How To Nurse & Pump As A Working Mom (& not pull your hair out)
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WARNING: if the words breast or nipple make you feel uncomfortable, you do not want to read this post. This is also an insanely long post. I felt it was necessary to include everything here, in one post, so people can avoid all the crazy searching I had to do.
This blog is all about me telling the truth. The truth is, I planned to breastfeed for one very superficial reason: I heard it helped you lose the baby weight. And fast.
Now that I’m 16 weeks in I understand other benefits to breastfeeding, which is why after losing all the baby weight I’m still trudging along this very time-consuming journey. Between my friends who have had babies, friends who are expecting babies and people I don’t even know personally who have reached out to me on this blog, I’ve decided it’s time to write about successfully nursing and pumping as a working Mom.
Before I get too far into this, I want to throw out there that breastfeeding and pumping is A LOT of work. I was definitely naïve to the dedication and discipline that goes with it. So keep in mind that breastfeeding is not for everyone and I DO NOT think it’s worth it if you find you aren’t enjoying your family or baby because you’re spending so much time worry about your milk supply. It simply isn’t.
I consider myself extremely blessed because the nursing relationship came exceptionally easily for Adelyn and me. She was born via c-section, which proved to have no negative affect on our instant bond. There are so many moms out there that don’t have it this easy and to all of you, I tip my hat. I don’t know that I would have had the perseverance to pump exclusively after seeing what it took my girlfriend to make that happen. She’s my idol because oh my gosh, what a workload from day one.
This post is for those of you who don’t have a problem nursing but want to build and keep a milk supply when you go back to work. I’m not going to sugar coat it; it takes serious dedication. But dedication luckily led to 96 5-ounce bags of milk in my freezer after my 10-week maternity leave and now 124 6-ounce bags after being back at work for six weeks.
The Fundamentals on Milk Supply & Pumping Supplies
Before I get down to the details on strategies to build your supply there are some essential things to know and/or have to set yourself up for success.
When to start pumping.
We have a great, down to earth pediatrician who thankfully gives me tips at just being a Mom in general. At Adelyn’s two-week check up she had gained her birth weight back so her pediatrician told me to start pumping for those times I'm just tired and want Dad to feed her. I may have taken her a little too literally, but when you give someone who does market research for a living a topic to research, watch out. I’m going to do it well.
You can start pumping as early as when your baby has gained his/her birth weight back. DO NOT START PUMPING BEFORE. If you start pumping before that you haven’t confirmed that your body is naturally producing enough for your baby yet. Trust me, you’ll still have time to build a supply and get terribly sick of seeing that black (in my case) bag that holds the breast pump.
Buy or select a good pump.
I’m using the Medela Freestyle and highly recommend it. Good pumps come with a nice little price tag, but this pump is so worth it. You can also buy used pumps, but you then want to make sure it’s a closed system pump. Closed system means that it’s impossible for milk to get in the tubing mechanisms, therefore making it impossible to transfer any bacteria from one person to the next (when buying a used pump you’ll always want to buy the components new. They’re usually around $15 or so).
Many insurance policies offer breast pumps now as well. To make sure I was getting the best pump I could, I asked the lactation consultant at the hospital for the top three pumps in her opinion. Her list, in ranking order, was: 1. Medela Freestyle 2. Lansinoh Affinity Pro 3. Ameda Purely Yours
Make sure you’re using the appropriate flange size. A lactation consultant can help by telling you the size they recommend for you specifically. This simple step will make a world of difference in comfort and help avoid blisters and irritation after pumping.
The lactation consultant I worked with explained to me the disadvantage of the Ameda pumps is that they only offer one flange size. This isn’t a problem if you fit the average size, but make sure you don’t order or buy that pump until you know the size it comes with and what size you are. The other two pumps listed have different flange sizes you can purchase separately.
From my perspective there are two necessities for breastfeeding, period. 1. Medela Softshells. These babies will seriously save your nipples (especially in the first few weeks), and with such a small price tag. You will most likely find that even the softest cotton feels like the scratchiest wool that first month of breastfeeding. These saviors keep your already sore skin off any fabric AND keep your nipples from drying out and cracking. 2. Medela Tender Care Lanolin. I tried the Lansinoh cream and I tried the cream the hospital gave me and truthfully they both sucked. A friend of ours visited at the hospital and she brought me the Medela Tender Care Lanolin. This is the stuff. Praise Jesus, HALLELUJAH. Just trust me, it works.
If you get blisters or cracks, it was recommended after nursing to express a little milk out, let it dry for a few seconds, put the cream on then the soft shell. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Watch your diet…ish.
DRINK.AS.MUCH.WATER.AS.POSSIBLE. I can’t stress this enough. I can definitely tell from one day to the next if I’m drinking less water than usual because I will pump significantly less. Buy a cute water bottle, use fun straws, do whatever it takes. DON’T add caffeinated flavoring to your water. Caffeine is a natural dehydrator, so you’re counteracting your efforts. I know what you’re thinking; I’m a new mom. I’m sleep deprived. I need caffeine. I hear ya sister! You don’t have to cut out caffeine completely. From day two in the hospital I’ve had a cup of coffee or chai tea almost every day. Just make sure you drink enough water to compensate for that caffeine. I find that buying one of those giant 1-liter Evian bottles once a week helps me. As long as I keep refilling that I track my water intake really well.
