Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Pumping at Work: A Real Pain in the B00B$

I started working on this post several months ago, while I was still pumping at work, but decided to wait until I was completely done to post it.  That way I could review the entire process and see the full picture, from the awkward beginnings of fumbling with all the bags and the electric pump, to the end, with the decision of when to stop and make the transition over to formula full time.

So here are my tips for making the process as not sucktastic as possible, from one new mom to the next, written both in the trenches and in the thralls of PTSD.

1. Start out with an end game:  Most nursing-working moms know that their milk will peter out eventually once they go back to work. You have to know that your time is valuable (if you don't know this, just ask your boss.)  If you're going to be pumping at work, set yourself a target for when pumping is no longer a more valuable use of your time than work is.  For me, I know my little man eats about 4-5 oz per meal.  So I initially decided that once I was no longer averaging that amount per pumping session (10 minutes), this is no longer a good use of my time.

And then...I hit a wall.  I'd been pumping 1x a day while on maternity leave and 2x a day at work, and at 6 months, I decided that when I finished the box of milk storage bags I was working on, I would be done.  My supply was still okay, getting 8-10 oz/day, but I just wasn't feeling it anymore. I was tired of eating lunch alone in a bathroom hooked up to a milk machine. I was tired of people just deciding to use the conference room that my pumping room was attached to, even though I'd gone through the effort of reserving that room twice a day, every day.  I was tired of choosing my outfit for the day around whether or not I could comfortably pump while wearing it (i.e. I couldn't wear a dress to work for 4 months, because I didn't want to hike it up over my head just to pump).  I was tired of dropping whatever I was working on because it was "Time To Pump" and then having to get my head back into the game post-pumping. I was tired of having to work longer hours to make up for lost work time.
The face of "I'm done with this." 

And so, when I got down to about 10 bags left, I tapered off. I dropped my lunchtime session and only pumped in the afternoon.  When I ran out...that was that. I cleaned my pump parts, took my pumping bag home, and stowed it away in the nursery closet.  Haven't seen it since. (Note: I have had to use my manual pump a couple times just to relieve some pressure, but that's it.)

2. Multitask:  I would generally pump during my lunch break.  Part of this sucks, because...well...I'm eating my lunch alone, in a bathroom, while being milked like a cow.  However, it also makes the time go by faster.  I take my tablet or smart phone with me, turn on a podcast, have my lunch/snack, play some Bejeweled, answer some work emails, work on some blog posts, maybe send some goofy Snapchats to fellow moms who understand the nursing/pumping struggle.  That 10 minutes passed in no time.  If you have to pump a little longer (20+ minutes), bringing a tablet or laptop with you is probably a good plan.

3. Be Efficient:  The longer something takes, the more it's going to feel like a burden.  And you don't need that stress.  Have a bag with all the stuff you need, well organized so you can blow through each session like a champ.  Everything is awkward in the beginning, but soon it'll be routine and you'll zoom through it.
My bag: a magazine, my pump, a pumping bra (converted old sports bra), quick clean wipes, sterilization bags, milk storage bags, Sharpie pen.  [pump parts were drying at time of photo.]  If your insurance will pay for one of the tote-style pumps, TOTALLY go for that one. Mine wouldn't.

If you pump multiple times a day, don't wash your pump parts between pumpings--just rinse them, dry them off, stick them in a Ziploc bag and throw them in the cooler with your milk.  Then wash everything after the last pumping session.  I pump in a cozy private bathroom--which is super-convenient for rinsing/washing off parts.  Don't have access to a sink in your pumping station?  Use these Medela Quick Clean wipes.  If you don't have a high risk baby and you're good about rinsing/washing your pump parts, you also don't need to sterilize constantly.  I rinse the parts after each session (since I have access to a sink), then use the Quick Clean wipes after my last session of the day, let everything air dry at my desk (covertly hidden behind some files), and then sterilize once a week using the microwave steam bags.
My secret pump parts drying stash.

I would take my lunch bag into the nursing room with me, nom on my food while I pump, then store the milk and the pump parts in the lunch bag and put it back in the work fridge.  Then I'd grab the cooler again at snack/2nd pumping time, finish off my snacks, store the rest of the milk in there, and pump parts get washed and go back to my desk to dry. From start to finish, pumping took me about 15-20 minutes to get 4-7 ounces.

