As working mothers ourselves, we know that continuing breastfeeding after returning to work outside the home means getting into an intimate relationship with your breast pump. And lets' be real, pumping can (literally) suck!
Having been there ourselves personally and with many clients, we thought we'd share some pumping tips and tricks to help make this transition a little smoother.
1) Talk to your manager or HR department about your need for a private pumping space (not a bathroom) upon your return to work. Bonus points if you can have this conversation before your maternity leave begins. If you get some push back, do your research. Most employers are required by law to provide a private space for breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk as well as time throughout the work day to do it.
2) Call your health insurance provider to find out which pumps are covered by your policy. (Most health insurance plans are now required by law to cover breastfeeding and pumping expenses, including breast pumps and even lactation consultation!) If you plan to be away from your breastfed baby at least part-time, you'll do best with a double electric pump. Our favorites are the Spectra s2 and Medela Freestyle. Spectra's s2 is a hospital grade pump that has top-of-the-line features that give you maximum control and customization for pumping vacuum and cycle speed. It's unbelievably quiet and many mothers find it provides a more comfortable pumping experience then most other pumps on the market. Where the Freestyle lacks in those customization options and is quite a bit louder, it gives you the most mobility. You can use this pump completely hands free (with a good hands-free pumping bra, like this one from Simple Wishes - our absolute favorite by far) and it can operate well without being plugged in. No more searching for a private space that also has an electrical outlet!
3) Hold off on purchasing a stash of bottles until you've tested a few with your baby. We usually encourage our clients to purchase one of a few different brands/styles to see what they and their babies prefer. Whichever you choose, it's best to stick with the slowest flow nipples for as long as your baby will tolerate them
4) When it comes to when to introduce a bottle, early (between 3-5 weeks) is best for babies who will need to be taking bottles regularly. This gives you time initially to focus on breastfeeding and establishing your milk supply, but takes advantage of the relatively short period of time that your newborn has a strong suck reflex. Missed that window? Don't worry. Most babies take to a bottle without any trouble, but for those that having a harder time there are some strategies to help a baby who refuses a bottle.
5) Start pumping before returning to work - but don't stress too much about building a huge freezer stash! Yes, you'll want an emergency back-up supply in your freezer, but once you return to work you'll be sending the freshly pumped milk from your day away to feed your baby the following day. (Milk you pump Monday goes with your baby to child care on Tuesday, Tuesday's milk is fed on Wednesday...you get the idea.) Your freezer stash is your emergency back up, but you should give your baby the freshly pumped milk first when possible. One easy way to start collecting a few ounces a day is to add a short pumping session before you go to bed at night. This can help you get a head start on your stash, and will also make it more likely that it's your baby waking you to nurse at night rather than painfully engorged breasts. (It's also a way to add a few extra ounces to what you pumped during your work day for those days you may fall a little short.)
6) Freeze your milk storage bags flat to maximize space and keep your stash orderly. Those milk bags start to take up a lot of space really quickly, and you don't want to run out of freezer space for ice cream now do you? You can purchase milk storage systems for your freezer, but one easy way to keep your stash orderly is to file your bags in empty boxes from 12-pack cans of soda or sparkling water (like this). If you're really running out of space and don't think you'll need everything you have stored, you may consider becoming a milk donor. Becoming a milk donor through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America is easy. Donated milk is made available to NICU babies around the country.
7) Talk to your child's caregiver about how to send milk/bottles to child care. There may be licensing regulations your child care provider must follow regarding storage and labeling. In general, it's best to send milk in small quantities to reduce wasted milk. (Sometimes caregivers aren't allowed to save milk not consumed during a single feeding.)
8) Gather your pumping and milk storage supplies and prep your bag(s) the night before your work day. Adding a baby blanket or photo of your baby can help with getting a let down. And to cut down on bottle/pump part washing, use a large soft-sided cooler with two coffee cups inside. Place your pump bottles in the cups (with pump parts attached) inside and refrigerate or keep cool with ice packs between feedings! (Yup, assuming you have a healthy, full-term baby, you can skip washing between sessions as long as you keep the bottles and parts refrigerated.)
9) Add frozen water bottles to your cooler as extra ice packs. As the ice melts throughout the day you'll have some nice cool water to sip on as you pump.
10) When you are on-the-go and away from your typical pumping space, don't be afraid to ask for a private space to express your milk! In our experience, most people are happy to help you find a quiet, private space to pump (that isn't a bathroom or your car - although we've totally been there...).
Above all - Be gentle with yourself.
Pumping can be stressful and is often inconvenient. You're doing an amazing thing by expressing milk for your baby while you are away, and every drop is a gift. While lots of mothers are able to continue feeding their babies breast milk exclusively after returning to work, many reach a point where supplementing with formula is best for their family. And that's ok!
You get to decide what works for you and your baby, there are MANY "right" ways to be a breastfeeding mother, and not all of them include exclusively breastfeeding. Whatever your goals, know that your Doulas of Asheville doula is here to support you in achieving them.