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Pumping at work- How to successfully continue breastfeeding when you return from Maternity Leave

Sharing material to support full-time working mamas who plan to breastfeed has always been something I have wanted to do. Unfortunately, I do not have the personal experience to give me any credibility to speak on the subject. I am oh-so-thankful for Brenda from Paper Heart Family for sharing her expertise on the subject! Read more about Brenda and her wonderful blog at the end of this post.

The first thing that I want you to know is that working full-time and exclusively breastfeeding your child is absolutely possible.

As soon as I found out that I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. Which would inevitably include pumping when I went back to teaching.

I’m happy to say that I was able to nurse both of my children for more than a year.

Was it easy? No.

Was it worth it? A thousand times YES.

Before taking the plunge and returning to work, there are some things that you need to know.

Speak with your employer ahead of time so that you can secure a comfortable place to pump.

Pumping is not natural. You need your pumping place to be as close to ideal as possible in order for your output to be maximized. That means no pumping in a bathroom stall. See the Department of Labor’s website  for more information on your rights.

Start a freezer stash now.

This will eliminate so much stress. I pumped on one side and nursed on the other during one night feeding for a month before returning to work and accumulated 150 ounces.

For tips on how you can increase your milk production to have enough supply for a freezer stash, see this post.

Freeze in small quantities.

You never know how much your baby is actually going to drink at each feeding while you’re gone. Following this important step will prevent you from crying when pick up your baby and you see the ounces of milk that will be thrown out because your baby knew that you were coming home soon, and waited for milk straight from the source. I suggest freezing in bags of 4 ounces.

Have the right tools.

Here’s what I used and recommend:

  • An efficient pump such as the Medela Pump In Style Advanced
  • Freemies- collection cups that are discreet and simply get placed into your normal bra. Read more about them here.
  • A pump bag- If you are short on time and need to maximize your pumping time, this is a must. They can be stylish and extremely efficient.
  • Breastmilk storage bags
  • Microwave sterilizer bags

Make sure you have back-up.

What is this back-up I speak of?

Extra bottles or storage bags that you keep at your workplace. And if you pump at home also, you need extra pump parts at work.

You don’t want to be scrambling at work to find unused Tupperware for storing your breastmilk. Not that I’ve ever had to do that. I heard it from a friend.

If you can’t find said Tupperware, you’ll be dumping your milk. Forgetting an integral part of your pumping repertoire doesn’t mean that you get out of pumping. Unless you like having leaky breasts in front of your colleagues. Or in my case, students.

Taking the effort to pump and then seconds later dumping it down the drain is torture.

Don’t cry over spilled milk? You will be weeping inconsolably.

Have everything already assembled.

Take a few minutes after you wash your pump parts the night before to assemble them. It will save you time at work and this way you won’t forget a small part.

Place pumped milk in an opaque bag.

Unless you have a cooler compartment in your pump bag, you do not want your coworkers to open the fridge and be face to face with your booby milk. They may never be able to look at you the same way again.

Distract, distract, distract.

I had to continue working while I was pumping and that was distraction enough for me. Some women need to do other things in order to get the milk flowing, such as looking at photos of their baby or reading.

Know that sometimes your output will be lower.

There will be days when you simply don’t pump as much as others. Frustratingly, you might never know why. There are many factors that could contribute to it. Your diet, your hydration level, the amount of sleep you didn’t get, or your stress level are the most common. This is why having a frozen stash is so important.

For a list of supplements you can safely use while pregnant to help increase and maintain milk supply, see this post.

Stick to a schedule as much as possible.

Pumping on a schedule is extremely important because the pump is not as efficient as baby. Your body will become more efficient if it knows when to expect machine milk extraction.

Consider pumping while driving.

Remember when I told you this wouldn’t be easy? I pumped on the way to work because with my schedule, I had no other choice. I was not going to sacrifice sleep for that additional pumping session.

A hands free pump bra is a must for this one- see this post for a list of the best ones!

Stay hydrated and nourished and (semi) rested.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of the working mom life that you forget to eat and drink. Get a cute (and huge!) water bottle and take it with you everywhere. A stressed, hungry, thirsty and tired body is going to struggle to produce breastmilk.

Know that baby might reverse cycle.

Your baby likely will miss you and might make up for that missed time in the middle of the night.

Know that baby might refuse the bottle even if she was previously drinking from one.

I have no suggestions for this one. You’re probably dealing with a very headstrong (and smart!) baby.

Expect people to be nosy, jealous or intrigued.

Don’t worry about what others are thinking. What’s the only thing that matters? That you are doing what’s best for your baby.

You might have the coworker that gives you an icy stare every time you leave to go “relax”.

Or the clueless coworker who asks every day what you’re doing in your “private office” and how he can get one of his own.

Don’t wash pump parts between pumping sessions.

Hallelujah! Simply rinse or even better, pop them in the fridge if possible.

Know that it gets easier.

As baby starts solids and gets closer to her first birthday, she will require less and less breastmilk, which means you may be able to cut out a pumping session (or two!).

Just remember that pumping at work is absolutely doable. Good luck!

Follow Brenda on Facebook and Pinterest too! She has binge worthy content perfect for mamas of littles!

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