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Making It Work

Tips for Pumping at Work

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 1, January-February 2005, pp. 18-20

"Making It Work" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help mothers who wish to combine breastfeeding and working. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Mother's Situation

Breastfeeding my first child worked well until I went back to work. When I returned to work I couldn't pump as often as I needed to and I had mastitis repeatedly. I also couldn't pump enough milk for my son so I was supplementing with formula from the very beginning. I did manage to breastfeed until he was about 15 months old. Now I am expecting a new baby and I want to avoid the issues I dealt with last time. What do I need to do to prevent mastitis and breastfeed without supplementing after I return to work?

Mother's Response

I think your determination to nurse for 15 months through the troubles you had demonstrated how devoted you are to this process of working and breastfeeding. It does take determination to keep going when faced with challenges such as yours.

I do not know what your work situation is, but having nursed four babies and worked full and part-time as a registered nurse, I know this issue well and I know how tough it can be sometimes. Be assertive and up front with your boss and fellow employees about your plans. Assure them that you will be pulling your fair share but that you need to break every three hours to express your milk. I would not share with them that you had mastitis repeatedly in the past, it's none of their business. I think regularly expressing your milk every three hours with an automatic breast pump will help you maintain a good milk supply and avoid mastitis.

If you notice any resistance about your pumping schedule from your co-workers, go directly to the source and discuss any issues they have in a professional manner. If you need to clock in and clock out every time you pump, then do it. If you have to come in early and stay late to put in your hours, then do it. Remember, sometimes the best advocates we have when it comes to breastfeeding are our fellow co-workers.

Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN
Manhattan KS USA

Mother's Response

I returned to work when my son Aidan was four months old. I found quickly that I wasn't pumping enough to meet his demands. I tried everything. I pumped more, drank plenty of fluids, and nursed him during my lunch breaks. No matter what I tried I could not pump enough. I, too, had to resort to supplementing with formula. He received about two to four ounces of formula per day. When he was 11 months old, I was able to stop pumping and I am still happily nursing him on my lunch hour.

I didn't start pumping before my return to work and I regret it. About a month or so before your return to work, it might help if you start pumping during your morning nursing session. Nurse your baby on one side and pump on the other side. Pumping in the morning will yield the most milk. Put this milk in your freezer and don't forget to label it with the date. Shelf life for the milk varies on what type of freezer you have. If you pump about three ounces a day for about 30 days, you will have about 90 ounces by the time you go back to work. This is a great supply for those days when you may not be able to pump enough. This will also give you time to get used to the pump. If you will be working full time I recommend investing in a good electric pump.

In regard to avoiding mastitis, it is important to get plenty of rest during those first days back to work. I know we all feel that we need to be super mother and take on more than we can handle, but you really need your rest. Make sure to nurse often and try to simplify as much as possible. What helped me is cosleeping. Also, stay away from underwire bras as they can lead to mastitis, too.

Amber Myers
Anaheim CA USA

Mother's Response

Don't hesitate to pump in your office. Even if you have a cubicle, it is possible for you to pump without people realizing it. When I first did this, I put up a barrier. I moved a filing cabinet to reduce the opening to my cubicle, and put up a sheet. I had a small baby toy I placed on the corner, to let people know I was pumping. That way, if people were uncomfortable, they would know to wait until the toy and sheet came down. I had a poncho I wore at first, but I soon became adept at setting up the pump and attaching the flanges to my breasts without anyone being able to see anything.

My supervisor liked the fact that I could pump while I worked and no time was taken away from my productivity. What was really great was that my co-workers, both male and female, forgot that I was pumping and came to my cubicle to carry on normal conversations with me while I produced milk for my child.

It's a good idea to purchase an electric pump so you can pump both sides at the same time. You can also buy a hands-free bra, which holds the flanges to the breasts. By keeping both hands free, you can work while you are pumping, as I did. In this way, you can pump more and try to avoid mastitis and other problems, as well as increase your milk supply and provide ample milk for your baby.

For a time, the caregiver brought my child to my work and I nursed in the car for my two breaks and at lunch. A bit later, I worked a split shift that gave me a longer day, but I was able to take three 45 to 60 minute breaks throughout the day so I could go to my baby at day care to nurse mid-morning, at lunch, and mid-afternoon. This gave me time with my child as well as eliminated the need to pump. For the little snacks between drop off, breaks, and pickup, I was able to pump enough at home in the middle of the night.

Many mothers get mastitis when they are too busy and trying to do too much. You need to set priorities. If you can, get someone else to do the laundry and dishes, or just let them wait. Prioritize your life with your baby and his or her nursing needs coming first. Don't schedule your baby. Sleeping with the baby will encourage nursing all night. You'll most likely sleep through those nursings, or you'll enjoy those quiet middle of the night feedings when all the world is soft and still and your sweet baby is smiling up at you with a milky grin. Most importantly, always remember the phrase, "people before things."

