Let me preface this post with an assurance that this is not going to be a “breast is best” or “breastfeeding over bottle feeding/formula” post. It’s not. Everyone is entitled to their opinions — it’s the sole decision of the mother and father to determine the best way to ensure your child has the nutrients to help them grow. And as long as you’re doing what it takes to make sure your child is healthy and well-nourished, then you’re doing a good job!
BUT, I’m going to be honest and say that breastfeeding is a lifestyle choice that I pushed hard to make and maintain. It really is. So this post is intended to help anyone starting out at nursing or considering nursing their child-on-the-way. I’m going to tell you what it’s really like and some tips to continue nursing if you’re going back to work.
Well before Evan arrived I made the decision to nurse. I knew there would be lots of obstacles and that it wouldn’t be easy, but it was a goal that I set and a plan I determined I’d stick with. C.D. supported this decision and off we went.
I was very fortunate when Evan DID arrive that she took to it like it was nothing. I know lots of moms didn’t have this luxury so it’s something I’ve never taken for granted. Here’s what my schedule was like.
Days 1-2: Oh how nice, she’s nursing every two hours, it doesn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would and I’m not as full as I expected to be. This is great! Nursing is easy!
Day 3: Holy shit, why do these balloons hurt so bad?! I can’t even shower without feeling like I’m being punched with razor blades?! (For new moms, this is when my milk came in.) And she’s CRYING when she’s eating now? Maybe I DON’T want to do this? No one even THINK about hugging me today.
Day 4-5: Okay, if I just quickly feed her every hour to hour and a half, I’m not so full. She’s also more satisfied… I can do this. Nursing bras? Not an option today, but I can do this.
Week Two-Four: Alright, we’ve stabilized the bowling balls, but this kid hasn’t slowed down on eating. (I became VERY attuned to her hungry cry… why? Because it came every hour or so.) Sorry friends and family who are annoyed that I’m always disappearing with that sweet babe, but this kid is a-growin’ and this lady is her ticket to chow-town.
Month Two-Four: Ahhh…. we have our rhythm down. She’s eating every 1.5-2.5 hours and our nursing visits are only 10 or so minutes long. It’s really not too bad!
Month Four (BACK TO WORK!) through NOW: This is so second nature now that sometimes I FORGET that I’m a nursing Mom. We nurse twice in the morning and twice before bed with four bottles of pumped milk during the day. Pumping isn’t so bad — I get a quick quiet mental break every three hours while working from my phone or laptop.
Okay, so like I said, nursing is a lifestyle choice. At first, it was tough to go anywhere because by the time we got somewhere, E needed to eat. When the time came to leave, E needed to eat. Home and out of the car seat? Time to eat. You get it.
But this was such a short blip on the radar now that I’m looking back. Since pumping, I’ve been able to store enough freezer packs so that if I need a day out or we know she’ll need to nurse when I may not be able to feed her she’ll have the milk she needs. So let’s get to the working-mama part.
I’ve been back at work for seven months now and I’ve definitely learned a few things to make sure my supply hasn’t changed much, that I’m still able to pack a few freezer bags in each week all while not affecting my ability to work while on the job. If you want to keep nursing while back at work, YOU CAN DO IT!
**MAJOR NOTE: Some of these tips may not work for everyone. Everyone’s bodies are different as I’ve come to learn. Some of my coworkers only needed to pump twice a day to be able to output a full day’s worth of milk. Others probably needed to go more frequently to get what they needed. I HOPE these help you, but please don’t blame me if they don’t.**
LESSON #1: Make time while on maternity leave to start building your freezer stash.
I waited until E was 4 weeks to start pumping. I wanted to make sure my supply was balanced, because adding a pumping session meant building on to one of her feeding times. More demand, more supply, bigger/harder boobs. It’s as simple as that.
I read that the most milk is generated in the morning, so each morning (sometimes I’d skip) I would pump for 15 minutes after her feeding. C.D. would take her downstairs to play while I pumped.
Because I was pumping after a meal, I typically only pumped 2 oz from both sides (for some context, I now pump 8-10 oz from both sides during my morning pump at work).
I worked hard to store each and every ounce. By the time I went back to work, I had at least 50 oz, which would be enough for three days at school if all went to hell in a hand basket. Fortunately for me, it didn’t.
For feeding Ev while back at work, I would give her frozen milk on Mondays. Then, whatever I pumped on Monday would go towards the Tuesday bottles and so on. Friday’s stash went to the freezer for a future Monday.
