Returning to Work While Breastfeeding: My Personal Journey and Tips

Returning to Work While Breastfeeding: My Personal Journey and Tips

Of all my mom moments thus far, one of the things I am most proud of is breastfeeding our son Rylan (now 4) for one year, and being on track with Caden (9 months) to do the same.

I never share this to be boastful. Every mom, and family for that matter, has their own journey to take when it comes to breastfeeding. We all need to do a better job of supporting that journey, and the choices moms make, without judgement. For me, I am proud because in my heart it became my #1 goal and wish for our first year together. I love the experience of nursing and know that the dreaded pump is simply a part of the process if you are going to be away from the baby every day.

Caden and Rylan

When I was pregnant with Rylan I set a personal goal to make breastfeeding work for six months. I knew I had to go back to work full time – I am a senior-level PR professional managing multiple teams and clients at a communications agency – and did not want to put undue pressure on myself. The thought of pumping multiple times per day given my hectic work schedule seemed impossible and I got myself all worked up about it before Rylan even arrived. Every month past six months, all the way up to a year, I checked in with myself to make sure it was still working. Was I happy? Was Rylan healthy? Was it still worth it? The answer was always a resounding YES!

I was lucky that my PR agency was extremely supportive and understanding of my personal goals. Many moms before me at the agency had made it work and laid a path. Not everyone is that fortunate. But even when an employer is understanding, a deeper conversation and plan is still needed.

Know your rights

  • You may or may not work somewhere where you need to educate management about laws for breastfeeding mothers. If you do, there are fantastic resources you should study well before giving birth, and have a meeting with your employer about your needs and plans before maternity leave even begins.
  • If your employer is supportive on paper, dig deeper. Do you have a clean place to pump with a locking door? Do you have adequate access to a sink for washing pump parts and a fridge to store milk following each session?
  • At my agency we had really clean and spacious private bathrooms, but I was upfront about wanting another option and was able to work out the conversion of a small gym in our office, with a locking door, for myself and other coworkers. If you do not like your options, approach your employer with a clear and detailed solution that benefits everyone.

Build your stash

  • Some moms overflow bottles while pumping while others squeak out a few ounces at best. I am in the first group so I cannot even imagine the stress of looking down and only seeing two or three ounces after a session. That said, pump and stash whatever you can before going back to work.
  • My approach starts early. At about two or three weeks after giving birth, I pumped for 5 – 10 minutes after my morning nursing session. You’d be surprised at how fast establishing a “pump off” routine can start off a strong freezer stash.
  • Over time I added this step to the night time too, pumping off after the baby’s last feed once nights begin to extend. In the first few months back to work, not missing pump sessions is absolutely critical to maintaining supply.
  • Exclusively nursing on the weekend helps a lot too, as do things like Mother’s Milk Tea, lactation cookies, oatmeal, Fenugreek and Fennel essential oil (I like to rub in my bra line)*.

Control your calendar

  • Depending on your line of work, support of an employer may be the least of your worries. Blocking the time you need on your calendar, whether it is during designated break times or being explicit on the times you cannot join a meeting or conference call, is probably one of the most critical factors to keeping your supply up at work.
  • Personally, I found it best to block 30 minutes at 10 a.m. and again around 2 p.m., every day, on my Outlook calendar. If a meeting came up that I couldn’t miss I’d move my pumping block, but never delete or miss it.
  • This requires being upfront with coworkers too—asking for alternative meeting times, noting that you may be a few minutes late at the start of a meeting, etc.

Invest in the process

  • Pumps are not cheap. I got mine through insurance, thankfully. If you have insurance, the first step that I encourage you to take is to contact your insurance provider early in your pregnancy to learn about their pump policies and how you can hopefully take advantage of this benefit to help save money on a rental or purchase.
  • It helps to have an extra set of parts so you have a set at the office or in the car if you are on the road for meetings. You’ll need a good zippered cooler bag and plenty of ice packs for those times you are running around between meetings or even harder, traveling by plane or train. Buy pump sanitizing wipes (I like Medela) and plenty of breastmilk storage bags. Be sure to always carry a batter pack charger – for those days you cannot find an outlet – and extra batteries.
  • Finally, it’s smart to keep an extra nursing cover in your pump bag. Having to pump in the car, an airport bathroom stall or a room without a lock will definitely happen. Plan for it.
  • And speaking of airports, that is another place to know your rights. You are allowed to travel with a pump and milk, but the pump does count as a carry-on so you need to pack accordingly. If your milk is frozen solid they will not test it, but if you travel with thawed expressed milk, leave yourself some extra time at TSA. Every airport differs but I’ve had it take 15+ minutes to get through if they decide to test all of the unfrozen milk.

Enjoy pump breaks

  • This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. Both of my maternity leaves were just 12 short weeks. With Caden in particular, I was a wreck when I went back. I still tear up some days at daycare drop because I often wonder if I am making the right choice to continue my career in such a full-time manner.
  • Pumping for me is my connection. It’s a time during the day where I get to sit and know I am doing a wonderful thing for my baby. Yes, I work on my laptop during all pump breaks, but I revel in the quiet. It’s mentally rewarding for me, and physically rewarding for them.

Caden Sleeping

Whether you work from home, in an office or are a road warrior, continuing to breastfeed while working is 100 percent possible—with planning and dedication. You’ll soon notice other women hauling around their trusty pumps in that telltale black bag, or be on the receiving end of a knowing smile as you ask for ice at the airport bar to keep your precious liquid gold cold for the flight home.

Set your goals. Evaluate them often. And, most importantly, give yourself some grace. It’s not easy mama. You’re a rock star whatever you decide.

* Please consult your provider before taking herbal supplements while breastfeeding.

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