I am a full-time high school teacher, and I wanted to continue to breastfeed after I went back to my classroom. I pumped for the first year after returning to work for both of my kiddos. It wasn’t easy, and I learned a lot from the experience. I gathered together an awesome team of mommas from one of my mommy Facebook groups and my own experiences to share some tips for continuing to pump when returning to work. National Breastfeeding Month is in August, just in time for back to school, so if you’re a teacher or a working mom, I hope this is helpful!
Whether you return to work at six weeks or are able to take more time off, many mommas cite different experiences preparing both their baby and their supply for the transition.
My first baby was induced at 37 weeks and did not latch well for the first several weeks of his life. I started pumping on day 2 at the hospital. We ended up buying a pump on the way home and I pumped like crazy to establish supply and to track his milk intake to increase early weight gain. As a result, I seemed to have tricked my body into thinking I had twins and had oversupply, which I froze and used when I returned to work.
With my second I started pumping after the first three weeks, often at the end of a feeding for 10-15 minutes. This gave us a little bit of extra milk in the fridge to let Hubster feed Little Miss if I needed a nap. As her feedings started spreading out and becoming more consistent, I did start adding one extra pump session a day after about week four and tried to freeze 3-4 oz bags every day or two. I was only pumping maybe an ounce or two extra a day at first so it took me a few sessions to save enough, but this allowed me to have about 20-30 frozen bags when I returned to work, which took a lot of pressure off.
Most educational materials support not worrying about pumping for the first few weeks after birth as you nurse on demand and baby focuses on growing. Lactation consultants suggest starting to pump no later than three weeks before you return to work. They suggest having a “test run” for you and baby before returning, to see how baby does with a caregiver and bottle. The idea of “nipple confusion” can scare some moms into eschewing anything that isn’t her own breast entering her infant’s mouth. However, both my babies did use bottles sparingly those first weeks to allow Hubster some time. You may have to test out a few different bottle and nipple combinations; we did well with Dr. Brown bottles and Playtex ventaire bottles.
Some moms are able to get time to pump every three hours at work, which helps tremendously with maintaining supply. One mom told me she pumped on the way to work, which is amazing (I assume she carpooled but I’m not sure)! Other moms got up during the night even after their babies started sleeping longer in order to pump. I found that my most productive pumping was first thing in the morning if my baby slept in a little. I always pumped the other breast if he only ate from one side, and this is the most common advice I heard from mommas.
Support and Advocacy
I felt really uncomfortable talking about wanting to pump with my very male administrators. However, it is actually the law that employers give new moms both a private location and break time to express milk. According to the Wage and Hour Division Fact Sheet for Nursing Mothers:
Employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother. The frequency of breaks needed to express milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary.
A bathroom, even if private, is not a permissible location under the Act. The location provided must be functional as a space for expressing breast milk. If the space is not dedicated to the nursing mother’s use, it must be available when needed in order to meet the statutory requirement. A space temporarily created or converted into a space for expressing milk or made available when needed by the nursing mother is sufficient provided that the space is shielded from view, and free from any intrusion from co-workers and the public.
You have to be an advocate for yourself in your workplace. Be assertive, and try to have the conversation earlier if possible, rather than right before you return to work. Not every building has an easy location to pump, especially if you work retail or share a classroom. Thankfully I have a classroom door that locks, and my school nurse offered her clinic and curtain for use if needed. I know staff members were very uncomfortable with the idea that I was…you know…with high school boys just in the hallway outside! But unfortunately for them, employers HAVE to provide a private place AND TIME for moms to pump if they choose. Your administrator and human resources must be willing to work with you for this short time in your baby’s life. Be kind, but firm.
You may have a very supportive work environment…or you may not. Other moms share their frustrations and suggestions:
- “I work in a small hospital with ONE lactation room. And other non-lactating staff members like to utilize that room for who knows what (maybe because there’s a private bathroom?). Which sucks when it’s a busy day and there’s no where else to go.”
- “I do the scheduling at my school and I sat down with one expecting teacher before school got out and we worked time into her day with the help of a para. Ask for help is my best advice.”
- “I am a coder but located in a clinic and it was a battle for me to get a private space to pump. They have no problem accommodating the providers because they have their own office and let them block off time. But I had to be demanding that I need a space 2-3 times a day to pump. Having 2 pumps and extra parts was so worth it!“
- “The ‘scheduler’ at my school said I could do it whenever was ‘in the best interest of the students’… um, no — how about the interests of my newborn baby? She just didn’t get it. Nor did she understand that pumping upstairs and a million miles away in the BATHROOM wasn’t a solution either. Don’t apologize for taking care of your own baby. Pack snacks in the cooler bag and make it known that you’re a breastfeeding mom and that time is not a ‘break.'”
- “I blocked our time on my [online] calendar so people wouldn’t schedule meetings during that time. It worked for the most part…otherwise I’d join the meeting/call from my desk & hope they didn’t notice the background noise.”
Many moms also cited their husbands as crucial to making pumping successful, especially by helping clean pump parts at the end of the day and assisting with getting the pieces ready for the next day.
The teaching day is long; many teachers rarely get breaks beyond lunch (if you’re lucky and not supervising kids) and it can be very hard to find 15-30 minutes to pump and still get your papers graded and lessons planned. I have actually had meetings with my co-teacher while pumping. I had teachers who offered to cover my classes briefly during their own planning periods if I needed to pump. While I hate burdening people’s time, I also know how nice it feels to be able to help others, so I did sometimes take advantage of those offers. Depending on my class schedule, I pumped during lunch time (I told admin I could not supervise because I was pumping; they agreed), and once during my free period, twice a day. I nursed my baby directly after picking him up, or pumped when I got home in case he had already eaten before I got there.