Eat a relatively healthy diet. And keep up your calorie intake. I know that sounds crazy when all you’re thinking about is losing the baby weight, but it’s really important to make sure you’re not starving yourself if you want to keep your milk supply. You burn roughly 500 calories a day just from nursing and pumping alone, so eat up!
Eat milk-producing foods. Oatmeal is known for this, so I keep instant oatmeal packs in a drawer in the office. If I don’t put out as much as I usually do with my morning pump I’ll eat a cup of oatmeal when I get to work. In the same respect you want to avoid foods that decrease your supply. Large amounts of peppermint, sage, thyme and parsley can cause a drop in supply. No, those three sticks of peppermint gum a day won’t do any harm, but drinking a cup of peppermint tea will.
How to Build a Milk Supply
Now onto the nitty gritty on building your supply. It’s not fun, it’s not glamorous and some days it’s exhausting. But it works. Following this section I’ll explain how to keep your supply when you go back to work.
Pumping when you’re also nursing is confusing because it’s engrained into our heads that your body naturally produces the exact amount of milk your baby needs down to the last drop. If that’s the case, how on earth do I build a supply without starving my child? Well it turns out that while the above is true, pumping is a way to trick your body into thinking your baby is eating and therefore telling it to produce more.
Knowing when to pump.
Some consultants say to always pump after your baby eats to make sure your baby gets enough milk. I’m suspicious by nature, so I quizzed my lactation consultant until she ran out of answers. In doing so, I uncovered that it’s ok to pump before you feed your baby as long as you do it early enough that you’ve produced more before he/she eats again. When your baby is a newborn and isn't on an eating schedule, though, how can you pull that off?
It’s easier than it sounds. When Adelyn was two-weeks old I started pumping. I knew she ate every 2-3 hours so I always planned on the shortest amount of time, so two hours. Both research and a lactation consultant told me that as long as I gave my body 20-30 minutes after I pumped that as soon as she started eating or making “hungry noises” my body would just reproduce what she needed. It’s sort of like magic and it’s mysteriously true. I would pump about an hour and fifteen minutes after she last ate so it gave my body time to start making more milk to pump out. (For example, if she started eating at 5:30 a.m. I would pump around 6:45 a.m.)
You also want to start pumping in the mornings. Your supply will be at its highest in the morning, even if your baby ate consecutively every 2-3 hours all night. I don’t know why, it just is.
Don’t get discouraged.
The first few times you pump you won’t get much. I think I got one measly ounce the first time and was sure it was because I was using the machine wrong. You have to remember that you’re tricking your body into thinking your baby needs more. This trick doesn’t happen overnight, it happens through perseverance.
The trick to tricking your body is to keep pumping even when nothing is coming out. The constant sensation is communicating that your baby needs more than you have. After a few days of pumping I noticed there wasn’t any milk coming out after about seven minutes. Since I wanted to increase my supply more, I kept the machine running for 11 minutes. Over time I started getting milk production for that full 11 minutes.
Once you’re getting a good output in the mornings you can start integrating an evening pump session in the same way you introduced the morning session. Keep in mind your body naturally produces less later in the day, so it will continue to take awhile to build that evening pump (it will likely never reach the volume you pump in the morning).
How To Keep Your Supply At Work
This part, especially for me, takes the most discipline. When I first came back from maternity leave I was under the impression I had to pump every time my baby would typically eat in order to maintain my supply. I would get to the office by 7:30 a.m., pump at 9:30, 12:30 and 3:15, leave at 4, go to the gym and pray my boobs didn’t explode before I picked up Adelyn to feed her again on my 6 p.m. schedule. Oh my gosh, was I dumb.
Once your body is used to producing as much as you want, it just does it. It doesn’t stop making milk just because it’s been four hours since you pumped instead of three. As long as when you do pump you completely empty them, you can pump only once during your workday.
Since I still remain overly concerned that one day I could just dry up, I still pump every morning when I get up for work, while Adelyn is still sleeping and before I do anything else (I need to make sure I’ve had enough time to reproduce to feed her before I leave). On a standard morning I pump at 5:40 a.m. Then I shower, get ready for work and get her bottles ready for the day before scooping her up and whisking her off to a nice little breakfast on the couch around 6:45 a.m.
I don’t do anything else until 3 p.m. when I pump again. Since I’ve gone so long without pumping it takes quite awhile, roughly 25 minutes for pumping alone, but I produce the exact same amount I was getting when I pumped three times in my workday. Not only does this make my life easier, but I’m sure my employer appreciates it too.
When I first came back I felt like I was missing conference calls and leaving meetings early all the time. Now I just block out 3-3:30 on my calendar and nothing gets interrupted.
The key thing to remember is that you shouldn’t skip pumping altogether. Last week I had a couple of really hectic days in the office and when 3 o’clock rolled around I thought I just really couldn’t afford to leave what I was doing to go pump. But I could hear that little pumping god on my shoulder whispering that skipping one day could change my production for good. So on I went and yes, I left the office a little later than I would have preferred, but I can assure you that was a lot less stressful than losing some of my supply. I know this is a TON of information, but I hope it was helpful if you need it! Nursing and pumping while you work is a huge commitment, but very doable if you think it is best for you, baby and your family. If you're struggling or have questions, never hesitate to shoot me an email or comment on here! I will cheer you on, cry with you, help you through difficult days and remind you that YOU ARE AN AMAZING MOM all at once!