It was four months after my child was born that I realized how much I didn’t know about pumping my milk.
I had been pumping and freezing extra milk for six weeks in anticipation of a five-day conference that I was attending to launch my new business. Luckily, the conference was only fifteen minutes from my house, so I was pretty sure that if I pumped before I left in the morning and fed the baby immediately when I got home at night, I could skate by with expressing my milk during the lunch break every day.
(I can already hear you experienced moms laughing.)
Day one. I’m nervous about leaving the baby all day, I don’t fit back into my business clothes yet, and I’m second-guessing my decision to start a business, so my morning let-down was… well, a let down. Usually I could get four or five ounces out of each side. I got half an ounce. Not a good start.
By the time the first session took it’s mid-morning coffee break, I looked like I had bocce balls in my bra. I imagined the KCRA news that evening “A woman in Sacramento died today when her breasts detonated at a Holiday Inn.”
I dashed to the bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and grabbed the spare breast-milk bag out of my purse. Unfortunately, I hadn’t packed a spare blouse. Since I couldn’t risk ruining my top, I had to shed everything above the waist. If I thought letting down was hard that morning, it was nothing compared to letting down while listening to people pee in the next stall over.
By the time I figured out a good technique, my hand had started cramping. Ten minutes later I had expressed a whole ounce and my boobs had softened from “marble statue” status down to something more like a steering wheel. My boobs hurt, my hands hurt, I was sweating like a pig and my face was red from leaning over far enough to avoid squirting my pants and shoes.
I washed my hands, gave myself a “you got this” look in the mirror, and walked back into the conference with all the confidence I could muster, considering the fact that I had just milked myself half-naked in a bathroom stall. To keep it from spoiling, I snuck the milk bag into a paper cup, filled it with ice water and put a lid on it so it looked like I was casually swirling a cup of Starbucks.
For the next four days, I spent the morning and afternoon coffee breaks in my car with a baggy tee shirt over my blouse for privacy, hand-pumping with a manual pump I picked up on my way home after the first day. The milk went into an ice-chest in my trunk, then into the fridge when I got home. My supply suffered from frequent engorgement and never recovered, which meant we ended up supplementing from that point on.
I’m pretty sure we all have stories like this.
Pumping at work is still generally misunderstood, and definitely under-discussed. Here are 7 tips from experienced moms to make pumping less of a pain.
a Time and a Place
As of 2010, labor law requires employers to provide both break time and a private place to express milk.
Unless your boss is also a breast-pumping mom, they probably don’t understand what your needs are. Before my conference, I thought a bathroom stall was perfectly adequate!
If you aren’t provided with both break time and private space to pump, do not go to your boss to complain. Instead, put together a plan that meets your needs and schedule a meeting with your boss to present the problem and your solution. If there are other pumping moms at your workplace, you might bring them into the meeting too or have them sign off on your plan so that the boss can see how many of their employees would benefit from the changes.
Womenshealth.gov has some great resources for getting you started.
Let-down is very psychological.
If you don’t feel safe and relaxed, you are going to end up with sore nipples and no milk. Make sure the door locks so you feel safe, put on some soothing music so you feel relaxed, and get a chair that feels good. If you have your own office, put a sign on the door so that people know not to disturb you.
Let-down is also triggered my your baby’s hunger cues, mimicking these cues will make pumping easier. Look at photos and videos of your baby on your phone, bring something that smells like them, call their caregiver if possible to hear them babble on the other end of the line.
Get a good pump.
Your hospital should connect you with a resource for obtaining a free pump, if you don’t qualify for a free pump then you can rent one from the hospital. Personally, I liked my hand-held single-boob manual pump because I felt less like an Orwellian industrial dairy cow named “2036009” and more like an old-fashioned pet dairy cow named, say, “Bonny.” (Again, it’s all psychological. Figure out what works for you.)
Clean your pump with sterilizing wipes or microwave sterilizing bags so that you don’t have to spend ten minutes washing pump parts in the sink. Make sure your pump is clean, dry and packed every night so you can grab and go in the morning.
Put pumping in your calendar and treat it as a regular appointment. Otherwise, you might show up to a meeting looking like Pamela Andersen, or worse be on a conference call and have to explain to your client why it sounds like you are in an iron lung. Engorgement happens really quickly, and it can lead to diminished supply.
Plan for mishaps.
Finding your groove takes time, trial and error. Even after you find it, mishaps and accidents happen to everyone. Pack an extra top and keep extra pads at work so that you are prepared.
Fed is Best.
On a slightly related side-note, be aware that some women just don’t produce as much milk as others. In fact, I have some friends whose milk never came in at all!
If your supply diminishes, by all means see a lactation consultant about how to get it back up. But after some time, if you are unsuccessful, DO NOT take it as a personal failure. One of the unintended consequences of the “breast is best” campaign is that many moms are afraid of feeding their babies formula. So although breast is good, what matters most is that your baby gets enough nutrition.
Do you pump at work? What have you found to be helpful? Comment on the Facebook page and let’s keep the discussion going!
Emma Fulenwider is our MHM team writer, covering the many aspects of Mom-preneur life. A mother of two and memoir writer by trade, she runs Cedar Pen Life Stories from her home in Sacramento.