Going back to work as a nursing mom can bring about a lot of feelings of stress and anxiety. The transition from maternity leave where you have 100% access to your baby, and they have the same access to you, to a place where much of your day is spent at work cause be nerve-wrecking. Learning tips for pumping at work can make the transition smoother.
Nursing is a supply and demand process. For many working moms, the thought of being away from baby who drives the supply of breastmilk is tricky, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Currently my daughter and I are on month 13 of (mostly) exclusively breastfeeding. I say mostly because part of making this work for us included supplementing for sanity and baby girl now eats solids as well.
Below are a few hacks for pumping at work that I have learned through trial and error that have helped us to keep going with breastfeeding as a full-time working mom.
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Tips for pumping at work
I am a planner; I like to think at least 3 months ahead and prepare for what could be coming. This is both a love and an annoyance for my poor hubby! With that in mind you can imagine what was going through my mind almost immediately after bringing my daughter home from the hospital.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Establish your supply. Regardless of how much of a planner you are, stress does not make things easier! I recommend at least the first 2-4 weeks of maternity leave should be spent just enjoying your little one, building connection and establishing your milk supply. If you have less than a 12-week maternity leave I recommend doing this step for the first 1/3rd of your time off.
After your supply is established and you and baby are off to a great start then proceed with preparing for pumping at work.
When I started thinking about what our nursing journey would look like once I went back to work, I knew that it would require a bit of preparation. What I did not know was what that preparation would include. What I gathered from scouring the internet was that I needed to be prepared in three areas:
- I needed to have a few systems in place before I went to work to make the actual transition easier
- I needed to have a routine and supplies prepared while at work to be as effective in pumping as possible
- I needed to prepare for any possible challenges ahead of time so that I would know where to go to seek help and could help ensure my success
Pumping hacks for before going to work
The first step to success with pumping at work is to do some groundwork before maternity leave even ends. This may require you to create some lines of communication with your employer and let them know your desire to continue breastfeeding while working. The following are some steps you can take to get ready to pump and work.
Step 1 – Communicate your desires to pump and work to your supervisory chain. Have a thorough understanding of your rights as a full-time working mom who is nursing by knowing the breastfeeding and pumping at work laws for your state. Discuss things that you will need like a place to pump if you do not have your own office space.
- Consider a flexible schedule that allows you to take you time in coming back full time
- Evaluate your working schedule to determine when you should pump and what your pumping at work schedule will be. (I got to work early to have a pumping session before the workday started, then pumped once before lunch, once during lunch, once after lunch, then by the time I picked up my daughter I was ready to nurse her.)
Step 2 – Get baby use to a bottle by trying out different nipples and finding the best bottle for your nursing baby. This may require having dad feed baby at night from some of the stored milk prior to going back to work.
Step 3 – Learn how to use your pump. Once you have selected a breast pump (or two) start using it before you have-to go back to work. Understand how to wash the parts and how to determine if parts need to be changed. I recommend getting into a rhythm of pumping while baby is nursing. There are a couple of ways to do this.
- Use a prop like My Brest Friend or a Boppy to help support baby while you hold the pump with the other hand
- Use a hands free silicon let down catch like the Haakaa, which was a God-send for me once I figured out how to use it.
Step 4 – Build up a supply of milk before your return to work so that while you develop your routine of pumping and working you don’t have to worry so much about baby not having enough milk. One of the causes of the most stress for me was not having enough milk for my daughter at daycare. I knew that breastmilk is a supply and demand thing and I nearly drove myself crazy worrying that we wouldn’t be able to make my goal of 6 months of nursing because I was working. If you are able to pump and nurse simultaneously, this signals your body that there is a greater need for milk.
This in turn causes your body to produce more milk and allows you to have some to store. Remember however that different storage locations have different storage times so be mindful of that and label your milk bags well with the date.
Pumping at work tips for once you have returned to the office
After you have returned to work, the hard work of pumping and working begins. Knowing what makes this process easier can increase chances of success and make pumping at work seem much less daunting.
When you have returned to work, you should have already had a discussion with your supervisors and have agreed upon a schedule that allows you to exercise your right to continue to nourish your baby with breastmilk. The following tips for pumping at work have all been helpful for me.
- Ditch the guilt – know that it is okay that you want to continue nursing and some work has to take the backburner. Do what you can and keep it moving. Try to find ways to multitask by saving work that can be done while you pump for pumping times. Pumping and working may have its challenges but with proper preparation you can be successful at it.
- Dress to pump
- Finding a great hands-free nursing bra. I used this hands free pumping bra from Amazon!
- Build your wardrobe around shirts/dresses that are easy to access. Try wearing dressy nursing tanks and cardigans. Remember you do not want to have to lift your shirt (or worse take it off to pump.
- Wear pads to avoid leaks but have an extra pair of clothes just in case.
- Hydrate – one of the best ways to keep up your milk supply aside from pumping/nursing often is to make sure you are well hydrated. I liked having a couple of half gallon bottles. One for home and one for work!
- Create a pumping essentials bag that includes extra parts, milk storage bags, pictures of baby and snacks. My bag has an insulated cooler for transporting my pumped milk.
- Extra parts, storage bags, insulated cooler, picture/videos of baby, snacks, water bottle, things to do, consider a small fridge for work
- Eat to nurse and pump. One of the worst things you can do when pumping and working is to inefficiently use your time. This time is the best time to get used to meal prepping! Having prepared lunches and snacks allows you to make sure that you have food on hand vs spending pumping time to go get lunch or snacks. This also allows you to get to baby to breastfeed during the day if you’re close enough to their daycare and having a hard time adjusting like I did.
Tips for maintaining milk supply while pumping at work
One of the biggest breastfeeding challenges for working mothers is maintaining milk supply. Because breastfeeding thrives off of supply and demand, and babies can extract the milk from the breast much easier than a pump can, learning ways to increase or maintain supply is key to continuing your goal of long term breastfeeding as a working mom.
Sometimes to help increase the efficiency and output of your pumping at work sessions include
- Consider a nursing holiday where you take a day or two off and just allow baby to nurse as often as they want. (I did this on weekends)
- Try Nursing aids like oatmeal or fenugreek
- Nurse often once you get home from work
- Enlist the help of a lactation consultant when needed
- It’s okay to supplement if needed (This was a sanity saver for me and a stress-releaver)
- Consider a nighttime pumping session
You can succeed at pumping at work
Each of these tips were learned from experience as I have navigated the waters of being a full-time dentist and a mom. I wanted to breastfeed from the moment I knew I was pregnant and my desire only grew with every new revelation of the benefits of nursing.
Prayerfully we were able to nurse without much trouble, and the tips listed above have helped us to be able to make it 13 months breastfeeding.
Have you tried any of these tips? What has been your experience?