LESSON #2: Make a schedule and STICK TO IT.
The biggest part of nursing is maintaining the supply. How do you do this? By creating the demand! When you go back to work, your schedule is disrupted. You aren’t nursing on demand anymore, so you have to make sure you keep some sort of demand. Try to keep things as “business as usual” by working with your employer to set aside specific times each day to pump.
My schedule is 9 AM, NOON and 3 PM. During this time I head up to our designated pumping area (my friend and I affectionately call it the “Lactation Station”) with the portable WiFi and our laptops. We are gone for 30 minutes at a time, but we’re working the whole time we’re away.
LESSON #3: Have a support system to keep you on track!
It could have been REALLY easy for me to call it quits several times during this journey, but my “Pumpin’ Buddy,” Chelsea, has helped me stick with it.
We motivate each other on the days where things just aren’t going as we want (low supply) and cheer each other on when we have a great day! We share tips and tricks, articles and even snacks to make sure we’re successful at our goal. We Snapchat each other during our “mommy breaks” to keep each other entertained and to pass the time.
We’re both just shy of our goals (ONE YEAR!) and we’re admittedly getting a bit tearful at the idea that we may soon be weaning.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a pumping buddy, find a family member or friend who can relate and help you stick with it. Lots of my girlfriends nursed their babies and they’ve been a wonderful support system. They’ve given me advice on pumping accessories I MUST have, snacks to try to boost/maintain supply and motivation on the days when nursing/pumping just wasn’t fun or easy.
LESSON #4: You HAVE to hydrate and you HAVE to snack.
They aren’t kidding when they say calories help. Nursing moms really DO need to take in an extra 250-300 calories a day when nursing/pumping exclusively. Why? Because breastfeeding not only takes a lot of nutrients away from you to put into the milk, but also because the act of nursing itself generates a higher metabolism (to create the milk, of course).
Oatmeal has been a lifesaver for me, so I always keep my desk drawer stocked with oatmeal bars. I also do my best to bring in healthy snacks, such as fruits, trail mix and yogurt to ensure I’m replenished after each trip to the Station. There are the occasional days I’ll cheat and have a cupcake instead. We’re all human.
There WAS a time that my supply was not keeping up with Evan’s daycare bottle demand. After much research, I was referred to the Oat Mama bars. These are pricey, but they really did help get my supply back up to a level I could maintain. Better yet? They taste amazing considering some of the ingredients (flax seed, brewer’s yeast…).
Another important item?
The days that I don’t do a good job of filling up my Mercy bottle are the days that I truly don’t pump as much as I need. The days that I’m good about staying up on my water intake? I not only pump what I need but I also feel more mentally alert.
LESSON #5: Staying organized will make your life a LOT easier.
I mean, this should be a duh, but it unfortunately wasn’t for me at the beginning. I came back to work thinking I was so ready for my pumping breaks. I had a little tote bag with my pump (I opted out of the upgrade with the pump-specfic tote bag), a separate bag with my pumping parts and bottles. After lugging back and forth two tote bags plus a cooler with the expressed milk, I realized I was woefully wrong.
Chelsea came back to work with her Sarah Wells bag and I immediately realized the error in my ways. Not only are these bags extremely well compartmentalized with so much storage room, but they’re CUTE. What mom wants to lug a very obvious nursing machine around when you can carry something that’s stylish and fun?
The best part about this bag (and the main reason I was sold)? It can easily be used post-nursing. The inside is insulated making it perfect for toting kiddos snacks and juice boxes/water bottles in the future.
LESSON #6: Always remember WHY you’re doing it.
As I mentioned above, there were plenty of days where my supply dropped, I was exhausted, and the last thing I wanted to do was lug my bag up to the Station to be hooked up to the machine and milked like a dairy cow.
But why didn’t I quit there? Not because I was against formula. No, I kept at it because when I was home with Ev, she and I had a bond while nursing. I knew I was creating something JUST for her – something special made with all of the ingredients she needed to fight illnesses and fill her belly with just the right amount of nutrients and calories she needed to get through that growth spurt or master her newest milestone.
I’m doing this for my daughter. It’s just the first thing in a LONG list of things I’ll do and/or give just to her in her lifetime. I’m proud that I made a goal for myself and stuck with it and even more happy that it’s something I can do for the benefit of my little angel.