By now, you’re probably used to the idea of rehearsing certain things for work. There are presentation openings, of course, but also the silent mantras that — let’s face it — help us get through the day (“I’m-smiling-but-I-really-hate-you-for-taking-credit-for-my-idea”).
Pumping at work.
And you guessed it: Even pumping at work requires a bit of a dress rehearsal. You can try to play cool and wing it, but as you may have gathered by now, the process of getting equipment and related pumping logistics down is enough to make the boldest among us hide under the covers. Even those of you lucky enough to be naturals at pumping need to remember that your baby will also need to get used to bottle feedings and expressed milk.
We’re not lactation or health professionals, but many experts suggest that breastfeeding moms who plan on continuing after they return to work need to slowly introduce a baby to a bottle and pumped breast milk (which can taste different, believe it or not, once expressed and refrigerated or frozen). This is not something you want to leave in your childcare provider’s hands on your first day back at work.
What can happen.
A baby who has been exclusively breastfed may reject their bottle and expressed milk unless they are introduced and grow used to both methods of feeding. There is plenty of material about when to start a baby on a bottle and nipple confusion, so we won’t add to the chorus. Just know that every baby is different, and you’ll want to see for yourself how yours is going to react.
Time for a dry run.
A dry run of your pumping routine typically begins at least a few weeks before you plan on returning to work. After buying your pump, you have to get comfortable using it. Some experts, like Allyson Downey, author of “Here’s The Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide To Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy And Parenthood,” advocate starting to pump early. Certainly, planning ahead and consistently building in extra pumping into your breastfeeding routine during maternity leave is a good way to build your milk stash.
Here’s where things get tricky. For those of you who are trying to exclusively breastfeed and feed your baby expressed milk, you may feel immense pressure to “produce enough.” It’s common for many first-time breastfeeding moms to wonder and worry whether they are making enough milk for their babies.
Pumping adds a whole other dimension to that perfectly normal anxiety. Can it get any more pressured? What you eke out of your breasts is out in plain daylight, for anyone opening the fridge to see... marked oh-so-clearly on the side of those BPA-free, plastic bottles (or freezer bags), no less.
For some, the pressure of producing enough milk for our babies means the urge to stockpile breastmilk long before you go back to work even if there is no clear need for a large surplus (which you may need if you’re planning on traveling or frequently being away from your baby, for example). Just enter the world of new moms in online forums and you’ll find that women certainly hold mixed views about how much to pump in advance of returning to work.
When to start.
While some women share that they started pumping and storing a little extra immediately after their milk came in, others advocate for only starting a few weeks before your return to work. The “wait-until-later” group says pumping extra any earlier will confuse your body into thinking it needs to produce more than it needs and create too much foremilk or engorgement issues later on. The group that starts early talks about the comfort of having (and later using) that surplus, and how it helps with a diminishing milk supply when returning to work.
To a large extent, whether you need to stockpile (beyond an extra feed or two to cover you for Day 1 and emergencies) depends on your milk production. Some women have no issue with their supply after going back to work, while others have trouble even at home, despite a lot of hard work and quality time with the pump.
Everyone is different.
Whatever you do, know that women have successfully pumped for their babies every which way possible. Our interviews with working moms show that like breastfeeding itself, it seems that every woman’s supply, pumping, and stockpiling story is slightly different.
Regardless of whether you stockpile a lot or a little, before you go back to work you’ll slowly want to phase your baby into their daytime bottle feeds. If you’ve been pumping since your baby was a newborn, this part of the dry run has more to do with making sure your baby’s feeding schedule is predictable for your childcare provider, and you’ve got the hang of how much you will need to pump (or how much you will supplement with formula) every day to cover your baby’s meals.
A dress rehearsal for pumping at work is also for you. Even if you’re a pro while pumping at home, doing it at work is a whole new ballgame. Even Superman’s outfit change was probably easier. You not only have to de-robe, but also must pull out your supplies from your pumping bag, assemble the pump and all it’s tiny parts, get dressed, dis-assemble, and then begin clean up and storage of your expressed milk.
You’ll soon be able to do this all in a few minutes, but for now, spare yourself the return-to-work stress and practice in advance. If you know another woman who pumped in your office, ask her for tips and guidance about things that worked or didn’t specifically in your office (e.g. where to pump, which sink she used to clean parts, etc.).
Bottom line: it’s a very, very tough physical and emotional transition. Ironically, the phrase “tits-up” just about sums up how you may feel about going back to work. While pumping may be the least of your concerns, anything you can do to get you and your baby acclimated to a new routine will help.