Breastfeeding Strategies for the Working Mom

I'm not sure if any of you experienced this, but as a working mom, no one EVER told me how difficult breastfeeding is. I thought, "breastfeeding is such a natural part of motherhood and working is such a natural part of my life, doing both should be a no brainer..." But then, I had my first baby and while getting her to latch on wasn't a big issue (after several sessions with a lactation consultant) getting myself acquainted to the process was an entirely different story. As a marketing consultant who runs my own business, there is no such thing as maternity leave. I was that patient in the hospital answering emails on her phone and executing projects to meet client deadlines on my laptop while doing skin-to-skin with my hours old baby. Fortunately, I have the opportunity to work from home, so I thought this will be SO easy when I get home. In my naivety I thought I could just breastfeed while answering emails and taking conference calls. Wrong again. First, my newborn baby needed to eat constantly. If she was up, she was eating. This made it difficult for my conference calls when I eventually learned that my clients could hear my baby breastfeed while I was talking on the phone (Yikes!). Next, I thought I'll start pumping whenever baby is napping so that I can feed her a bottle while I'm on conference calls. I pulled out the electronic pump and started the pumping/feeding routine. Pumping at my desk meant half of my desk was dedicated to a pump, bottles, attachments, etc. The other half was my computer, papers and notebook. My desk was literally a metaphor for my life - one side of my life baby, the other side work, and I was sitting somewhere in the middle. By the way, the ONLY way I could pump at my desk while answering emails (apart from being in the privacy of my home) was with the help of this hands free pumping bra, it actually holds the pumps in place so you can be hands free while pumping. Genius! But pumping bra aside, life was really really tough and some days it seemed like there was no end in sight. All that to say, I want all the mama's out there to know that you deserve a million gold stars plus the title of superwoman if you're a breastfeeding working mom. Now that I'm facing the prospect of doing this ALL OVER AGAIN in just one week, I started looking up tips on how to ease into breastfeeding while working and I found some great tips in an article written by another working mom: 

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

As in most things in life, the more you can do to prepare beforehand the easier it will be. Preparations can start as early as one month before you go back to work. Here is a basic list of things to do:

1 month before: Start to sort out your childcare arrangements for while you're at work. Finding the right fit can take a while, so avoid the additional stress and start early.
3 weeks before: Start building your milk supply. It can take a while to produce that extra milk, so plan in those extra pumping sessions early and don’t be discouraged if the first couple of sessions aren’t successful. Your body needs some time to get in the flow :)
2 weeks before: Make sure your baby is comfortable with a bottle. The last thing you want to worry about while you're at work is that your baby isn’t eating.
1 week before: Test it out. Run a trial day to make sure you have a good routine to get to work on time and that your baby is comfortable with the new childcare arrangements.

2. Talk to your employer.

It’s helpful to get your boss on board ahead of time about your plans to pump at work. Hopefully, your company is already well equipped for the nursing mom, but if it isn’t, knowing beforehand can help get things in order. Also, it helps for management to understand how important this is for you and your baby's health. This isn’t and shouldn’t be viewed as a “perk” of the job, but rather a requirement. Setting that tone early can help to avoid issues in the future.

3. Strategize your breastfeeding sessions.

Get in as many breastfeeding sessions with your baby as possible. Unfortunately, no pump is as efficient as your baby, and long term pumping can have a negative effect on your milk supply. Try to nurse before you leave for the day and as soon as you get home to keep that milk supply up. Pushing for telecommuting options or on-site daycare are good options as well.

4. Plan your pumping time at work.

It’s recommended that you pump every three hours to maintain your milk supply. Block off your calendar for pumping times, and try to make it consistent. There are certain work tasks that are more conducive to pumping, like answering email. Save those tasks for pumping sessions to be most productive. One fellow working mom used to get her team to help too, by making sure they were aware of her pumping times and having them send/print any documents in advance so she could tackle them during this time.

5. Get the right equipment.

We all want to spend the least amount of time in that lactation room, so make it as easy as possible by getting the right equipment. This can also make a big difference in keeping your motivation up. A good, strong pump is a must. Pumping bras with padding are also great for hands-free nursing and the least amount of wardrobe changes. And finally, make sure you are wearing nursing-friendly clothing.

6. Take care of yourself.

Adding pumping to the mix of work, in addition to the stress of being a new mom, can be overwhelming. Suddenly there's a lot less time for work. But resist the instinct to cut yourself short. You still need to drink lots of water and eat a good lunch. And don’t forget some snacks, because that breastfeeding appetite is strong for a reason. In the grand scheme of things, the time you'll be pumping at work is quite short. If it means you need to take it a little easier than usual and be kind to yourself, so be it.

7. Leave the guilt trip at home!

Guilt for being at home, guilt for being at work, we all feel it. But we need to take a step back and know we're doing the best we can. No solution is perfect, but you evaluated the benefits and drawbacks of each one and made the decision that was best for you and your family. So embrace that choice and make the most of your time at home and your time at work. 

Whitney Williams