I was talking with a friend who is returning to work and she asked about pumping. Since I've recently started back to work after maternity leave myself, my memory was refreshed about how involved it is to pump. By the end of my first son's time breastfeeding, all of this was old-hat and not too complicated. So rest-assured that you will get the hang of it and it will become second nature. But there's a lot to get a handle on at first.
A few disclaimers:
1) Any way you slice it, feeding your baby is a lot of work. It requires a whole lot of time, patience, and energy. There are lots of ways to nourish your child. Whether your choose breastfeeding or formula or a mix of both is a decision based on your family's needs - your needs, your baby's needs, your family's schedule. Check out 30 Ways Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding are Exactly the Same.
2) I'm not a lactation consultant - get professional advice if you need it! Even if you don't need major help - try to go to a pumping class at your local breastfeeding center - you can learn so much from watching other women nurse or hearing about how they pump. A lot of what I share here are things I learned from other people!
For our family, breastfeeding works - it's a decision Andy and I made together (because it impacts all of us in how we spend our time and energy).
Exclusively breastfeeding means that you'll have to pump if you are going to be away from your baby for more than 2-3 hours, both to meet their demand, and to keep your supply up. If you are working outside the home, you'll have to pump at work. If it seems like that means you'll be pumping a lot - you will be!
One estimate I've heard is that breastfed babies need approximately 1oz/hour. So you're aiming to feed them 24-ish ounces over the course of a 24 hour period. I try to have at minimum of 15 oz in bottles for the 9-10 hours I'm away from the baby on work days. Then I assume/hope the baby gets the additional 10oz directly from nursing.
Right now, I work 3 days/week. Plus I occasionally go out on a date, or out with friends, or go for a run and someone needs to give the baby a bottle.
I normally get somewhere between 3-5oz each time I pump. I pump 3x/day at work, and once more in the evening to provide enough milk for the next day. I also pump in the evenings on days I don't work (the whole supply/demand thing - I have to keep pumping in the evenings even if I'm not working the next day to keep the supply there for the days I need it) and that gives me a little extra to make sure we have enough each day or for when I go out at another time.
This is the step-by-step of what I do/how I do it. Hopefully it provides you a good starting point!
Step 1: Find a private place. With few exceptions, your employer is legally required to provide this. For your regular work location - try to get a room that isn't frequently used by other people so you don't have to worry about dodging meetings that are also scheduled in that room, etc. Some larger workspaces have a nursing mother's room, other offices may provide you with a seldom-used conference room. Right now, I'm fortunate to share an office that has a door, with someone who isn't there frequently. I'm able to pump at my desk.
When there isn't an established place to pump, or you are at another work location, it can get tricky. I've been shown to bathrooms when I've been at conference centers (where the only outlet was outside the stall, next to the sink. Kinda awkward, but - when you're stuck, you're stuck), or with my first son, when I didn't have an office, it was suggested I could pump in one of the "phone booths" that our building has for people to have private conversations. The phone booths have become default storage units for people's old files and the doors don't have a lock. They're dusty and anyone could barge right in.
Those rooms aren't conducive to pumping but sometimes it's all you've got. It's not that people are intentionally being rude, or trying to break the law, this just isn't something they run into all the time and you need to be prepared to help them find a solution. Yes - they should have it figured out, and this is a good opportunity to help educate them, but arguing with them on the virtues of pumping ain't gonna help you get the job done in that moment.
While employers are required to give you breaks to pump, some jobs are more conducive to pumping - that's just the reality of it. Right now I work in the same place almost every day, I have enough control over my schedule to nudge meetings one-way-or-another so I can have time to pump. While everyone legally has the right to pump breaks, it's got to be considerably harder for people who work in less flexible occupations, such as teaching or field journalists or something.
Step 2: Set Up All Your Equipment
- pump - now covered by most insurances
- pump pieces - and there are a lot of them.
- pumping bra - you definitely want one of these so you can pump hands-free. You can turn pages of a magazine, type, it allows you to adjust things, etc. I use an old 'hook-in-back' sports bra (rather than an over-the-head one) that I cut holes in for pumping at home or for my more serious pumping at work, I use this Simple Wishes Pumping Bra. Even if you have a hands-free pump, like the Freestyle, I still recommend a bra, those hooks don't really keep the pump on for me
- bottles or storage bags
- baby pictures - you'll see why this is important in a few paragraphs
- an outlet - this is important unless you have a battery pack (and who wants to use all those batteries?)
