Nursing and Working: My Secrets

  • Posted by Nancy Bird

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child I was so very excited. I signed up for all the classes that the hospital offered. Among them was a four hour breastfeeding class. It was broken down into two weeks worth of sessions, each two hours in length. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would need that much instruction!!

The classes were run by an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and she seemed like such a warm caring lady! I remember during one of the classes someone asked her how long she nursed her babies. I was intrigued when she answered “probably what most would consider a long time.” I had no idea what she could mean.

The first class that was given dealt mainly with getting breastfeeding off to a good start and how to be successful at continuing. The second class was on working and nursing. Up to that time I hadn’t given much thought to what one does when she is working, and nursing. I am so thankful now for that class. I never would have been able to work and nurse my babies if it weren’t for that IBCLC! She gave us handouts covering what kind of pumps are available, spoke with us on milk storage, what to wear to work, to facilitate pumping and more. She made herself available to us by phone in case questions came up later.

One disadvantage for me with this breastfeeding class, was the lag time between the class (August) and when I actually went back to work (January). By that time, some of the finer points were fuzzy, and I relied heavily on library books to keep me going. I knew no one else who had worked and pumped for more than a few weeks. I am honestly not sure what kept me going. The first few weeks back at work were so difficult. I worked twelve hour shifts, so would be away from home for fourteen hours on average. Fortunately I worked only seven out of fourteen days. My baby would get up every two hours to nurse, and I was exhausted. One day in desperation, I laid down to nurse her, and didn’t wake up until morning. As I awoke I remember looking down to my peacefully sleeping babe, who had her mouth still open, just an inch from my nipple. I giggled, thinking of the all night buffet that must have gone on while I slept peacefully. After that I never got up to feed her again. She slept with me, and nursed at will all night. Both of us were better rested!!

Another “learning experience” for me came with the type of pump I was using. On the recommendation of my LC, I bought a Medela Mini-electric. At the hospital they had given me a Medela hand pump as well. Trying to save money on a pump, I decided to use the two together to “double pump” since I knew that would help my milk supply. I’m sure I was quite a sight that first week!! I managed a system to hold the mini electric in the crook of my arm, while operating the hand pump with one hand, and holding it with the arm that was holding the electric in place! By the end of the first week I went out and bought a second mini-electric. These pumps worked very well for me, even though they are not rated for full time use. After eight months of using the two mini electrics, a friend loaned me her Medela Pump in Style. It was wonderful and I used it until I quit pumping when my daughter was fifteen months old. I bought one for myself when I had my second daughter.

In the same way that nursing a baby is a little different for every mom, so is pumping for your baby. After reading all you can, and talking with anyone you can find that has done it, it comes down to what works for you. Here are a few personal tips that worked for me:

  • Keep a “goodie bag” at work with extra supplies. This helps increase confidence, and often makes a minor setback one less hassle to deal with. In my goodie bag I kept: extra breast pads, an extra shirt, non-perishable snacks, some money (for those days I forgot my lunch!), extra pump parts and a hand pump that didn’t require electricity.
  • Develop a support network. I worked with almost all women, few of which had nursed a baby, and none had pumped for more than a few months. While they couldn’t give me ‘been there, done that’ kind of support, there were several who were supportive anyway. You will probably quickly learn who you can count on, and who doesn’t really understand why you are doing this. It is also important to find a support network outside of work. My husband was very supportive, as were my LC and parents. You need someone who will keep you going during the hard times, not help you find a way to quit.
  • Freeze milk in small quantities. I found that this reduced waste, and was easier to thaw. My husband was the primary caregiver for my second daughter and had a fear of feeding the baby a bottle, only to have her want more, and scream endlessly until he could get it defrosted. I, on the other hand, had a fear of him wasting the milk. Small portions seemed to be a good compromise for us. I froze in ice cube trays–each one was approximately one ounce. They defrosted quickly, and later were the perfect size to cool off a bowl of oatmeal, and get it to the right consistency for a baby on her first foods!!
  • Have confidence in yourself. One of the things that helped me the first time around, is that I didn’t realize that I could fail. I was naive, and didn’t know about all the things that could go wrong. When I ran into a problem I remember thinking to myself “that’s funny, wonder what is up”, and keeping on. I never kept formula in the house, and just didn’t think of that as an option. In my weakest moment at the pump I remember thinking “so what if I don’t bring any milk home? What if I’m tired of all of this?” then I thought of the alternative (formula) and figured my hubby would be disappointed, and so would I after I got some rest!!
  • Get a dishwasher. Sounds silly, but it was such a wonderful thing for me. When I got home from work, the last thing I wanted to do was take apart my pump and carefully wash it so I could have it ready for the next day. It was glorious to be able to toss the parts in the dishwasher and have them ready in the morning! Whether you get an automatic dishwasher, or designate the duty to your husband, this is something I highly recommend.
  • Get a routine for your homecoming. There was one occasion–ONE only when my milk got left out all night. I had asked my husband to get it out of my pump bag, and put it away, and he didn’t hear. You can only imagine the weeping that happened over that milk!! Get a routine down for putting away your milk and prepping the pump for the next day. While that is the last thing you want to do, it is important!!
  • Enjoy your baby. This sounds obvious, but it is so important!! When you are working and nursing, often there is so much extra work given to feeding the baby, that we forget to pure and simple enjoy her! Granted, pumping creates some extra work, but it is important, and we shouldn’t lose sight of why we are doing it. Take time to enjoy the baby–even if it means taking a sick day now and then. You and your baby deserve it.