Any working, breastfeeding mom will tell you, balancing the two is no easy task. For some, it may seem too daunting to take on. Others may expect it to go smoothly and be surprised if there is a hitch in the plan. I asked a few of my dear mama friends who have successfully pumped and worked full-time during the first year to share their tips and tricks. Here are their responses:
Why were you so motivated to give your baby breastmilk?
Leslie: To be honest, before I got pregnant I had never really thought much about breastfeeding. Everyone I knew mostly bottle fed formula, so I more or less just thought that was what you were supposed to do. It wasn’t until I was exposed to my sister-in-law and a colleague who was breastfeeding around the time we were trying to conceive, that I became more aware of the option of breastfeeding and how beneficial it was for my baby. I began researching the benefits and quickly decided this was what I wanted to do, not only for my baby, but for me. Plus I figured why not burn extra calories to lose some of that baby weight in the process of giving my baby the most natural milk I could.
Caroline: I knew I wanted to nurse Huck for as long as I can remember. My mom nursed all three of us kids and always talked about how much she loved doing it.
Valerie: Although I had always planned on breastfeeding, you were the one that inspired me to stick with it as long as I had. I didn’t realize that people could and do breastfeed for more than a year and it inspired me to let my child be the one to decide when they were done nursing (within reason…mama has other things to do than just nurse!)
What obstacles stood in the way of breastfeeding?
Leslie: I had several obstacles in the way of breastfeeding. A lot were my own self-doubt in my body’s ability to produce enough milk. I have PCOS, so with my first child I was in a constant state of worry that I was not producing enough and my baby was starving. Both of my children had latching issues, but with my first child my inexperience and fears made it even worse. Many times I felt like that mother’s intuition you always hear about never took over.
I remember within the first few weeks of being home from the hospital, waking up in the middle of the night crying because I was in so much pain and was so frustrated with breastfeeding that I wanted to quit. I felt guilty because I thought I wasn’t producing enough milk and that was why my son was screaming when he tried to nurse…he was hungry. The next day I called a lactation consultant who came to our house and worked with us on proper latching techniques. She helped me get on track and taught me how to use the pump in between nursing sessions to help build my supply.
We slowly got there and were able to be successful. With my second child I went to a lactation support group, at the hospital I gave birth at, and was able to get some help from a lactation consult on remembering how to get the baby to latch. After this, we were set. I would encourage everyone to utilize a lactation consultant if you are having problems or just need reassurance. They made me feel so much better about the process and not alone, especially when I was a first time mom, I had a ton of personal questions in regards to my own body, that books just couldn’t answer.
Once I went back to work there were various times that my milk supply would dip so I would have to add in additional pumping sessions to try and regain my supply. I remember pumping multiple times during the day, evening, and night just to have enough milk for his two bottles at school the next day. The hardest part, really most awkward part, was the occasional pumping session in my car between offsite meetings. I had to remind myself many times why I was doing this and just had to refocus my attention on not giving up.
Caroline: A general lack in the knowledge of technique led to struggles early on with Huck. He was not latching on and I didn’t realize it until he was a week old and had lost a significant amount of weight. Our pediatrician gave him a bottle of formula, he sucked it down, and my heart broke because I felt like I was failing him. After that I visited with a lactation consultant three times in one week to learn the basics and make sure I was doing it correctly. The pain stopped and I was able to stop using the nipple shield around 7 weeks.
Going back to work at 12 weeks presented another struggle because I wanted to continue to provide breastmilk until he was one year old. I was able to pump at work and provide milk for him at daycare while nursing him in the morning and evening.
Valerie: The main issue other than just separation issues emotionally (I returned to work after just 6 weeks,) I found my work’s idea of a suitable room in which to pump was a storage closet that had no lock on the door. Needless to say, that caused problems. I was blessed with not having too many issues with supply or mastitis. I did quickly learn that in order to pump enough milk needed to cover what my daughter would eat each day while I was at work (15-20 ounces minimum) I had to adjust the pump settings. I had to get myself used to this as quickly as possible (due to time restraints) by turning the “volume” or strength of the pump up as high as I could possibly stand. This allowed me to get that 15-20 ounces I needed each day.
