Pumping while working full-time is not for the faint at heart. It’s not even something I ever really thought I would do – but then so much of what happened when the boys came early at 33 weeks wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. Our guys never really learned to latch on well enough for me to breastfeed them easily. I tried to get the hang of it while they were in the NICU for four weeks but didn’t have much success. And I was just so tired.
I got the pumping thing down while they were still in the hospital, so when we got home, I went to pumping exclusively and just fed them with bottles. We were all a lot happier. I tried to find some guidance from my baby books on how to do this whole pumping thing but resources were scarce. No one in the breastfeeding support from our hospital really shared this option with me, as I think it’s their goal to get you successfully breastfeeding. I think that is a wonderful goal, but with two babies, it was more than I could handle.
I ended up pumping for a total of 11 months. The boys were three months before I had to supplement with formula, which I ended up mixing half and half with the breast milk. The part that killed me the most was on that day when I made my first half and half bottles, my heart was so sad that I couldn’t provide all the food my guys needed – but they could have cared less! They scarfed down the formula/breastmilk bottles just like everything else. Humph. Oh well.
I went back to work when they were three months old. By then I had a solid schedule. I pumped when we woke up in the morning for 20 minutes, while they had their first bottle. Then I pump in 4-5 hour increments until bedtime. While I pumped, I gave the boys their bottles so that I could make good use of our time (God gave me twins for a reason – I love to multi-task). I know, I know, you’re not supposed to “prop” up a bottle. But I believe that guidance was written by someone who never had multiples – and I was always right there with them. We used bottle pillows and it worked wonderfully for us.
I was nervous about the whole pumping-at-work thing – what would people think? Then I remembered I worked practically with all men and, really, what were they going to say? Nothing! I looked at it as my little break from the cube. In fact (don’t tell anyone!), after I stopped pumping, I still brought my pump with me to work for two months and kept the same schedule to take naps instead of pumping.
My office has great facilities for nursing moms. They offer lactation rooms with a recliner, sink, fridge, table and plug-ins, and you just reserve the room for a private meeting on your schedule. If your workplace doesn’t have quite such a set-up, there are resources online you can tap into to help make a case for setting up something like it. I’ve heard stories about moms who pump in the restroom or spare meeting rooms or even in their cars. You can make it work but it’s a little easier when your employer is supportive.
Some essential items for pumping while working:
1. A good, heavy-duty breast pump. Don’t mess around here. I used the Medela Pump-in-Style, and it was my best friend and constant companion. It had all the compartments you need to store your equipment, plus a cooler and ice-freezey-thing. I can’t remember if it came with an AC adapter or not, but that is essential. A battery pack is a nice back up as well – the power does go out here in the middle of Missouri during bad weather. And I won’t go into details on the few times I tried pumping in the car while driving home from work (yes, I did try it – I don’t recommend it).
2. A hands-free pumping/nursing bra thing. I’m not sure how I would have lived without this. With one of these, pumping at work becomes kind of little vacation away from your annoying co-workers. You can just relax while your pump does all the work. Of course, you do feel a lot like a cow, but reading a book can take your mind off of that.
3. A timer. A standard kitchen timer is fine. You just need to be sure you’re being consistent about the time you’re putting in. That’s the key to maximizing your milk production. (Feeling like a cow yet?)
4. Storage containers. I used hard plastic storage bottles to collect and transport my milk, then transfered it to freezer bags when I got home. Eventually my supply was low enough and they were eating enough table food (around 6 months) that I just used the hard plastic storage bottles to keep the milk in the fridge, as we would use it all up by the next day.
Keep the same pumping schedule at work that you established at home. Mine was 7am, 11am, 3pm and 8pm. No, I never really got up to pump at night after I came home hospital – but man, that first pump in the morning was rough because of it. On the other hand, it felt like I had produced a lot!
Patience is essential. I stuck with it for so long because I felt like it was the one thing I could really do to help my guys. I had the usual mommy guilt piling up – my babies were born early, my body failed them, I can’t even nurse them, I’m a horrible mother. So seeing those frozen bags of milk lined up were like my little accomplishments. I was proud. My pumping schedule eventually weaned off until I was down to pumping just once a day. Then I just stopped. It was the end of an era.
No matter how long you end up pumping, you should be proud. Pumping is hard, dammit. It feels and looks really weird, but oh well. Now you know how all those cows feel.