Almost 40% of breastfeeding moms who pump at work struggle to maintain their milk supply at work (a recent survey).
The worry turns into stress, and the stress further hinders a healthy milk production. And the cycle goes on and on...
What could you do to escape this endless loop?
Now, imagine if you need to work long hours and have to maintain a good milk production...
How are you going to do that?
Today, you are so lucky to hear a story from Heather Grace, a veteran pumping mom.
Just to let you know, she used to work long hours in one of the largest banks in the world, and yet, she never experienced any milk supply drop during her pumping journey.
Want to know her secret on maintaining a steady milk supply while working?
In this exclusive interview, she will share with us her pumping journey and her secret to a good milk production. Read on...
Rina: Tell me a little bit of your work. What you are doing, how's your working hour looks like, are you traveling a lot of mainly stationed in an office. And does your workplace support breastfeeding?
When I had my first baby I was working for one of the largest banks in the world in the mortgage industry.
I worked long hours (50-60 hours per week).
I traveled occasionally but not a ton and would be away from home maybe every other month for a week or so.
I was fortunate that my company supported breastfeeding in a number of ways:
- There was a Mother's Lounge on site, that had a kitchenette including a refrigerator, comfy couches, and most importantly a lock on the door for privacy.
- I did have to schedule my pumping sessions around meetings and other tasks but my boss and co-workers were very flexible.
Rina: How old was your baby when you returned back to work?
Heather: My baby was 4 months old when I returned to work. I was lucky to get 18 full weeks off of work with him.
Rina: Did you have a breast milk stash back then, how much? Since when you started to build your stash and how?
I started pumping and building a freezer stash about 3
I had over 500 ounces stored by the time I was getting ready to return to work.
I built this stash by adding a pumping session in the morning after my first nursing session and another pumping session at night after my baby went to bed.
Unfortunately, I discovered about two weeks before returning to work that I had a high lipase issue which caused my frozen milk to have a soapy like smell and taste.
I was devastated when my baby would refuse the milk (he took fresh milk happily). So I had 500 ounces that I could not use.
I ended up pumping fresh milk and storing it about 5 days before returning to work so it would not go bad to have enough for him to drink the first day of daycare.
I ended up being able to combine the fresh milk with the thawed frozen milk and he took it without issue. So his bottles consisted 1/2 thawed frozen milk and 1/2
Rina: Have you had any experience with baby caregiver not following your instruction (e.g. secretly introducing formula feed without you knowing), or overfeeding your baby?
With my first baby, we started out with a nanny in our home. I had zero issues with the nanny following instructions on how to feed my baby.
I left labeled bottles in the refrigerator with instructions on how often to offer the bottle.
I also discussed other ways to soothe my baby before just shoving a bottle in his mouth if it had not been more than 2 hours from his last feed.
I was nervous about over feeding him when it
When my son was 12 months old, we moved him to a daycare. I still nursed and sent him 1-2 bottles of breastmilk at that time. They also had no issue following my instructions and formula was never brought up or discussed.
Rina: How's your pumping schedule at work looks like? Do you also do additional pumping at home?
Heather: I pumped at 7am, 10am, 12:30pm, 3:30pm, and 5pm.
Best advice is to get a hands-free pumping bra and master pumping and driving. Saves a ton of time!
I pumped at night after my baby went to bed as well.
I pumped plenty of milk using that schedule.
Rina: What was the most unforgettable moment you had while pumping at work?
Heather: Most unforgettable moment by far was being hooked up to my pump and doing my thing when I heard loud knocking on the lounge door (which was locked).
Then in a loud voice, "maintenance guy!"
Then more banging on the door and what sounded like tools trying to pry the door open. So strange. Maybe a nicer person would have stopped what they were doing and opened the door but I need to finish pumping because I had a tight schedule to keep (pumping mommy problems)...
I told the guy to go away... He did eventually.
That never happened again. Made me
Rina: Did you experience milk supply drop after returning back to work? If yes, what do you think the cause was? And what did you do to overcome that?
Heather: I did not necessarily experience a drop in supply.
But because I only breastfeed at home, it took some trial and error on how often I needed to pump at work to keep up with the needs of my baby.
Once I got a routine down, my supply was more than enough for him.
Rina: Can you elaborate more on the trial and error that you did before you finally found your perfect pumping schedule?
When figuring out a pumping schedule, I started by pumping every 3 hours at work. I was falling short so I needed to figure out a way to get a few extra sessions in.
Unless you have a super cool job, taking 100 breaks to pump isn't always an option so I stepped into the daring world of Pumping While Driving. Yes, this is a real thing.
I used my hands-free pumping bra, hook the girls up to the pump, put a cover over me (I'm not too keen on showing the entire freeway my nipples, but hey, if that's your thing, go for it without the cover), turned on the pump, grabbed my cup of joe and pumped away while I commuted to work. I did this in the morning and on my way home.
That gave me those extra ounces that I needed.
All working moms need to know about pumping and driving, it will save your sanity!
[SEE ALSO: 30+ Pumping Hacks for Working Moms]
Rina: When did you stop pumping at work (how old was your baby back then?)
