Being a working mom is a difficult task. It requires you to divide your time among your family, your colleagues, your friends, and yourself. Staying organized and finding time to complete every task you need to throughout the day can be extremely stressful. Add to that the fact that you may be returning from maternity leave and trying to nurse, and your stress levels increase.
Pumping is one of those things that is not pleasant. Many people are uncomfortable talking about it, and many women don’t encounter it until they go back to work and begin pumping for the first time.
If you’re heading back to work and wondering just how you’re going to find time in your busy schedule to pump, I’m here to share some tips for maintaining your supply and maximizing your limited time.
Let me note that I have had a few different experiences as I was working full time with D as well as coaching and now, with J, I’m working part-time. So, please note that I’ll share what I know from my experiences and what has worked for me and that these ideas may not work for everyone. Also, I’m not an expert nor do I have a degree in this. These are just my tips and tricks from my experiences over the last three years.
Before we go any further, I would like to mention that there are affiliate links below that will take you to Amazon for some of my favorite items! As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
First, it’s important to understand the law that allows you to pump at work. I don’t want to go into many details on this because there are many sources out there. Kelly Mom is a great resource for this law as well as many other questions you may have in regard to breastfeeding.
Learn from my mistakes…
When I returned from work after having D, I was embarrassed by the fact that many people would figure out what I was doing and it made me extremely uncomfortable at first. I was nervous to talk to my boss about my needs and I didn’t want to explain it to my co-workers as well. This was my first mistake, and let me tell you why.
I was working full time and coaching when I began pumping. As a coach, I have pumped in bathrooms, supply closets, and different vehicles. As a teacher, I am lucky to have my own classroom and have used that as my pumping space.
When I returned from my first maternity leave, I would get to work over an hour early and pump before school started. Then, I would pump on my prep hour, at lunch, and one last time before I left for the day.
I didn’t tell anyone that I was pumping, I would just shut my door, cover my windows, and be on with my sessions. This worked great for a couple of weeks. And then, one day, our tech guy unlocked my door looking for some computers. If you thought I was embarrassed just to tell people I was pumping, imagine my face when he walked in. But still, I didn’t want to let many people know what I was doing.
About a week later, my feelings on openly talking about pumping changed. Not only did my boss unlock my door and walk in on me, but one of our custodians did as well. And, in that same week, my door was unlocked a third and final time by our athletic director who thought I had gone home and was going to leave a note for me the following day.
If you’re keeping count, that’s four times I was walked in on while pumping by four different male staff members. Each time just as, if not more, embarrassing than the last. You would think I would have learned after the first couple of experiences, but it took me four times before I finally just started telling everyone what was going on.
I say all of this to bring you to my list of items that will help you maximize your pumping experience:
- Get a sign for your door/space
This is a must-have. You can make any sign you would like to, or you can purchase one like this. If you would like to keep it simple and safe, you can go with something like, “Please come back in 20 minutes.” My first door sign was a picture of a cow. That was it. Just a cow, but by the time I put it up, everyone understood what it meant. Students would still come and knock, but all of my co-workers knew not to unlock the door.
When I came back after having J, my coworkers made me a whole stack of door signs that say, “Conference Time” and “Mommy Time” because they knew I needed signs but they weren’t sure what I was comfortable putting up. Needless to say, they’ve stopped a handful of new co-workers from coming in. So, this is my number one recommendation.
2. Get a hands-free pumping bra, or something similar
I have a love-hate relationship with this bad boy. Is it a lifesaver? 100%. So, why do I dislike it? It does it’s job a little too well. Sometimes, I get caught up in the tasks I’m trying to complete and forget that I’m pumping. So, I’ve had several experiences in which time slipped by quickly and I forgot I was pumping until I realized there was a puddle of milk spilling all over my pants.
That being said, I highly suggest getting one if you can. I use this one and have never had an issue with it. It’s comfortable and allows me to continue working or completing tasks while I pump which really helps me maximize my time, especially on my lunch break.
3. Use nursing tank-tops
These tanks are not a necessity, per se. However, in the event that you could potentially be walked in on, they do help cover you up. I’d hate for you to have your shirt up around your neck and your stomach showing when someone walks in on you. This allows you to stay covered in the midsection and makes it so you’re not exposing more than you need to.
You just un-clip the straps, put your pumping bra over you, and you’re good to go. Bonus, some tops are made for pumping so you may be able to get away with just a pumping top rather than a bra.
(Just beware.. sometimes these tanks are not as convenient as you might believe. You may have interference with trying to unclasp your bra below a pumping tank if they have the cutouts rather than just flipping down.)
*Bonus- nursing tops– they’re super helpful to keep you covered.
4. Have a space or bag to keep all of your pumping gear
It’s important to keep all of your gear in one, convenient place. I ordered this bag of goodies so that I had an extra set of gear, but I didn’t realize how much I would use the bag itself. It allows me to grab everything I need and go. Occasionally, my classroom is used for testing and other events, so I have to find a different room to pump in. This bag allows me to just grab and go without having to stuff all of my belongings into a different bag or carry them all out in the open in front of staff and students.
5. Use a refrigerator and lunch pail
This seems like a no-brainer. You’re storing milk, so you obviously need somewhere to put it. However, this tip is not for storing your milk. It’s for storing your flanges. You can cut down on cleaning time if you store your flanges in the fridge after each use. Then, at the end of the day, you can toss them in your bag to take home and give them a thorough cleaning.
