As if being a mom is not selfless enough, breastfeeding heightens the level of selflessness. I loved and hated it so much, I embarked on this journey two times! I breastfed both my son and my daughter for a year. Same journey, two different paths.
With my daughter (my youngest) the milk was like the scripture… pressed down, shaken together, and running over. With my son, however, I had to try a few tricks to keep my supply going and even relied on a friend’s milk to help!
Self-Care & Breastfeeding
First, self-care is incredibly important when you’re breastfeeding. If you don’t take steps to eat well, hydrate, and get some type of rest, your energy, and milk supply can tank. It’s important to drink plenty of water (your fluid requirements increase when you’re nursing) and keep yourself well nourished, eating about every 2-4 hours. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, you require an extra 300-450 calories per day.
As far as sleep, sleep when you can in the beginning. I am not talking about the cliché “sleep when the baby is sleep” but I am debunking the myth that you should start pumping right away for the sake of your milk supply. NO!
However, what you can do right away is PRAY over your boobies! Pray that you produce enough milk. Pray for your strength on this journey.
The first journey I tired myself out so bad thinking about pumping in the beginning that I could barely enjoy my baby and could barely enjoy a moment to myself when the baby was asleep and the house was quiet.
My quiet time was not so quiet because I was listening to the noise of the pump. The second time, NOPE! I saw that when I put less emphasis on pumping I had more life in me. Most importantly, my milk was just fine.
I took my focus off having a freezer stash and focused on maximizing my time during my maternity leave. All that to say, don’t get ready to go back to work too early. At the start, your focus should be on getting breastfeeding well established so you have a solid milk supply and a baby who nurses effectively.
Gearing up for Back to Work
Get a great pump
The first time, I did not want to pay for a pump so I only used what my insurance company provided but it did not empty me enough. The second time I bought a breast pump by Medela. The point is to look for a high-quality pump that allows you to pump both breasts at the same time. Get recommendations from friends, do research, trial and error, whatever!
Invest in a few breastfeeding bras
These bras make feedings and pumping so much better. Saves time and frustration by just pulling it to the side or unsnapping and you are ready to go. I did not have one at first. However, it cost me more time pumping. I could have been emptying both breasts at one time. I quickly learned it was essential to multitasking (if you want to review some work documents while pumping) or cutting time.
Stock up on breast pads
Leakage is inevitable in the first few months of breastfeeding, so prepare yourself by wearing absorbent breast pads and keeping extras to change as needed.
Invest in some flexible tops
Button downs or any shirts with a cami underneath, flexible cotton shirts that can pull down—crossover or overlapping V-neck shirts or cowl-necks. The key is you don’t want to have to take the garment off or have to pull it over your head.
Now Prepare to go back to work
As women, we often feel like we have to make the choice between having a career and nourishing and nursing our baby, and that’s just not the case. As more women fuel the workforce, more mothers deal with breastfeeding and career demands at the same time. Therefore, leave the guilt from being at work out the door. You’ve made the decision that was best for you and your family. So, embrace that choice.
Form a Community
This can be a simple as joining a Facebook Breastfeeding Support Group or just talking to other moms who are breastfeeding. I had a coworker who was breastfeeding at the same time. We encouraged each other and talked about our milk supply, pumping, etc.
Don’t wait until the baby is about to head to daycare to try out bottles. My daughter did not like the bottle in the beginning so I just kept feeding her straight from the source. When it was time to go back to daycare, she did not take the bottle. For the first few weeks, I was going to the daycare to feed her on my lunch break and other times that I could. When I wasn’t there feeding her, I was calling frantically to make sure she didn’t die of starvation lol. I recommend starting to try a bottle at least mid-way through your maternity leave.
Before going back to work make sure there is a nursing room/space. Legally, you have the right to pump at work. If you don’t have an office, many modern workplaces have private rooms for moms to pump. If yours doesn’t, be flexible. Use unoccupied, private office areas or book a small conference room for a half hour. Close the blinds and set up shop. You might want to put up a “Do Not Enter” sign on the door so no one barges in.