4. Post-It Notes:  Your brain doesn't work so well.  Use These.  Lest you forget & leave all your milk at work...or accidentally leave your steam bag full of pump parts in the work microwave all weekend.

5. Ice/Ice Packs:  If you're not heading straight home after work, make sure you load up the empty space in your milk cooler with ice or ice packs to keep everything at a nice cool temp while you run your errands and whatnot.  Aaand it may save the day when you accidentally forget to bring said cooler into the house when you do finally get home. :) If you don't have reusable ice packs, save a couple quart size freezer bags and just refill them with ice each day before you leave work.

6. Treat Yourself:  Everyone tells you to bring snacks when you pump.  I'll go beyond that.  Yes, I have a bag of carrots and a cheese stick during my afternoon pumping session--but I also have chocolate.  In some form, whether it be a mini peanut butter cup, a couple Hershey's Kisses, a delicious sea salt caramel truffle from Trader Joes, I have a little piece of chocolate at the end of every pumping session. It really helped me look forward to pumping (a little bit).  Not a fan of candy/chocolate?  Find some other kind of treat that helps you to look forward to pumping--anything that makes it feel more like a break than a chore.  I used pumping time to get caught up on backlogs of podcasts I like, such as Thrilling Adventure Hour or One Bad Mother. Or maybe you've got a novel you've been wanting to finish reading--pumping is the perfect time!

7. Dress for the occasion:  When I went back to work, I quickly realized that most of the work clothes I owned were not going to be conducive to pumping.  Tying in with #3 above, having the right clothes will help you be more efficient with pumping, and make you much more comfortable if you're not having to strip down to pump.  Button-down shirts or blouses with a deep V neck paired with a stretchy tank underneath were my go-to--I could put the pumping bra on over my shirt & unbutton as much as needed so I didn't get cold or have to bare excess skin.  I also had a few maternity tops that were made for easy nursing--also very handy for pumping.  I found this button-down tunic on ThredUp.com and used a $10 registration credit to get it for just the price of shipping! (PS--$10 credit waiting for you if you use the link right there.)
Hanging out in my "nursing station".

8.  Go with the flow.  Sometimes, things will not work out.  You will get busy with work and miss a session, or have to be out of the office for meetings all day, or someone will be using your pumping area when you were all geared up & ready to go. Or maybe you have to be in the field all day.  Don't. Freak. Out.  Just do the best you can.  If you can manage it, get an inverter and pump on the road (or during your lunch break in a work truck).  
Here's a good time to be thankful for coworkers who are dads and understand the plight of the pumping mom...and are willing to sit outside on the tailgate while you pump in the cab.

Inverter breaks or can't get to an outlet?  Don't stress, but maybe have a back-up manual pump.  I speak from experience, as I have TOTALLY manually expressed while driving--thank God for straight highways and cruise control.  It was not ideal, and I wouldn't recommend it every day  (once was really enough, honestly).  But it's one of those "rites of passage" moments that you can laugh about later with other moms.

One day I had to go out on a drilling job. I was super-prepared. I had both my electric and manual pumps packed.  I pumped before I left the office (7am) to give myself a bigger window before the next session.  Aaaand then there was never a good time to take a break. We were slammed ALL DAY.  So next thing I know it's 6pm and we're back in the truck with an hour drive before we get back to the office, let alone before I can get home.  The coworker I was riding with was a Non-Dad Dude, so I didn't feel comfortable pumping in the truck while he drove.  The pain was HORRIBLE. I was speeding on my way home while calling my husband to say "don't you DARE feed him a bottle, I'll be there in 5 minutes!"  I remember thinking, "what if my supply just...vanishes... because I didn't pump all day?"  Of course, it didn't. I fed my son and then still pumped like 4 more ounces after he'd had his fill.  And the next day, I still produced the normal amount. My point?  We survived.  My son didn't starve and now, 4 months later, I'm still nursing him twice a day.

Or sometimes (probably/hopefully only once), you will accidentally leave about 20 ounces of milk in your car. All.  Weekend. Long.  And you will cry when you throw it away.  It's okay. I mean...it's not okay.  But it will be.  Don't freak out.