You can store both your milk and your flanges in your lunch pail and toss them both in the fridge. This way, if you’re using the company fridge, your business isn’t out for all to see. (I’ve read horror stories about milk being taken or, worse, drank by co-workers because it was improperly stored.)
All of these tips are only beneficial if you’re able to maintain your supply and continue to pump while you’re at work.
I’m one of the lucky ones that was able to nurse and pump for over a year with D and I’m hoping to hit the same goal with J. So, here are my tips for maintaining your supply.
- Don’t stress
I cannot stress this enough (see what I did there?). The more you stress out, the worse your supply is going to be. My experiences with D and J have been complete opposites. With D, I stressed that my supply would randomly stop and I wouldn’t make the goal I set for us. I had no problem reaching my goal and even surpassing it. Because of this, I have been stressing with J that I’m not producing enough because he seems to eat less than D did.
Either way, I have noticed that when you begin to stress out, you begin to produce less. If you are sick, you will produce less. But, don’t stress out. You should see an upswing once you begin to feel better. Just note, that the more you stress about how much you are or aren’t producing, the worse things will be.
2. Pump often
It’s not fun. The sound the machine makes is obnoxious. You feel like a cow. It can be painful. And, sometimes, you just want to skip a session so you can have contact with someone. It sucks in the beginning, but as you continue your journey, you’ll be able to cut out pumping sessions and start to get back to having a little bit of free time.
But, in the beginning, just dedicate yourself to pumping as often as your baby eats. Those time frames will change as your baby gets older, and you’ll be able to space out your sessions and get back to your normal schedule. Just know that you’re doing an amazing thing for you little.
3. Eat foods that will help you maintain your supply
There is a ton of information on the internet with foods that will help you maintain your supply. Because I was so worried the first time around, I tried a whole handful of suggestions. The ones that I found worked for me were:
Red Gatorade– Yes, this seems oddly specific. It’s very odd, but, for me, it worked. I have not had any this time around, but it did work with D.
Oatmeal– I have read this from several different websites. I’ll give credit to oatmeal, but I really can’t be sure. It’s one of my favorite breakfast/lunch foods, so I eat it often. I haven’t had any issues with my supply, but I do eat a ton of oatmeal, so I can’t count it out. Bonus: oatmeal cookies (I like oatmeal- raisin, but most people like oatmeal- chocolate chip) and oatmeal ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s.
Mother’s Milk Tea- A friend of mine purchased this for me with D and it was recommended by a substitute teacher in my school as well. Whenever I feel like drinking tea, this is my go-to. Now, let me be honest with you. I don’t drink enough to know if this really helps, but a lot of people swear by it. I like the taste of it, so I don’t mind drinking it once in a while. However, many reviewers think it is disgusting. So, if you don’t like the taste of black licorice, this might not be for you. It’s definitely got a different flavor to it.
4.Nurse often at home
If you are exclusively pumping, continue to pump every few hours at home.
If you are breastfeeding, then breastfeed on demand at home. Aside from not stressing out, this is the other piece of advice I cannot stress enough. Like pumping, it can be a daunting task, but just know that you will start to get a break as your baby gets older and feedings stretch out a few hours at a time.
But, when you first start out, I suggest offering to feed whenever the baby is fussy. It’s all about supply and demand. So, if your baby keeps demanding, you’ll keep supplying.
D used to eat because he was hungry and just for comfort. It was the most difficult task I’ve undergone as a human. He would eat for 30-45 minutes a session and he would eat every hour. If you’re trying to do the math, I was pretty much always feeding him for the first couple of months of his life. Along with this, I was pretty much always in tears. I wasn’t enjoying the bonding time we were having. Instead, I was afraid I was not producing enough and that I was screwing everything up.
With J, I’ve just been going with the flow. If he wants to eat every hour, I let him. If he goes four hours between feedings, I let him.
5. It’s all about supply/demand/emptying
Numbers 2 and 4 here are really the most important. We all know how supply and demand works (I hope). Ideally, the bigger the demand, the bigger the supply. But, pumping or nursing until empty is the key player in this game. If you’re not doing this, your body isn’t going to realize that it needs to produce more. Therefore, it’s not going to make more, and then your baby is going to become hungry and frustrated.
This was the hardest concept for me because my littles have been so different when it comes to nursing. D ate a ton in his first few months. We’re talking: both sides, at every feeding, every 1-2 hours! I felt like I was never going to keep up and there were days I cried because I didn’t think it was possible for him to get enough. With J, he’s a more efficient eater and has been since day one. I mean one side per feeding every 3-4 hours. Again, I stressed because I didn’t think he was eating enough and that my supply was going to dwindle immediately.
But, I’ve been lucky and have followed the rule of supply/demand/empty and haven’t looked back!
You are doing this for your little. It’s an extremely daunting task to take on. Your spouse will not understand your frustrations. You will not know how to explain to your spouse your frustrations. Luckily, other moms know what you’re going through.
Remember, not every mom wants to pump or nurse, and not every mom can pump or nurse. It doesn’t mean any of us are doing the right or wrong thing for our child. It’s your choice of what you want to do. But, it’s ultimately your body’s choice on whether or not you can accomplish your goals. If you’ve been trying everything possible to pump or nurse for your baby, and it’s just not happening, it’s okay to grieve.
If you’re a pumping or nursing pro, it’s okay to celebrate. Each woman is different and each woman will have a different experience. Celebrate your accomplishments whether big or small and celebrate those accomplishments of others as well. And, if you have something that has helped you on your pumping or nursing journey, share it! We as moms know, we can never have enough options when it comes to trying what we believe is best for our littles.