Before having kids, I thought the hardest part of being a new mom would be the sleepless nights. Don’t get me wrong, those are hard (thank you, coffee), but I never even considered the myriad of concerns and issues surrounding feeding. Despite taking parenting classes at the hospital and reading several books while pregnant, I pictured breastfeeding as a simple act of a mom and a baby nursing without considering everything else that is a breastfeeding journey — the logistics, the stress, the dietary concerns, etc. What I came to realize is that breastfeeding is not always mom, baby, boob. It can look many different ways for each family, and my story is no different.
As a full-time working mom, I had no clue how hard it would be to exclusively breastfeed. With both of my children, I went back to work when they were 12 weeks old and started daycare. Now that my second has just turned a year old (and is still nursing) and I’ve officially been pregnant, nursing, or both since September 2014, I feel like I have enough experience under my bra belt to share how working full-time and being an exclusive breastfeeder works for us in the hope that it will provide another new mama some support.
Know your rights
It is so important to know what you are entitled to as a breastfeeding mother, and best to arm yourself with knowledge ahead of returning to work (ideally ahead of going out on leave) in case it becomes an issue. While laws differ by state and company size, the best resource for determining your rights is the U.S. department of labor. Depending on the size of your company, exempt status, etc., there are varying degrees of break time provisions allowed, and knowing ahead of returning to work from leave what to expect will greatly reduce stress and allow you time to prepare. Be your own advocate! If you need time to express milk for your baby, voice any concerns and see what accommodations can be made. While I’ve been fortunate to have a private office, that is not the case for all of my colleagues. Not only do I feel it’s important to advocate for myself, but also for them. By arming ourselves with what the laws say in regards to private spaces available as needed, we are able to advocate for spaces appropriate for pumping — and that’s NOT A BATHROOM!
Make appointments with the pump
Plain and simple — you will spend more time hooked up to your pump than you ever want to think about, but you have to make time for it. Let’s face it — the days get busy, meetings get scheduled, projects pop up. Before you know it, it can be the end of the day, and if you aren’t careful, you could be engorged, leaking, and have forgotten to pump. My best advice is to create recurring appointments on your calendar for each day at your pumping times. This helps you remember but also ensures you don’t get booked solid without having time to pump. For me, I pump each day at the same time that my daughter would nurse if I was with her (which is when she takes her milk at school). This helps from a comfort standpoint with not becoming engorged, but also keeps my body regulated so that on weekends and holidays I’m ready to nurse her as needed. I’ve blocked those times on my calendar, and when my reminders pop up, I pump. Now, you might think it’s awkward for the office to know when I pump each day, but I say you can’t be shy. You’re feeding your baby! I dare someone to question me on that. I hang clever signs on my door so I’m not interrupted and it breaks the ice, and if anyone needs me they know to either text or come back in a few minutes. One thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t make the time to pump, no one will. If you’re committed to being a working/nursing mom, make it a priority.
Oh, the places I’ve pumped!
If you had told me I’d pump while driving, in the backseat of a car full of people, at amusement parks, and in a storage room, I’d never have believed you! One thing about working and pumping is that you have to be flexible. Sometimes this means leaving the comfort of the pumping location you’re accustomed to and pumping on-the-go between meetings. With baby number two, I realized the freedom of pumping while driving. I could get so much more accomplished without having to pump prior to leaving, and I felt like it really freed me up. I will say that safety comes first, so if you aren’t able to do this safely, then skip it. For me, I’ve found that getting hooked up and ready to go prior to leaving a parking spot ensures my drive is not interrupted. I can safely buckle up in my seatbelt and drive without any issues while making milk. In addition to my pump (with batteries or car adapter), the things that make this possible for me are a hands-free pumping bra and a nursing cover. I don’t always use the cover, but if I’m in a place where I feel like I’m going to be sitting in traffic, it certainly makes me feel less self-conscious, so I throw it on over my seatbelt. The pumping bra I’ve loved is simple, clips onto a nursing bra, and is comfortable. I did not love the strapless pumping bra that was recommended to me while pregnant and have found this one much easier. I usually have a nursing bra on anyway from feeding in the morning, so this just clips onto the front without having to get totally undressed. It’s been a game-changer in terms of saving time.
We’re moms. We’re busy taking care of an entire family. Sometimes getting everyone else out the door means very little time to prepare for your own day. On more than one occasion I’ve arrived at work only to realize that I left a part for my pump at home, or that one wasn’t working properly. To combat this, I have a backup set of parts and tubes in my desk, and I’ve absolutely had to reach for them a time or two. In addition to being prepared with extra parts at work, I highly recommend being prepared to keep your stash safe at home. Familiarize yourself with the recommended guidelines for proper breastmilk storage and come up with a system that works for you to manage your inventory using the oldest milk first. For me, being prepared also means constant vigilance over my stash. Having to evacuate during hurricanes and prolonged power outages have made me a madwoman when it comes to my deep freezer and breastmilk stash in the last few years. One trick that I love sharing is to fill a plastic cup with water and freeze it. Once frozen solid, lay a quarter on top. If you ever open your freezer and the coin has sunk and is frozen inside the ice instead of on top, it means your freezer lost power long enough for milk to thaw and re-freeze (cue the tears). If the coin is safely on top then your milk has stayed frozen. I love this quick reference each time I open my freezer for peace of mind.
Find your tribe
My final tip is to know you’re not alone and to encourage you to support your fellow nursing mamas. Like I said, breastfeeding can look many different ways. Some supplement, some exclusively pump, some nurse exclusively, some do a combination. We’re all moms, and at the end of the day, we want the best for our babies. Finding a supportive network of women will tremendously help you on your journey. For me, this squad is made up of my co-workers, sister, friends, daycare professionals, and a virtual army via several nursing Facebook groups. One local group that I highly recommend is Jax Beach Breastfeeding Support. The moms in this group are a wealth of knowledge about local resources as well as tips on making your journey work for you. I’ve attended a group session as well as been active in their forums over the last few years and wish I could thank each person in that group for their advice and motivation to continue on this journey. You might wonder why I say that the daycare professionals are part of this tribe. For me, it was important to find a center that would work with me to enable my daughter to take breastmilk for as long as she needed. Her teachers have helped us from day one with helping us figure out how much to send in each bottle, transitioning from bottle to sippy cup, permitting breastmilk beyond an infant setting, and understanding that this was important to us. Each person in my tribe has made our breastfeeding story what it is today, and I’m eternally grateful.
I know breastfeeding is a hot topic, and I will never presume to say my way is right for everyone. My hope in sharing these tips is that I can provide some relief for a new mom in a way I wish I would have had when I started nursing in 2015. This is the stuff they don’t teach in school, and World Breastfeeding Month is the perfect opportunity for us to find another mom and share our story.
About the Author
Robyn Reeves is a Christian wife and mother trying to navigate the delicate balance of family and a full-time career. Having originally moved to Jacksonville to obtain her double undergraduate degrees from the University of North Florida, Robyn returned to the First Coast after grad school at Emerson College in Boston where she earned her Master’s in Global Marketing Communications and Advertising. Robyn met her husband, Ryan, during her first week on the job at Jacksonville University where she has worked since 2007. They have supported each other through not only the early years of marriage and family but also through a cancer diagnosis and a baby needing major surgery to overcome lung malformations. Robyn is confident that their faith has guided them through such hardships and today she is passionate about helping other families in similar situations. Ryan and Robyn have two young children, Waylon (3) and Whitley (12 months), and a dog who is family as well!