Surviving As a Working & Nursing Mom

by cecimadden

After returning to work from maternity leave, I was committed to keeping Rachel on a breastmilk only diet until she was at least six months old, with continued nursing until she was at least a year old.  I like a good challenge.  But breastfeeding should not be such a challenge, especially because everyone doesn’t like a good challenge.  And all of us should be able to work and nurse if we choose to.  I was fortunate enough to have the support of my department’s HR staff and my supervisor, and a place to pump, but even still there were moments that were difficult.

Along the way I picked up some tips that I thought I should share.  This is not a step-by-step guide to working and nursing, but more of a girlfriend’s supplemental guide from someone who’s done it.  While I never dreamed of quitting (such a horrible word, I know), there were definitely times when I was exhausted and had self-pitying thoughts that what I was doing was really, really hard.  Each time I felt that way, Rachel and I would step into a new phase of our nursing relationship, which would mitigate that awful feeling and re-energize my commitment to nursing.  This is, in fact my first tip to working, lactating moms:

It gets better.  A breastfeeding relationship is almost constantly changing.  Your milk changes along with you child’s changing nutritional needs, which is a beautiful, natural process, plus your child’s emotional needs are constantly changing too.  What this brings with it is the assurance that whatever unpleasant challenge you might be experiencing today (the baby is nursing every 1-1/2 hours…baby is relying on nursing to get through teething pain…you feel like you’re pumping so often you are more machine than human…the baby won’t sleep without nursing…the list could go on…) will soon change.  Some of these things can be overwhelming, and you shouldn’t try to minimize your experience, but you can reiterate to yourself that just like everything else, this won’t last forever.

Every situation is unique, of course, but this was my experience:  I returned to work at 8 weeks postpartum.  I pumped 3 times per day until Rachel was about 5 months old, then I pumped twice per day until she was about 8 months, then I pumped once per day (yes, once!) until she was about 10 months old.  Then, I was done pumping, but still nursing on weekends and at naptime and bedtime.  So of course, when I was pumping 3 times a day and even at times when I was pumping twice a day, I felt like I couldn’t be busier.  All I did was work and pump, work and pump, work and pump.  But just as I felt I couldn’t pump any more, or like there was no way I could generate any more milk, I would realize that it was time to reduce the number of times I was pumping because Rachel would start drinking less milk during the day.  Just as I thought I couldn’t wash another bottle, I had two fewer bottles to wash.  It sounds small, but these were very uplifting moments.  I remember right around that 5-6 month period coming home with so much milk.  I was tired, but I simultaneously thought, how can I keep this up, and how could I stop now when Rachel needs this milk the most.  After that peak period, her consumption went down gradually and pumping became less demanding.

There are some constants. Babies need about 2.5 ounces of milk for every 1 pound of body weight (I will link the citation to this as soon as I find the book it came from).  Which means an 8 pound baby needs about 20 ounces of milk in a day.  That means if your 8 pound baby is eating an average of 10 times per day, he is probably having an average of 2 ounces of milk per serving.  I searched far and wide for an equation and found nothing until a friend offered me this book (and I am deeply sorry if your experience differs from this formula.)  I have not done any research but I can tell you that this equation helped my sister and I feel a lot less anxious about how much milk we were/were not pumping before we returned to work.  It can be demoralizing to attach yourself to a pump for 10 minutes and yield less than a shot of breast milk, but it is probably enough.  And if you are still really anxious, you can rely on your child’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant to monitor your child’s weight.

Prepare for the unexpected.  Using a breast pump is not a natural experience.  Even if you are super familiar with using one, you still have to prepare for the unexpected.  My advice is, always have a back up source for expressing your milk (like a hand pump or you can learn to express yourself manually), a backup source for storing your breast milk, and a backup set of clothes for yourself.  You never know what you might forget at home that morning, and you never know what you might spill.  I once spilled a full bottle of breast milk all over a pair of white pants, which was kind of inconspicuous, but I still didn’t really want to wear those pants all day.  And I once melted my breast pump tubing when I was sterilizing all of my parts one morning, so I had to manually express milk in the morning until I was able to get a new set of tubes.  I had days that I would forget to pack bottles, so I always kept milk storage bags at the office.  I forgot my cooler and ice pack a few times and learned that it pays to have a brown bag handy if you need to keep your milk discreetly in the back of the cafeteria refrigerator.  You can be prepared for some of these scenarios, but you will also need to know how to improvise.  You have to be committed to not letting these foibles stop you.

Quietly pat yourself on the back.  What you are doing is awesome and an inspiration to other women in your office.  You draw little attention to yourself, but that chic black breast pump bag is like a badge of honor and you should carry yourself with confidence as you take your afternoon pump break.  No one is as efficient as you.  No one is as dedicated as you.  No baby is as lucky as your baby to have a mom like you.  Repeat this to yourself over and over and over again.  Do not be surprised if others say this to you too.  Let yourself be flattered by them.

Are you working and nursing or considering it?  What’s your advice to working and nursing moms?