Heather: Although I did not wean my son completely until he was closer to two years old, I stopped pumping at work slowly beginning at about 14 months old.
I slowly dropped pumping sessions over the span of a few weeks. So he was nearly 15 months old when I stopped pumping altogether.
Rina: What was the most challenging thing that you faces while pumping / breastfeeding while working?
Heather: The most challenging part of pumping while working is finding the time. You have to be diligent.
It is so easy to skip a pumping session.
I found scheduling the sessions on my calendar and setting reminders was the best way to stick to a schedule.
Rina: How do you balance between motherhood, work, and your pumping commitment?
Pumping just became part of my day. It doesn't have to be a huge deal. I fit it into my busy work day and it became routine.
I also loved knowing that even though I was away from my baby during that time, I was still providing him with the best possible source of nutrition. It made me feel closer to him and accomplished as a mother.
Might sound strange but if you struggle with mommy guilt like I did when I went back to work for the first time, having something like pumping to focus on is very therapeutic.
Rina: A lot of moms are feeling exhausted juggling between their pumping commitment, work, and the family. What's your no 1 advice for them?
Heather: Take it one day at a time and don't stress over the number of ounces. Trust your body to do what it was intended to do.
Start well before you need to return to work on building a stash to take some of the stress off and then use trial and error to see what works best for you.
Pumping and working do not have to be stressful or an inconvenience.
You can make it work, it will just take some time to master it.
LESSON LEARNT FROM HEATHER'S STORY:
1. Consistency pays off.
Even though Heather was working long hours, she adhered to her pumping schedule and kept pumping.
Did you count how many times she was pumping daily? Six
No wonder she never had a milk supply issue. She's doing a great job by emptying her breast very frequently and that's the key of producing plenty of milk.
Note that every mother is different here.
Nancy Mohrbacher shared in her article that each mother has a unique 'magic number'.
This magic number refers to how many times a mother's breast needs to be drained daily (by nursing or pumping) in order to maintain her milk production stable. This number can be as low as 4-5 and can be higher as 9-10.
Remember that Heather told us she was doing trial and error to find how often she needs to pump?
By pumping 6x a day and keep breastfeeding at home, Heather was draining her breast frequent enough to match her magic number. And thus, was able to maintain a good milk supply.
What about you? Have you found your magic number?
2. Find a good support
Heather was lucky that her company fully supports breastfeeding by providing a pumping station PLUS allowing her to have a flexible schedule in terms of meeting and discussion with her colleagues.
Perhaps you are saying, 'Ah, she's so lucky...'
But do you know that you have the right to be given time to pump at work?
Perhaps your company is not naturally pro-breastfeeding, but if you have already negotiated about this at the very beginning (i.e. even before taking maternity leave or close to when you are returning to work), they may have given the support that you need.
I totally understood that talking about this with your boss may sound awkward, but giving it a try never harm, isn't it =).
PS: If you need help in what to say to your boss and colleagues regarding your need to pump at work, I strongly recommend you to check Jessica Shortall's book: Work. Pump. Repeat. She has some great templates
3. Plan ahead to build your milk stash and do your homework well
Heather did not wait until the last few weeks before returning to work to build her stash.
In fact, she started THREE months before, and that explains how she can easily build up more than 500 ounces just by adding two pumping sessions per day.
If you do the math, in order to reach 500 oz in 3 months, Heather just need to pump 500 oz / 90 days ~ 5.5 oz daily, which translate to around 2-3 oz per pumping session, which is fairly easy to achieve.
Ok, I'm not saying you need 500 oz like Heather did, but if you plan ahead and start early in building your breast milk stash, that will save you a lot of headaches worrying if your stash would be enough or not.
Another thing to note here, Heather finally found that she had a high lipase issue (which some babies refuse to drink) less than one week before returning to work.
What a panic!
She was lucky though that her baby was able to take combined chilled fresh milk and thawed frozen milk.
The lesson here: don't wait until the very last week to try giving the expressed milk to your baby.
You need to test high the lipase issue right at the very beginning of your stash
PS: Still need more tips on building your freezer stash? Check out The Ultimate Guide of Building Your Breast Milk Stash here.
4. Be positive.
A lot of moms struggle
But Heather looks at pumping from a different perspective.
It gradually became part of her routine. She embraced it and even thought of it as a therapeutic way to overcome her mommy's guilt of returning back to work.
Yes, it may sound difficult to do. I've been there before and I knew how hard it is not to look at exactly how many ounces I would bring home and how many ounces left in my freezer.
But, try to look it as an accomplishment, as your best gift to your baby while you are away.
Look up and pat yourself, for your hard work and consistent effort to continue providing breast milk for your baby (no matter how much it is).
Thank you, Heather, for sharing your pumping experience with us! I'm so honored to be able to feature you in this pumping mom series.
Heather Grace is a wife and mother to two children. After being laid off from her important and stuffy corporate job, Heather found inspiration in her children to start a new venture and try her hand at being a mompreneur. She loves to write and is inspired daily by her two crazy boys who give her plenty of lessons in life and motherhood. You can find more of her writings about breastfeeding, pumping, and surviving parenthood at thepumpingmommy.com.