Maternity leave usually comes to an end around the time your baby’s “fun” phase is beginning: the cooing, the smiling, the (almost) sleeping through the night. And if you’ve been nursing, 12 weeks is also around the time when you feel like an old pro (rather than a flailing newbie). You’ve seen how your baby has grown, thrived and turned into a little butterball on your milk. Sore nipples and engorgement are a thing of the past.
And now your baby has to get used to bottles and you have to get used to hard plastic cones “feeding” off you instead of your warm, cozy little one?? It just seems so unfair.
But despair not. With the right equipment, schedule and frame of mind, you ‘ll do just fine…you might even come to think of the pumping session as your “mommy me time.”
Here’s my been-there-done-that pumping survival guide:
1. Build a milk stash while you’re still on maternity leave.
I found that the easiest way to pump while also nursing exclusively was to wait until my kids started having a regular bedtime and sleeping longer stretches. After being tucked in at 7 p.m. and not waking in the evenings a few nights in a row, I used that old 10 p.m. (ish) wake time as an opportunity to pump (while watching some bad reality TV!). Within a few weeks, I had a good few days’ worth of milk to bring to daycare.
2. Talk to HR (or your manager) before you return to make sure you have a designated pumping area.
I won’t sugarcoat it. The first day back at work is incredibly emotional, hectic and exhausting. You don’t want to add breast engorgement to the mix if there’s no place for you to comfortably pump. Your company is legally obligated to provide you with a private space where you can express breastmilk. Make sure there’s a door that locks and appropriate electrical outlets for your device.
3. Pack everything you need, every single day.
Here’s what should you in your nursing attaché case, breastfeeding backpack, pumping purse, or whatever you’re toting the equipment around in:
- Of course, your pump—hopefully you bought a high-quality, electric one with a battery pack.
- The bottles, tubes, cones and other equipment that came with the pump—check for these items EVERY SINGLE NIGHT because if you ever forget a necessary component, you’ll be spending your pumping break trying to McGyver the thing into working with pencil and dental floss and likely will end up frustrated and engorged.
- Extra milk storage bags and a cooler for storing expressed milk—even if there’s a handy-dandy mini-fridge near your cube, one day someone will stick a giant sheet cake in there for a surprise birthday party and you’ll have nowhere to keep the boobie juice chilled!
- A hands-free pumping bra; most nursing bra brands make one designed to keep the cones in place so you won’t have to sit there holding them in place for 20 minutes. This way you’ll be able to answer your boss’s emails and defeat your husband at Words With Friends while you’re making tomorrow’s “lunch” for your little one—way to multi-task, mom!
- A healthy high-protein snack. Like breastfeeding, pumping burns mega calories, and you’ll likely be hungry! I’ll give a shout out to the decadent Carazonas Chocolate Brownie and Almonds Oatmeal Squares. They taste absolutely amazing, and oatmeal is a food many breastfeeding moms say is good for milk supply.
- A BPA-free water bottle like a CamelBak. You need to stay hydrated to keep that milk supply up.
- A photo of your baby to remind yourself why you’re going through all of this!
4. Stash a pumping survival kit in your desk at work.
Trust me, you will need at least one of these items, at least once:
- An extra shirt and bra.
- Stain remover. (Breast milk droplet on your white blouse=big yellow spot that never comes out otherwise.)
- Nursing pads. You might have stopped using them weeks ago, but when you start pumping, you might leak a little bit again.
- Your multivitamins, any meds you take regularly, a toothbrush and deodorant. Because your life is much more chaotic than it ever was before, and these are things you’ll be sure to forget about on occasion during those mad dashes out of the house!
Eventually, once you get this routine down, it might dawn on you that escaping to a private room twice a day to prepare “meals” for your baby is rather freeing! It’s like a coffee break on steroids! And since we know that when you’re home from work, you get absolutely NO downtime, you might as well try to relax, enjoy and unwind when you can.
Jorie Mark is Vitacost.com’s Director of Marketing Communications and mom to three kids, ages 2 to 10.