9. Take A Real Lunch.  Eating alone in a bathroom while hooked up to a milk machine 5 days a week will take a mental toll on you--even if you're a natural introvert like me, so I can only imagine how horrible it would be for an extrovert.  So once a week I would go ahead and pump, and then LEAVE THE OFFICE and go have lunch with my husband or a coworker, or maybe even get some gluttonous fast food and run a few "errands" (there's a thrift store around the corner from my office where I love to shop for bargains--and a killer Chinese place with a drive-thru next door to it.  That's fate, folks.)  If you don't have an office job--still try to take a real lunch break in the break room, with other people, even if it means cutting one pumping session a week short because you have a limited allotted time for breaks.  Maybe order your favorite food to be delivered to the office, rather than your usual lunch from home.  You are making food for another human, and making big sacrifices to do it, and deserve a little splurge for yourself.
"Why yes, this is all for me.  But thanks for the extra fork and napkins."

10. Remember That It's Okay to Stop.  When you make the choice to stop pumping, for WHATEVER reason, that is OKAY.  You are not failing your child.  Whether you pumped well beyond what your initial goal was, or didn't make it to that goal, you are still an awesome mom.  If your child is loved and fed, whether breastmilk or formula, you are doing a good job.  It's a really hard decision, even when you try to make it easy.  When I decided "okay, I'm done when I run out of milk storage bags", that felt like a good, solid, easy endpoint...when I had 60 bags left to use.  When I realized I was down to 10, instead of being excited, I frantically searched my house for extra bags or  free samples I'd been given.  I seriously contemplated going out and buying more storage bags. I was physically ready to stop, but I wasn't quite emotionally there.  

It took a lot of willpower to convince myself that it was OKAY to stop.  I did a LOT of math--adding up how much milk I had in my freezer, figuring out how much I was pumping per day so I'd have an idea of when we'd run out, how long we'd end up doing formula before he could start cow's milk, how long the free formula samples we had at home would last us, how much formula would cost once we ran out of samples...I felt like I needed those numbers in order to feel okay with my decision.  Ultimately, I didn't buy any more milk bags (though I did find 5 extras at home and used those up as well). When I ran out, I quit.  And it was okay.  
Fed is best.

11. DON'T QUIT COLD TURKEY.  This is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave me about pumping, so I'm sharing it here.  If you've been pumping twice a day (or more) for several months, don't JUST STOP, unless being swollen & uncomfortable for a week sounds like fun. Taper off gradually, and your body has a chance to adjust with you.  I dropped the lunchtime pumping session first, which was basically the best of both worlds--I could eat lunch with friends, but still had an afternoon break to slip off to the pumping room and listen to a podcast/eat chocolate...and I was still getting about 6-8 ounces during that afternoon session. Once I finished pumping totally, I was pretty full by the end of the workday, but that worked out fine since I nursed Baby J after picking him up from daycare anyway.  Now he usually takes a bottle at day care about half an hour before we pick him up, so he's good as far as milk goes until bedtime--we just give him dinner in the evenings.
He's a fan of dinner.

12. Celebrate When You're Done.  I didn't do this, and it felt so...anticlimactic.  I used my last milk bag, and realized, "this is the last time I have to do this."  But I didn't have any coworkers around that day who could appreciate how BIG that moment was supposed to feel.  One coworker commented that I should just keep pumping forever since I was getting good quantity and it was helping me stay thin.  Not really helpful.  I ended up eating an extra piece of chocolate as my "celebration".  In retrospect, I wish I would have planned a special lunch or dinner for that day, or had a glass of champagne, or SOMETHING.  Because it IS a big deal.  I remember the first time I realized that I no longer had to choose my outfit for work based on ease of pumping.  And that I didn't have to wear a nursing bra to work anymore--I could wear a REAL bra!  I could have an extra cup of coffee in the morning if I wanted to because I wouldn't be feeding the kid for about 12 hours.  I could actually leave work on time!  

Ultimately, just remember:  this is temporary.  Yes, it's inconvenient and stressful and really isolating at times.  There will be times when you just want to give up and switch the kid over to formula--and when that time comes, it's totally okay to make that decision.  But in the meantime, you are a Pumping Mom.  It's an exclusive club, and while it sucks (literally), remember that there are moms out there who can't BF their babies, and there are ladies who wish they were moms so they too could be in the club.  You are awesome for even trying, so every day that you succeed is a day worth celebrating. (Preferably with chocolate and wine.)

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