I was one month back from maternity leave and totally consumed by the challenges of being a working and breastfeeding mom. I should have been focused on dressing up my baby boy in cute holiday onesies. Instead, I fretted about my freezer stash of breastmilk, questioned how long I could keep up my supply, juggled meetings and pumping schedule and wanted to vent to people who really understood my struggles.
All this in the middle of football season for the Miami Dolphins, where I was returning from maternity leave as Director of Sales. Overwhelming, no?
In hindsight, there were steps I wish I’d taken before going back to work that would have eased the transition and reduced my stress levels. I’ve since followed my own advice and, as I write this, I’m celebrating more than one year as a nursing working mom! I share these five keys to success in hopes that they find you early on in your breastfeeding journey—or that you find them helpful if you’re already in the thick of things!
Secure Your Mothers’ Room. Know what you’re working with! That means being familiar with your rights. I’ve found Mamava to be an incredible resource for knowing my rights as a breastfeeding employee and as my own personal GPS to find lactation spaces when I travel for work. Get in touch with your employer to ensure you have a dedicated room to pump in. If you can visit it before maternity leave, even better! In a perfect world, your Mothers’ Room should include the following: A door with a lock, chair, desk/table, electrical outlet, mini fridge and sink. In reality, most moms I’ve chatted with are missing some of those basics, so don’t be afraid to ask for them! More often than not, employers are simply inexperienced and will be happy to help where they can, if you bring your needs to their attention. My Mothers’ Room, for example, lacked a mini fridge and sink. While my employers couldn’t rework the plumbing, they did buy us a nice mini fridge.
Know Your Pump. My Spectra pump and I were mere acquaintances before I went back to work. It took the shock of a drop in my milk supply for me to re-read the user manual and do some serious Pinterest and blog reading. I discovered great tips/tricks to get the most out of my Spectra! That’s when I became familiar with how to get 2+ let downs in one session. I also realized then that the silicone parts needed frequent replacement (enter Amazon subscription auto delivery to the rescue). My Spectra and I went from acquaintances to best friends real quick. Try to achieve that level of friendship before you’re thrown into 3 dates a day! Knowing how to pump is just as important as knowing your pump. Do you have the right flange size? Do you know how to use massage to completely empty your breasts? Do you know when to use the different pump modes and settings to get additional let downs? Educate yourself and pay attention to how and when you produce the most, so you can replicate the process.
Build Your Support System. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but they don’t talk about the tribe it takes to successfully pump at work while keeping your sanity. Sorry, Drake, but your “no new friends” rule is proven wrong in this regard, because making friends with other moms at the office is invaluable. Who else can help you laugh off 6 ounces of spilled milk or discreetly fix your shirt when you’ve missed a button (or 4) after pumping? Who else can you run to after your lunchtime pump sesh to brag about how much you just produced or bum extra milk storage bags from? Get outside your circle of friends, and go meet the other women at the office who have kids and who will get what you’re doing and will cheer you on! There is nothing more encouraging than receiving that secret nod from one of your office mamas when you’re on route to the Mother’s Room with your suitcase of a pump bag.
Set a Routine. This is a tricky one, especially if you work in a meeting-heavy office environment like mine. Early on, I put reminders on my personal calendar for my three pump sessions, recurring daily. My mistake was not making that calendar event public for all internal employees. Be selfish! Decide what your pump times are, and mark them as Busy/Unavailable on your internal calendar so colleagues avoid double booking you. Undoubtedly you’ll get questions about why you’re not available during those times. I get that it can be uncomfortable sharing information about breastfeeding/pumping at work, but I think you’ll be surprised by how many people will commend you for it, even silently. That, or they’d be totally freaked out and never ask you about it again and avoid double booking you like the plague. That’s a win-win. Now, conflicts are inevitable, and that's where you’ll need to decide if you want to make conference call arrangements or bump your pumping session. Just don’t do that regularly or your supply could suffer.
Keep Up The Supply. Finally, your milk supply! Missing pumping sessions is the biggest detriment to your milk supply. Life happens, though, and things come up that force you to miss sessions. The good news is, you can always work to increase your supply again: Our bodies, incredibly, respond to the laws of supply and demand. Now, for maintaining your milk production, supplementing and eating a milk-friendly diet are super important! I’d start my day with oatmeal and stir in wheat germ and berries, sip Mother’s Milk Tea twice a day, snack on lactation cookies before lunch - and drink a LOT of water. Café Baby has you covered on the cookie front - check them out here!
While I learned all of these things on the fly as I was pumping three times a day, each of these tips have helped me achieve more than a year of being a working and pumping mama. As challenging as it sometimes has been, continuing my breastfeeding journey by pumping at the office has made me feel connected to my baby all the time. It was the one thing that eased some of the separation anxiety I experienced early on. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
This blog was originally published January 6, 2020 on CafeBabyToGo.com. Café Baby provides health-conscious parents with a convenient, long-lasting range of fresh, handmade baby food and lactation products. These mom and baby friendly foods are fresh-frozen for easy access and are shipped to your doorstep. Shop their age-based menus at www.cafebabytogo.com.