When you’ve got a new baby, returning to work is probably the last thing you want to think about. The reality, though, is most mothers work outside the home. Whether you have six weeks or six months off, you’ll need to do some planning for how you intend to feed your baby when you’re back to work. If you’re breastfeeding, this means pumping. Advance planning will help the process run more smoothly, though problems do occasionally crop up for all working, pumping moms. Here are our top ten tips to make your experience a positive one:
- Pump as often as baby would be nursing: Don’t skip pumping sessions if at all possible - schedule them into your calendar if you need to. This doesn’t work with all types of employment, though. Many women are only able to use their regular break time, and even then have trouble pumping often enough. If you find that your supply is diminishing, make adjustment. Add pumping sessions at home before or after work.
- Use the best breast pump you can afford: Pumping will be more efficient with a double, electric pump. You may find inexpensive pumps on the store shelves, but remember you get what you pay for. You want a strong pump that can stand up to regular use that will remove the most milk in the shortest amount of time. Be sure you test your pump well in advance of your return to work, and play around it to find the right settings for you. Learn how your body reacts to the machine. Experienced pumping moms suggest using the letdown button (if your pump has one) multiple times during the pumping session to go back and forth between the different suction patterns - moms who do this find they can get more milk in a shorter session.
- Find a private place to pump: Even before your baby is born, scope out your office to see where you can find a private place as close as possible to your desk or work station. You’ll need a sink and an electric outlet. A lock on the door is helpful so you’re not stressed out worrying that someone might walk in on you, but a curtain and rod can easily turn your cubicle into a pumping station.. The bathroom is not an appropriate place for pumping. Keep in mind that your hormones not only drive milk production but also control your letdown reflex. If you’re worried about a lack of privacy, this can activate your fight-or-flight hormones which may hamper how much you can pump.
- Consider your pump parts: One mom who pumped regularly for one year for all of her children recommended buying extra long tubing so that you can move a little better when attached to the pump. Be sure to check all of your parts often and replace them as needed. Membranes, especially, seem to wear out over time. Manufacturers have different recommendations on how often to replace these, but it’s typically every few months if you’re pumping daily.
- A hands-free pumping bra is considered an essential by most moms who express milk regularly at work. Not having to hold the pump flanges in place on your breasts allows you to multi-task or to do breast massage as you’re pumping. Some moms even use their hands-free bra in the car during their commute to and from work. A few companies do make hands-free pumps - these would be a good choice for moms having problems finding a time or place to pump or in jobs where they cannot easily take breaks.
- Cover the bottles: If you’re struggling with pumping and consistently feel you aren’t getting enough milk, place a blanket over the bottles and find a distraction while you’re pumping. Check your email, read a book, play a game on your phone, close your eyes and relax for 15 minutes (even doing deep breathing or visualization exercises). Make sure you’re warm enough, and bring a water bottle with you. Try to get as relaxed as you can when pumping.
- Bring something to remind you of baby: Record your baby crying - this may help to stimulate letdowns when you first turn the pump on. Look through pictures of your baby, bring a baby blanket that your little one has been wrapped in, or even listen to a recording of your baby nursing. Your hormones are so closely attuned to your baby’s needs - and you can use this to your advantage when pumping.
- Find shortcuts: Some moms choose to store their entire pump in the fridge between pumping sessions, and then wash or sterilize the parts once a day at home. Other moms suggest buying wipes specifically for wiping down the pump, use microwave bags for sterilizing the pump parts, and even buying to sets of parts so you can rotate them in and out. Get things ready the night before and be sure to have a bag specifically for pumping supplies that you set by the door to grab in the morning.
- Find support: Talk to other moms within your company who have pumped in the past - they know your workplace and management best and can give you tips specific to your own situation. Find online chat groups for working moms. Other women are often the best resource for tips and tricks to make pumping at work successful.
- Have a plan but stay flexible: You may need to adjust your routine over time, or make small changes to when, where or how often you pump. Remind yourself that it’s not all or nothing. Even if you’re not able to pump during your workday, your body will adjust - you can nurse when you are together, but use milk you’re able to pump at home or formula when you are apart. Can someone bring baby to you during the workday so you don’t need to pump as often? Can you nurse more at home? Is your caregiver inadvertently overfeeding your baby so you feel pressure to provide more milk than he actually needs? A little sleuthing can help you make changes that keep everyone happy!