I always used a hands-free nursing bra while I pumped; this cut my pumping time to about fifteen minutes from start to finish for my double-electric pump. The added bonus is that I am fairly well covered in case someone DOES walk in (this has happened). I did work while I pumped, although some moms said this stressed them and caused less production and they preferred to use that time to read a book, check Facebook, or look at pictures of their baby to encourage letdown.
To save time, I purchased an extra set of pump parts that fit my pump. With my second baby my insurance covered the purchase of a new pump, so I left my old pump at home and left my new one at school. I put as much together the night before and in the morning my pump bag contained:
- In two quart ziplock bags: 2 sets of breast shields/valves/membranes – one set for each pumping session
- Four bottles with lids (don’t forget the lids!!)
- Cooler and ice pack
- Receiving blanket: I laid this over my lap to protect my clothing from drips and wipe out the extra milk before putting parts back into the ziplock bag.
I kept the bag of pump parts in my fridge or cooler until I had a chance to clean and sanitize them after I got home. Having the extra set saved me from walking through the hall with breast pump parts to the bathroom on the other side of the hallway.
Like the nurses told you, the most essential part of breastfeeding success is WATER. I’m a teacher — I survive on coffee — and I could tell when my dehydration affected my supply. I actually took my giant hospital water jug with me when I went back to work and made sure I was chugging all day. Sure, I was peeing like I was still pregnant, but it made a HUGE difference. The best part is, water is free!
Most moms, especially teachers, swear by a double electric pump. They are more expensive, but I found my Medela pumps have lasted years with very little drop in quality. I also owned a manual hand pump, but I used this for a weekend away while my husband was driving, or for short expression after nursing. I was so glad we invested in a big double pump though.
I have only used Medela pumps, but there are plenty of other kinds with reviews and lots of other blog posts about the best products! There are SO MANY options out there to explore until you find what you love. You could get a pump second-hand if your insurance doesn’t cover it, but definitely buy all your own new tubing and shields and stuff; also, know the longer that momma pumped, the less productive the machinery might be for you. My insurance covered a new pump for my second pregnancy, so I had a pump at home and one to leave at school — that was a game-changer for me pumping this second time!
Besides your pump, I also recommend purchasing:
- at least one extra set of pump parts (just about all pump companies also sell replacement parts)
- lots of extra bottles and lids – often in larger sizes if your supply allows (shop for just the “storage bottles” instead of full bottles with nipples)
- disposable nursing pads – I prefer disposable for the life of a busy teacher and because they have stickies on the back – essential in case you leak!
- breast milk storage bags – I had the best luck with the Lanisoh brand for freezing, and stored them FLAT in the freezer until they froze. I usually transported my expressed milk in bottles and moved them to bags when I got home if I planned to freeze, instead of using the next day. (Life hack: I also chop up veggies and fruit and freeze them in the bags now that I’m done nursing)
- Ziplock bags for transporting pump parts
- Good cooler and ice pack (especially if you don’t have easy fridge access during the day)
- Microwave sterilizer bags: when I’d get home from school, I’d fill my sink with hot soapy water and dump all my pump parts in there. After I got me and baby settled, I’d got back and rinse them, then throw everything into the microwaver sterilizer bags.
- A Boon grass dryer thingy (I created this little tower from Pinterest and it was awesome) – after everything dried, I popped them back into the ziplock bags to be ready for the next day.
- a chest freezer: I did not have one with my first and we forever had milk falling on us from our side-by-side freezer. We bought a chest freezer at Menards for less than $150 for baby #2. Breastmilk lasts a few months in an upright, but up to a year in a chest freezer. SO helpful.
Other Tips from Mommas
- Wear dark clothes or keep an extra top handy in case you leak or drip, especially in the early days.
- Ziplock bags and rubber bands work as lids in a pinch…but keep extras in your desk just in case.
- Have lots of pictures and videos of baby to look at to encourage letdown.
- Keep pump parts in a ziplock bag in the cooler or fridge so you don’t have to wash in between sessions.
- Some moms have great luck applying fennel oil or eating lactation oatmeal cookies to increase supply.
- Sometimes you have to explain to students what you are doing or where you are going. This can be a great teachable moment for them!
- The 10 oz bottles from the dollar store fit my Medela pump so I bought a few extra.
- If you forget bottles, you can pump directly into a milk bag with the help of rubber bands holding it on the nipple mechanism.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Breastfeeding is a wonderful blessing to you and your little one. However, it is not the only way to feed your baby. Mom groups online can get pretty judgmental about breastfeeding, but you have to do what is best for you and your family.
You might experience frustration and even resentment when you are spending large amounts of work time pumping. Many teachers complain about missing the social aspects of their job; instead of catching up with coworkers in the teachers’ lounge, they are isolated in their classrooms. Your supply may decrease dramatically (many moms find they produce less for a pump than for their baby); stress or your cycles returning may impact production, or you might just get so busy during the work day you lose time to pump. I had times where I remembered my pump parts but not the bottles so I couldn’t pump at all, and got to the end of the day hoping my students didn’t notice my boobs were two sizes larger than they normally were. Lots of things happen, and all moms learn quickly the value of flexibility.
While I successfully pumped for an entire school year with my first, by the end of this past year with my second I began supplementing breast milk with formula when I didn’t quite have enough during the day. And she was fine with that! If you’re able to pump, that’s great! If you try and it’s just too much for you and you are stressing yourself out too much trying and you go a different route – that’s great!
And sometimes, the fire alarm might go off when you’re pumping. Good luck, momma.
Any other tips or questions? Post in the comments!
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