In last week’s episode of Best of Both Worlds (the one that featured the interview with Kristen from The Frugal Girl), the question section featured a listener who was having a rough time returning to work after having her second child. She was feeling behind on everything, and she also mentioned pumping at work. A number of listeners drew connections between these two.
Pumping takes a lot of time. Nursing mothers who choose to pump at work generally need to stop what they’re doing multiple times during the work day for some amount of time (often 30 minutes or so, plus pump assembly and milk storage takes time…). Some folks are able to continue working while pumping, but this doesn’t always work. Pumping also isn’t a particularly pleasant experience, especially if you are aiming for a certain number of ounces and seem to feed a child more easily than you fill a bottle. (Cue watching the drops…)
Sarah and my advice was to let a lot of other things go, and recognize that these rough months wouldn’t last forever, but some people noted that we could have mentioned that pumping is optional.
So, in case anyone is wondering, pumping is 100 percent optional! Breastfeeding itself is optional, but pumping is especially so. This listener was a few weeks back at work after a 5 month maternity leave, so the baby was pretty much old enough to be starting solid foods anyway (at around 6 months). It might be possible to scale down the pumping (to maybe once a day), have the baby scale up the solids during the work day and nurse in the morning, and after work and more on demand on weekends. Or the listener could skip pumping entirely, and use formula during the work day and nurse when she wasn’t at work. All of these would be ways to continue breastfeeding without some of the time pressure.
However, I do know from long experience talking with new parents that the belief is out there that feeding breastmilk exclusively (whether nursing or pumping or some combination thereof) until age 12 months is what a good mother “must” do. I can disagree with this story — plenty of amazing moms do not do this — but I know it can be a deeply held belief.
Less fraught: There are also a number of moms who do enjoy breastfeeding and would like to keep it up as long as possible, and who find it easier to nurse at night/mornings/weekends when the supply is high, which pumping frequently does facilitate.
In any case, if you do want to breastfeed for a while, and intend to go back to work before a baby is 12 months old, there are a few options.
Obviously extending a maternity leave as much as possible helps. A three month old baby needs to be fed more frequently, and can only have milk/formula. A six month old baby is a different story. (Of course, our listener had already done this, so it’s not a fool proof answer for lowering breastfeeding stress.)
Working from home as much as possible for the few months after returning to work is also a good way to have the best of both worlds. If you have a nanny (or other parent/relative) caring for your baby, you can have that person bring you the baby at feeding times. I have found it possible to edit or type one-handed or be on some phone calls while nursing (you start dividing your contacts into People I Can Call While Nursing A Baby and People I Cannot Call While Nursing A Baby). Since you’re not commuting, this can also make for a shorter day away from the baby.
Post-Covid this is an option for a lot more jobs than it used to be. It doesn’t have to be either/or — working from home 2-3 days per week and from the office 2-3 days per week would still reduce the total number of feedings that must be pumped.
I know not all jobs can be done from home. For those that can’t be, negotiating for a temporary part-time schedule if you want to breastfeed exclusively might make the first few months back at work feel more doable (though it is going to involve a pay cut that might make life feel less doable…so your mileage may vary). If the organization knows this is not forever, but just for 6 months or so, that might make it easier to get to yes. Then this would reduce the number of feedings away from the baby too.
As for the pumps themselves, I know that some people have had luck with Elvie and Willow and other such “wearable” (and theoretically quiet) pumps. I bought one and was planning to try it out with my fifth kid during long airplane rides and such — and then Covid happened and I didn’t leave the house for months, to the point where the baby refused to even take a bottle. So! I welcome reports of other people’s experiences with whether that made it possible to work while pumping. Again, not all work is the same — it might be possible to do a phone call with a wearable pump but potentially not lead a class of first graders…
If you worked away from home and pumped, what tips would you add for the listener?
In other news: I thought that my trip to Paris might lead the toddler to lose interest in “mommy milk.” I did not bring my pump, though (perhaps TMI) I did express milk daily. I returned home Thursday night, took him upstairs with some “baba milk” and rocked him. He drank the bottle for a while, then looked at me and said “Me want mommy milk.” I guess he didn’t forget. It’s fine. He won’t still be breastfeeding while learning to drive.
In other other news: Friend of the blog Camille Pagán has a brand new novel out this week! It’s called Everything Must Go, and it’s got her trademark witty take on women’s relationships with family and friends. Plus, the main character is a professional organizer, so the “everything must go” concept takes on multiple meanings…If you have a Kindle Unlimited account, then the book is free. Please check it out!