I’ve been pumping for almost a year now, and it definitely can be classified as one of my least favorite things to do. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. In fact, I think that a lot of moms who work out of the home stop breastfeeding because they can’t keep up with the demands of pumping.
I was definitely lucky because my place of employment has a pumping room for nursing moms. If I didn’t have that, I know my likelihood of still breastfeeding would be very low. If you don’t have one at your disposal, do know that in the US, it is the law for employers to provide you with a reasonable break time to pump in a room that isn’t a bathroom. If you’re in a building or office, check around to see if there’s an empty room with a door you can use… talk to the nurse… hopefully your employer will see the value in you continuing to breastfeed and pump and will support you.
Once you are set up with a place to pump, I have a list of a few tips that helped me keep at it:
Take off the pressure. Before I returned to work last year, I was telling my aunt my plans of pumping and how I was uncertain how it would go. She told me to try it but if it didn’t work, don’t worry about it. That one statement relaxed me so much. I didn’t have to hold the world up- if I couldn’t manage it, then it would still be OK. Pip wouldn’t starve; I could use formula, and still nurse in the mornings and at night. I found removing the pressure on myself to “do it” made me so much more relaxed and accepting of whatever was to come.
Set goals. Once I got started, I found setting goals for pumping(/breastfeeding) helped as well. My first goal was to breastfeed until Pip was 3 months old, when I returned to work. As I met that one, I extended the goal to pump/nurse until she was 6 months old. When we got there, I made the next goal of 9 months, which included getting through the holidays and a trip overseas together. After that we were home-free, in the zone, and twelve months came and went without even an afterthought. The goals were another way to help me remove the pressure- I wasn’t going to be doing this forever and ever amen- just for today, and then for tomorrow, and then the next day…. taking it one day at a time made the entire thing much more manageable.
Build a Freezer Supply. If you know you are returning to work and will be pumping, I found building up a freezer supply was a huge help to me. I started when Pip was around 2 months old, by just pumping every morning before nursing her. (Moms usually have more milk in the mornings, and early on your body is still making extra milk, so keeping a higher demand on it allows you to get more milk expressed.) I had so much milk that if I didn’t pump, my breasts would get engourged and uncomfortable. Sometimes I would have to get up at 4am to relieve the pressure. This can sound overwhelming when you are already exhausted, so just know that this was temporary, and different things work for different people.
I have a few sidenotes on freezer supplies:
-An instructor at a pumping information session told me that having a freezer supply was unnecessary, and I started to slack off a little on this. In hindsight, I feel conflicted about this. I think she was saying that so moms who didn’t have a freezer supply wouldn’t panic, and it’s true, they shouldn’t panic. But on the other hand, I probably could have kept up with the pumping without putting my milk to waste.
– Use good pumping bags. The Medela bags I tried leaked when I laid them down flat, and storing them upright took up a lot of space and was a PITA. I switched to Lansinoh bags and love them: they stack, have a double zip, and have never leaked.
– Have a system. I labeled each bag with the amount of milk and date expressed. Once I had a stack of frozen bags, I would put them all into a larger zip lock freezer bag and label that with the month they were expressed and stack those up. This way when it was time to use the milk, I would go to the bag marked “July 1” and go through that milk before moving on to “July 2” bag or “August 1” bag, for example.
– Using the freezer supply. I found it best to use a bag of frozen milk a day to supplement the freshly expressed milk I left for my daughter. So let’s say I pumped 12 ounces a day and she needed 3 4-oz bottles for daycare. I would make 2 of those bottles from the freshly expressed milk and freeze the rest of the expressed milk for later use. I’d use older frozen milk for the 3rd bottle. There’s lots of different ways to manage this (you can also use frozen milk for baby cereal, etc.) and there are some incredibly thorough sites out there like kellymom.com with helpful resources on how to manage expressed milk, including the guidelines for how long it will keep.
– Never, ever throw out expressed milk unless you have a damn good reason!* ;)
Make pumping sessions as relaxing and enjoyable as possible. Read a favorite magazine, visit your favorite blogs, have your favorite drink or snack, watch some good TV. Don’t watch the pump, don’t watch the milk. Don’t stress! If you spend the session stressing, then you will have more reason to not want to do it next time. So try to relax and find something distracting and enjoyable to do with your time, if possible.
Get a hands-free pumping bra. This is an absolute must. The first time my husband and I saw one of the bras, in our breastfeeding class, I have to admit, we snickered. It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie! But it is by far the best contraption on this earth when it comes to pumping. You don’t have to hold the cups or keep up the suction; the bra does it all for you, leaving your hands free to drink your coffee or hold your book or work on your laptop.
Ask for help. I hate washing the pump parts. I don’t know why, but it’s like the final task that just kind of breaks my back. So I started asking my hsuband to clean the pump parts for me. It was awesome! I didn’t have that one last annoying task hanging over my head, and the next time I went to pump the parts were all (magically) clean. :)
Refrigerate (don’t wash) your pump parts between sessions. If I pump more than once a day, I just put the pump parts with the two empty bottles into a zip lock bag and into the fridge. If there’s any milk residue on the parts it won’t go bad since it’s in the fridge, and next time I can just grab them and start pumping. This saves soooo much time, and again it saves me of having to do my least favorite thing (washing the parts).
Go gentle with yourself. This mothering business is hard work. Managing a newborn is completely foreign territory (at least it was for me). Stressing and fretting about milk on top of it can be particularly disheartening. The best advice I can give is to go with the flow. Do what works for you, what is easy, and don’t be hard on yourself. And always remember that even by thinking about all this, you’re doing the very best for your kiddo, and that is something to be proud of.