Keeping a schedule
Once back at work the main way you can do to ensure a continuing milk supply is pumping on a schedule close to the one you kept when breastfeeding your baby.
Make sure you have your supplies
Pack your pump back the night before so it is ready to grab and go. Make sure you have your pump and tubing, plug, clean bottles, wipes, ice pack (which obviously goes in the morning of), hands-free bra, back up batteries for pump, milk bags or storage container, markers to write on bag or labels, and Tupperware or Ziploc bag for storage of milk in the refrigerator. If your job does not have a refrigerator for you, make sure you have a cooler and extra ice packs.
Talk to the Daycare provider/sitter about the feeding schedule.
Try to nurse before you leave for the day to empty before work and to hold your baby over for a few hours into daycare. You may want to ask them to delay the last feeding so your baby will be ready to nurse when you arrive at the end of the day. If not, you should nurse as soon as you get home to keep that milk supply up.
Make a schedule
Before the start of each workday, I would look at my daily agenda, to-do lists, and my meetings for the day. If it was coming up on time for me to pump and a meeting was soon I would pump earlier rather than later because you never know how long the meeting will run and I didn’t want to ruin my supply. Put it on your work calendar so no one schedules a meeting when you need to pump (it can simply indicate busy).
Coordinate with the other pumping moms in the office
It can as simple as a text or instant message to let each other know your schedules. Another option is starting an email group where you can keep each other posted when the room is open or trade spots if needed.
When you are pumping, have a strategy
On my good days, I was fine looking over work documents while I pumped with my hands-free bra. On my bad days, however, I needed a reminder. I would look at pictures and/or watch videos of my children while I pump and remind me why I do it. It also helps some moms with letdown. You can also just choose to RELAX!
Look for shortcuts
When I would finish my pumping session I would either rinse out the bottles and use the breast pump sanitizing wipes to make sure everything was ready for the next session. Microwave sterilizer bags are also a good option. The easiest method is to pop them in a container or plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator until your next session. They’ll stay cold and safe, and one massive washing or boiling session at night is all you’ll need.
Decide what you want to do with the milk that you pump at work. Some people know that they are pumping for the next day at daycare/sitter. Human milk can safely be kept at room temperature for six to eight hours. The milk you stored on Friday will keep just fine in the fridge for baby to have on Monday. However, if you are using it to add to your freezer stash, remember you can store milk in a freezer for between six and 12 months.
Drink plenty of water
I kept a cute water cup at my desk and I kept it full, even when I wasn’t thirsty. I never would let it stay empty. Seeing it with water enticed me to drink.
When you are not at work, nurse as much as you can
Nothing keeps your milk supply up like the skin to skin of nursing your baby. I know you are maybe a tired momma and want a break but this is part of the “it heightens the selflessness.” Take a break from the pumping and breastfeed as much as you can at night and on the weekend.
There’s a side benefit to this: the levels of prolactin (the hormone that encourages milk production) are higher during night feedings. So, this will help maintain your milk supply.
Breastfeeding is such a healthy option for you baby but, I won’t act like I woke up every day ready to breastfeed or pump with a smile on my face. Some days I was so exhausted and almost wanted to cry when juggling it all.
On the flip side, I loved the bonding experience with my babies and more than anything I kept going for the health and cost-savings benefits. If you do experience supply issues like I did the first time around, search online for a yummy, gut-healthy lactation cookie or smoothie recipe that can help increase your milk production or get some tea or pills. During that time, don’t stress yourself out about it because your supply will only taint more (like mine did).
Throughout this process, remember to be proud of yourself. Whether you breastfeed for one day or one year, you are still AWESOME! No matter how your breastfeeding journey turns out, you’re a great mom doing a hard job.