have been exclusively pumping and he is almost 6 months. It IS hard work both emotionally and physically but as you said, totally worth it. It does get easier and once all the crazy hormones ease off and it becomes a new normal.

    You NEED a great pump. I started with a friends Medela Freestyle and was barely having enough for each bottle - - didn't realize it was inhibiting my supply. I was encouraged to get the Pump in Style and my supply is now above and beyond what he could ever drink. Invest it a great pump and it will save you $$ in the end. And don't forget the hands free bra. I used to make fun of them when I saw them in the store but they really do make things easier. Thanks for your post!

    1. kick ass julie! when H had some latch issues i was so afraid about what would happen if we couldn't keep nursing, and the hope that i could pump>feed was such a comfort.

  10. I love this Jaime! Feel mighty proud to have breastfed all three of my children until they were one. I too pumped, and as you explained, not the most straight forward process to overcome..but an amazing experience if you can! I love reading about breastfeeding mum's, and especially love to read positive experiences. Too often people focus on the negatives. Thank you!!

  11. For those who want to avoid buying extra parts, a tip i was given by a doula was that if you refrigerate the parts of the pump that touched the milk, you didn't have to clean them between each pumping session. Saved me a lot of time since I would just wash them at night when I got home.

    Also, for working moms, double pump and hands free bra is the greatest invention. So nice to not have to do each side at a time as well as to be able to still respond to emails and do a little work while pumping.

    1. i ALMOST mentioned that! this is what i do when i have to pump before and after weddings in a hotel room. just keep the parts in the fridge. great tip! also, just how fresh milk does not have to be refrigerated for like 8 hours, the same for parts!

      yeah, i couldn't pump in my office so i didnt need to be hands free, but for sure!

  12. Thanks so much for the detailed advice! I am 8.5 months pregnant and planning to breastfeed as long as possible, hopefully even after i go back to work after a year. I am definitely archiving this post for the future.

    1. Same here, 8.5 months and these breastfeeding posts are so encouraging. Thank you!

  13. Thank you for this. My little guy is four months today, and the last month of pumping at work has had some serious ups and downs. My office has no where discrete for me to pump, so I end up having to pump in the (semi-public) bathroom. At first, I would cry every time I pumped, but now it's getting easier. It's a nice time during the day to take a break and look at pictures of A. and remember what's important. I still cry some times (I hate having to be away) but it really is getting better. And like you said, after a few weeks, all of my worries about my supply went out the window. And also -- the tip about refrigerating the parts is genius.

  14. Thanks, Jaime...this post could not have come at a better time. My little girl is two months old (as of yesterday) and breastfeeding was rough in the beginning. It's gotten so much better, but we still have ups and downs and I'm trying to "develop a relationship with my pump" before I go back to work next month. It's really hard to figure out when to pump and store up a supply though, if you're exclusively breastfeeding and she eats every few hours. Also, I think I'm bad at following my letdown. It's good to know you've figured it out and made it work.

  15. Seriously, you make my YEAR when I read about your breastfeeding successes:) Thank you for sharing your positive breastfeeding experiences. I truly feel so lucky to have worked with your family! I am so glad that you found my help valuable and worthy of writing about!



  16. Thanks for this post. I am new to this blog and what an intro. I am now a year done with breastfeeding and the year I did do it was a tough one. I hated pumping and had production issues on top of it all. It is easy to get down on yourself as a new mom trying to fill the multiple roles we take on. This is good, sane advice you have offered here. Thank you!

  17. Thank you so much for posting this, I had such trouble breastfeeding that I ended up combo feeding for 5 months and pumping from work too from 3 but considering all the problems I had I felt proud that I lasted as long as I did. I'm pregnant with baby 2 and will try again and these tips are very helpful. One other thing I would add is that the fit of the breast shield on the pump also makes a huge difference so if the standard size which most pumps come with isn't working for you try a bigger or smaller size.

  18. Great post. I also was (and am) lucky to have had a very positive breastfeeding experience with my baby, Ola, who is just a little younger than Henry. (They met in Solvang!)
    I D.R.EADED going back to work, not only because of being separated, but because I hated pumping and had a TON of anxiety about it.
    What I learned:
    -I hate electric pumps. I hate going at the pump's pace and sitting there getting milked. I hate dealing with the tubes, I hate that I spent a small fortune on a pump in style. I felt like maybe I could get more milk faster if I did it manually, and I was right. I tried the Medela Harmony, and got twice as much milk in half the time (even doing one boob at a time) and felt better being part of the process. I swear it doesn't hurt my hands either.
    -The manual pump was so cheap, I could afford to buy three, one for each pumping session. So I have a pump all set up with either one big bottle and caps or two small ones and caps in a ziplock bag each. I just grab one and go and it really cuts down on time and stress of setup/breakdown. When I'm done, I put the dirty pump back in the bag and move on to the next pump for my next sesh. I throw it all (including the membranes - in a lingerie bag) in the dishwasher when I get home.
    -When I say small bottles, I mean these:
    You can screw the regular nipples and caps on to them and they work just like regular bottles.
    It helps to have milk in smaller increments so that it doesn't get wasted. Instruct your caregiver on what a commodity breast milk is, and ask them to act accordingly. I found that Ola was able to get through the day with just two small bottles and one big one, often with a surplus I could put towards the next day or the freezer. I was lucky enough to be able to come home at lunch to nurse sometimes, but she didn't go through much more milk when I didn't. With the options of smaller bottles and bigger bottles, the babysitter would give a small bottle if I'd be coming home in an hour or two and a big one if I wasn't and she hadn't eaten recently.
    3. If you take a day off from work, still pump or nurse a lot or you are going to get engorged and risk infection.
    I know there's more, but I think that'll do as a comment, huh?