What were the main things you would say helped you be successful while pumping?
Leslie: Perseverance, determination, and setting goals. I knew if I gave up I would regret it. I had told myself before we gave birth that I would do whatever was best for my child, no matter if that meant breastfeeding or formula feeding. I read so many articles and of course utilized a lactation consultant, but for me it really was about the mindset that I was going to do this, I wasn’t going to give up, and I was going to achieve my goal of breastfeeding for his first full year.
Many people told me to set small goals to try and make it to – 3 months, 6, months, 9 months, etc. I knew that wouldn’t work for me. I knew if I made it to that first ‘small’ goal, I would try and justify myself in quitting, because I made that goal. So, I tried not to set small goals and only shot for the long-term goal I had of a year. This might not work for everyone, but I ultimately just had to tell myself this is what I was going to do and stick by it and not give up. I didn’t give myself an alternative or an ‘out.’
I also had a very understanding job. I pumped in a storage closet and am lucky enough that my child is at a childcare facility where I work. This allows me to take my lunch break to go over and nurse him, so I really only need to pump for the two bottles he takes while I am away. Having to only pump twice (and on occasion three times) a day helps me not feel like I am married to my pump.
I also found that pumping was much more enjoyable when I took the time to relax by watching a TV show, listening to a podcast, or spending the time focusing on me. I tried to put out of my mind the stresses of work because if I didn’t the stress levels would cause me not to express much milk. Relaxation and Netflix was key.
I have two pumps. My primary pump is an older Avent double electric pump, which I believe is no longer manufactured any more. I love this pump! With this pump you have the ability to set your own pace and suction of the pump, through a manual hand lever, then you push a button and it mimics the pumping rhythm you set. With this pump, since I have complete control over the rhythm my body reacts more positively to it and I feel like I am able to express more milk than usual. I also have the Medela Freestyle pump that I primarily use for its battery operated ability, for when I am in a location where I know I will not have access to an electrical outlet (i.e. the car).
Caroline: Lactation consultants and weighed feeding were crucial for me. Also, the advice from a sweet friend named Ellyn who said, “Don’t quit on your hardest day.” It’s obviously fine for people to choose to stop nursing but I hope it’s never because it is too hard because there are so many resources out there to help! It breaks my heart that not everyone knows about those resources or doesn’t have a nursing support system like I did. An encouraging husband, mom, and network of friends kept me sane and helped so much!
I also always recommend the nursing pillow called Breast Friend. That pillow is INCREDIBLE and was another key to my success.
Valerie: I did a lot of experimenting until I found what worked for me. I only had about 10 mins each time I pumped so I had to figure out how to make the most of that time. I found in addition to turning the machine as high as I could stand (typically only after my let down) I would look through pictures I had taken of my daughter in my phone. Although the pictures at times would make me emotional and I would start to tear up, I think that’s why it helped so much…breastfeeding is emotional.
How long did you nurse your baby?
Leslie: My first baby started to self-wean around 12-13 months. I am still nursing my second baby at 9 months.
Caroline: I nursed Huck until he self weaned around 18-19 months old. We had cut back to where I was only nursing him in the evenings and eventually he decided he was ready to stop. I was very sad but knew I had done literally everything I could to provide him with breastmilk for as long as possible. Nursing and pumping is one of my biggest accomplishments in life!
Valerie: My daughter will be turning 2 next month and she still nurses at around 3 times daily.
If you are a working mother who plans to breastfeed or who is working through the challenges of breastfeeding, know you are not alone! Each of these women mentioned reaching out for support. Find your local La Leche League group, contact a lactation consultant, and/or consult a trusted friend who has been there. And know that even if your babies can’t articulate it, they appreciate all the ways you work to provide for them.