Sandra Deutscher
Lakeside CA USA

Mother's Response

First of all, pat yourself on the back. It sounds as though you did a good job under some very difficult circumstances. Your child is very fortunate to have such a persistent and loving mother. I understand your desire to avoid mastitis, so here is some information you might find helpful.

Mastitis is sometimes associated with too infrequent nursing or with not "emptying the breast" thoroughly enough. I put that in quotes because, as you probably experienced, the breast of a nursing mother is never really empty. But if milk is left in a milk duct too long, the duct can become plugged and may lead to mastitis. I can't tell you if this is what caused your previous problem, but from what you say in your question, it seems possible. One thing to do is let the baby nurse often. Do not limit nursings at all when you are together. When nursing, make sure to try a variety of positions so that all the ducts all the way around the breast get used. Taking as long a maternity leave as possible after the baby is born will help you to establish a good nursing relationship before beginning a pumping routine. Even after returning to work, you may want to arrange things with your employer so that you are able to facilitate frequent nursing.

Some ideas to explore might be working fewer hours or having baby cared for near work or on site so you can take nursing breaks during the day. Some mothers also share sleep with their child so they can nurse frequently at night without the interruption of getting up to go get baby.

You don't say what prevented you from pumping as much as you needed to before but I will assume you are returning to the same work environment. Like many medical conditions, stress can contribute to mastitis as well. Something in your work situation may need to change so that you can pump or nurse frequently. Creativity is necessary. Finally, consider investing in (or renting) the best possible electric breast pump to improve your chances of thoroughly pumping your breasts in the least amount of time.

Krisula Moyer
Huntington Beach CA USA

Mother's Response

I returned to work when my second son was two months old. I used several strategies over the following months. First, for two months, I only worked half of my usual number of hours and I took my son to work with me. This effectively extended my maternity leave from 12 weeks to 16 weeks, allowed my son to become used to a more structured routine without a drastic change, and allowed me to help my employer meet several important deadlines.

When I finally went back to my regular hours, I made sure that my childcare provider was close to my workplace so that I could nurse my baby during lunch. I arranged with my employer to allow me to have a nine-and-a-half hour shift with a long lunch plus two 15 minute breaks. My husband took our children to the day care provider after I left for work so that they wouldn't have such a long day away from both of us. Also, nursing in the middle of the day helped to ensure that my milk moved through the ducts even when pumping wasn't terribly effective. It also ensured that my son had enough to eat on the days when he didn't want the bottle. A significant side benefit that I really missed once he stopped nursing was the relaxation and rejuvenation that happened during each lunchtime nursing session. There's nothing like cuddling and nursing your baby for turning a stress-filled day into a calm, productive day!

I made pumping a priority and made sure that key people understood how important it was, both for my health and for my son's, and how that translated into less lost work time. To minimize pumping time, I used a double pump and I also obtained an extra set of parts for my pump so that I wouldn't have to spend time cleaning parts while at work.

Finally, when I could manage deadlines by working fewer hours, I took that opportunity and alternated work days and home days throughout the week. On the home days, we would nurse as often as possible. This dramatically improved my milk supply and it minimized night nursing. Our budget was much tighter, but I believe that the reward of more time with my baby and more rest was well worth the material sacrifices.

In the beginning, I found that presenting my plans to my supervisor was the most stressful part of the entire process, but I learned that if I proposed a plan that allowed me to manage my most significant job responsibilities and my employer could see that additional staff wouldn't be necessary, my requests were granted and supported. Education really did the trick!

Amalie Davidson
Richmond VA USA

Mother's Response

I lost count of the number of times I had mastitis after my daughter was born. By the time I had my son, I had learned a few tricks and only ended up having it once when he was about a year old. The most important thing is to get lots of rest. I took a one year break from all my volunteer activities and happily accepted offers of help. Try to think ahead and have a list of easy tasks someone else could do for you so that you are ready when they offer.

Would it be possible to talk to your employer before your baby is born about pumping locations and breaks? Could you work a half an hour later each day and take a half hour break in the afternoon to pump? I know some employers aren't flexible, but sometimes you just need to ask. Maybe there are other women who work with you who would also like to have the same options when they have a baby.

Christine Nicholls
Victoria BC Canada

Mother's Response

It can sometimes be tough keeping up with the demands of a baby in day care. What I found most helpful was to pump once or twice at home, either before work or after we got home, in addition to pumping regularly at work. That gave me a little extra "insurance" that my child care provider would not run out of milk. I found that I was able to pump the most milk first thing in the morning, so I would often nurse my baby on one side and pump on the other at the same time.

Sleeping with my baby also encouraged frequent nursing at night, which kept my milk supply up during the week, as well as gave me more physical closeness to my baby that I missed while at work. And we also had a rule that when baby and I were together, no bottles were allowed!

Kerry Luskey
Prescott Valley AZ USA

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