I was fortunate to receive a friend's old pump, it was still in great condition, and it has allowed me to leave a pump at work so I have one both at home and at work and all I have to bring back-and-forth every day are the pump pieces and bottles. With the Affordable Care Act making pumps more accessible, there's a high probability you can find someone who is willing to part with their old pump.
*Note: pump manufacturers don't recommend using someone else's pump - it voids the warranty, etc, and they also say each pump is only good enough for one pregnancy. But I'm certainly not the only person to use someone's old pump. (However - if you are having trouble with getting enough milk, check and make sure it isn't that the pump is tiring out - this could be a real problem. Go see a lactation consultant.).
Step 3: Pump.
Pumping is a mental game: I didn't realize this. I thought it would just be a physical experience: hook yourself up, and get some work done while you felt something like a cow in a barn. Alas. Not the case. I immediately noticed that on the days I am more relaxed, I got more milk. On the days I've had to hunt for a place to pump or was trying to also get an important task done while pumping, I'd barely get anything. Then I'd freak out about barely getting anything and the next pumping session would be fraught with anxiety about getting enough milk. It's a cycle. So do yourself a favor, and take a deep breath, take a sip of tea, look at pictures of your baby. It will actually make pumping easier and more productive if you relax while doing it. Given that you have to pump several times a day, it feels like a lot of time to 'step out of work mode.' It is. But the time you'll spend nursing your baby - a few months, a year - is short in the grand scheme of things.
Step 4: Unhook Yourself and Store the Milk
This can be a bit messy/drippy (I keep napkins or a burp cloth in my pump bag for this purpose). Keep your pump on a counter or a desk, if it's on the floor and you bend over to turn it off, you risk spilling milk, etc.
It is highly likely that at some point you will spill milk. And it is highly likely that you will cry. I've heard it said "whoever said 'no one cried over spilled milk' obviously wasn't a nursing mom." Ain't that the truth.
For storage: I carry two clean 5oz bottles with me to fill with milk so they're ready for the baby right away, then any additional milk I pump stays in the bottles I pumped it into, I transfer that at home. On the odd day I get more than I can hold in those (or forget the bottles) I put the milk in storage bags and label it with the date.
Put your expressed milk in the refrigerator or a cooler with ice.
Then you also have to figure out what to do with the pump pieces. There are two solutions:
- keep enough "sets" to pump as many times as you need during the day. This is what I do on days that I have offsite meetings where I won't have access to a refrigerator or am in the car, I travel with 3 or so sets of pump pieces. You can also buy these wipes but they are expensive (not that buying extra sets of pump pieces are cheap).
- The other option is to refrigerate your pump pieces. Since my pieces fit so nicely in the food storage container, I put them, and the expressed milk, in a lunch bag and store them all in the refrigerator at work.
*Again - pump manufacturers will say you should thoroughly wash all pieces between pumps and if you have a baby with a compromised immune system, that's super-important. But - for me, I didn't have access to a sink other than the communal kitchen sink at work (or the bathroom), and refrigerating them has worked fine. I use them for 3 rounds of pumping at work, then wash them.
Step 5: Wash everything.
Remember when I said breastfeeding/pumping is a family decision because it influences how we spend our time and energy during our baby's infancy? As you can see, by the time we get to this step, I've used a lot of time and energy. One of the [many] ways Andy contributes to this process is that he is becoming the "Chief Bottle Washer."
While I'm doing that last pump at night (sometimes surfing the net or watching a show on Netflix - remember, you're supposed to relax while pumping!) he washes the bottles and pump pieces.
You could sterilize them. And when you have a new-new-born, or a baby with a compromised immune system, this is more important. But, by the grace of God, both of my boys have been healthy and while I'll occasionally sterilize (using a big pot of boiled water) the typical protocol in our house is to just use hot, soapy water. He sets them up to dry, and I pack them up in the morning.
And that's it! Pumping milk in 5 easy steps!
No - it's not easy. As I said - however you feed your baby is a labor of love! Emphasis on the labor part. But also emphasis on the love... there's nothing like gazing into the eyes of your baby as they eat - whether it's from a bottle or the breast.
I sent this email to a few other pumping moms I know to get their feedback, and they came back with great "tricks-of-the-trade." To keep this post from getting even longer than it already is, I'm going to follow this up with another posts with tips in a few days. If you are a nursing/pumping mom have something to share - leave it in the comments or send me an email, I'll include it in the list!