Saturday, July 21, 2012

My Tips for Working and Breastfeeding

I attended our local LLL meeting last week and was so happy to see 3 new mommies there! Our evening meeting had been poorly attended the last few months, so I was so happy to meet some new moms.

A question came up about returning to work and pumping and finding the balance. I shared some things I learned and as I laid in bed with BBZ the other night (for over an hour, but that's another post for another day) I began writing a post in my head about things I learned (and am still learning) during both of my returns to work.  They aren't in a particular order :)

It's going to suck, but it will get better.
It really will suck.  And it really will get better.  I promise.  A friend who returned to work recently said during our conversations before she came back that she was waiting for someone to tell her it's not that bad. Well, no one told her that because it's not true. Going back to work after a baby, especially while breastfeeding, sucks. Our bodies are designed to be with our infants, so it's no surprise that it is hard to be separated. But when this is our path, we have to do what we have to do. And it really does get better. It's still hard for me and my sons are older, but it is much better than at the beginning.

The second week back is harder than the first.
For me, the first week was like syllabus week. No one really expected me to do much work, all the other moms kept checking on me, and I spent most of the time sorting through emails. It was the second week that reality set in. I'm a working mom. This is my life. It will be spent being separated from my children. It was a harsh reality that hit me that second week, and it made me feel very sad. The third week was when things started to get better.

Your baby will likely cry when he/she sees you.
Some moms think that something is wrong when they pick their baby up from the sitter and they cry. I read in one of the LLL books that it is common for a baby to cry when he sees mom at the end of the day. It was said that the baby holds it together all day dealing with the stress of the day and being separated only to let it all down when they see their safest person, mama. This still holds true for LBZ at 10 months old. That's one reason why I nurse him immediately when I pick him up. It's a wonderful way to transition from being separated to being together. Plus, that rush of hormones and holding the baby so close is the best way to let the stress and busyness of the day fade away...for both of us.
Let your pump be part of your work day, not a distraction from it.
I learned this with my second baby. With BBZ, I stayed strict to my pumping schedule of 10am and 2pm and would rarely vary this pattern. I made sure I was in my office during these times and even left my pump at my office overnight.  By the time 11 months passed I was so sick of pumping that I couldn't wait to stop! But with LBZ, I have a much fuller schedule and have to often adjust my pumping times. I take my pump everywhere. I pump everywhere. In my car, in bathrooms, in lactation rooms as a visitor in various buildings...everywhere. My pump is always with me, just like my purse is. It is so much a part of me that now, at 10 months, I am sad to see things starting to slow down.

Always ask if a building has a place to pump.
Since I bring my pump everywhere, I often pump in a random building where I have a meeting or a conference, etc. I have been really surprised by how many places have a lactation room open to employees and visitors. Most places are happy to find a place for me to pump comfortably. I have had to pump in a few large bathroom stalls, but this was rare and not really that big of a deal (to me anyway).

Don't freak out by a day of less supply.
This is so much easier said than done. I have found that every breastfeeding mother's biggest worry is not having enough milk. I have also found that I could have one day where I hardly pump anything and the next day I overflow the bottles I'm pumping into. I try and take one session at a time and let it go if I don't get as much as I hope to. I will often pump every 2 hours to make up for what I didn't pump.

Formula is not poison.
At some point during my pumping journey, I realized that the absolute worst thing that could happen is that I might have to give my baby formula. And formula really isn't poison. Lots of my friends chose formula for their babies. N had only formula and is one of the healthiest people I know. And it's not like one day I'm feeding my baby breast milk and the next he is drinking 100% formula, there is a lot of in between. I can try lots of things to increase supply such as pumping at night, every 2 hours, trying tea or cookies, etc. and even then I might have to mix an ounce or two or give one bottle to get by. This is not the end of the world. I am happy that I didn't have to give either of my boys formula, but understanding that if I did it would be ok, helped me relax when faced with the worry of not pumping enough.

Start building a stash while on maternity leave.
6 weeks was the magic time for me to start pumping. Nursing was established. I felt better, I was in a groove, and they were both taking a predictable nap in the morning so I knew I had some extra time to add a pump session. I had about 10-15 bags of milk when I returned to work, and I felt good about that. The more the better!

Freeze the milk in small amounts.
When I say small I mean small. Like 2-4 ounces. Frozen milk has to be used within 24 hours of defrosting, so keep those bags small to reduce wasting. Also, send very small bottles at the beginning for the same reason.  Breastmilk doesn't have to be thrown away in the same way formula does, but there are still precautions to take to make sure the baby gets the freshest milk.  If you send 2-4 ounce bottles at the beginning, it will give you peace of mind as the caregiver learns what your baby's feeding schedule will be. It didn't take long for my boys to learn that with me they nursed and without me they get bottles. The first few days during separation they took only about 2-4 ounces in a bottles all day.  By the end of the first week, this greatly improved.  They figured this out very quickly.

Let go of the guilt.
This is probably the hardest thing for any mother to do, whether working or not.  Guilt is a completely useless emotion.  It does nothing good for anyone involved.  To me, it seems to stem from uneasiness with a decision.  When I feel good about a decision and at peace with it, I carry no guilt with me regarding it.  I say this like I have it all figured out, but I struggle with being ok with my decision to work.  It was the topic of a very emotional time for me not that long ago, in fact.  Having a baby is hard work.  Being separated from that baby whether by choice or by necessity is really, really hard.  And it really is, in a way, against what nature intends, so I think something biological happens that triggers our intense need to be with our babies.  On the other hand, I honestly feel that I am a better mom because I work.  It is what works for me.

My job is a part of who I am.  It has taken a lot of thought, tears, a few schedule changes, and a whole lot of soul searching to find my peace as a working mom.  I doubt it is over since my happiness at work and my desire to be with my boys pulls me in both directions sometimes.  But I do the best I can to get by, and try to take one day at a time.

I am not an expert in this and I'm not trying to pretend that I am.  I'm sharing this as my own experience, which is likely different than many others.  But it might also be similar and maybe help someone else on their journey as a mom.