Going back to work full-time after your baby is born and trying to keep the breastaurant open could be one of the most challenging projects you’ll ever attempt. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies 6 months or younger and nonexclusive breastfeeding after that until they’re at least a year old.
That’s the goal. Roughly 50 percent of women hit the sixth-month mark and just 27 percent are still at it at a year. But don’t let the stats deter you.
With the right equipment, strategies and mindset, you can hit your own personal breastfeeding targets—or come as close to them as humanly possible. Jessica Shortall, the author of Work. Pump. Repeat. The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work should know.
After having her first baby, her son, Otis, while working for TOMS Shoes as the director of giving, she circumnavigated the globe with a breast pump in tow. “Closets, airplanes, trains, busses, cars, you name it, I did it,” she says. Otis was 5 months old when she took her first business trip with her pump sans baby, to rural Nepal.
There was no running water and electricity was spotty. At first, pumping and dumping felt funny. But what else could she do? There were no milk donation banks just up the road. By week’s end, however, Shortall was a pro. “I was in a moving Land Rover, dumping my breast milk out the window on a rural road,” she says. In other words, when you’re working, you do what you gotta do to keep up your milk supply.
Four months later, however, Shortall reached a breaking point. “Exclusively breastfeeding was such an important goal for me. But when Otis was 9 months old, I just fell apart. I was facing another international business trip and I knew I just couldn’t get on the plane with my pump.”
Things got better with her second baby, daugther Etta, though, whom she breastfed for 14 months.
How can you avoid hitting the wall? What kinds of equipment can help you get the job done as efficiently as possible so you can keep at it? With a foundation of her own experience, Shortall wrote Work. Pump. Repeat after interviewing hundreds of moms in all kinds of professions who pumped at work. BabyProductsMom chatted with Shortall for her collective hacks/survival strategies on how to making pumping easier. “There’s no way to make pumping fun. But you can make it less difficult,” Shortall says. Read on for her tips and tricks.
Q: You continued working fulltime and pumping with baby #2. Did you do anything differently the second time around?
Shortall: With Etta, I was more lenient on myself. I started to supplement with a bit of formula when she was around 6 months old. I found that it gave me the mental energy to keep pumping for 14 months.
Editor’s note: To save 50% on infant formula, it’s perfectly fine to with the store brand. Infant formula is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. All infant formula sold in the U.S. must be nutritionally equivalent. That means that the storebrand formula and name brand formula must be the same, by law. Why pay 50 percent more for essentially the same stuff?
Q: To make pumping at work possible, do you need the works—a double electric pump?
Shortall: I’ve met some women who swear they get more milk with hand-expressing or a single, manual pump. But it’s like they’re speaking a different language. I don’t get it at all. I used a double electric pump as did most of the women I interviewed for Work. Pump. Repeat and never looked back.
Q: What’s one of the biggest issues with using a pump at work?
Shortall: The noise–just the fact that everyone might be able to hear what you’re doing. The stress of the situation can hurt your letdown and output. If you need to pump during conference calls, in the rest room or in a Mother’s room that’s not exactly sound-proof, check out the Ardo breast pump. I’ve put my ear up to it. It’s totally silent.
Q: What other kinds of equipment are sanity savers?
Shortall: You need those little boob diapers—nursing pads for your bra–because you don’t need Tim from accounting asking you why your shirt is wet. Lansinoh’s Stay Dry absorbent nursing pads absorb 20 times their weight and disperse wetness quickly. The pads use “invisible technology” borrowed from feminine care products.
Q: Any time-saving short-cuts you’d like to share?
Shortall: The trick it took me a whole baby to learn is that you don’t need to wash anything in between pumping sessions at work. Between pumping sessions, you throw your pumping stuff in a waterproof bag into the fridge and it’s totally safe. Snugabell and others make a wet bag that’s opaque so nobody can see what’s inside of it. Even though we pour cow’s milk into our coffee and don’t think that’s weird, some people get really freaked out by bodily fluids.
Q: Before returning to work, what can breastfeeding moms to make pumping easier?
Shortall: The biggest issue is building up that milk stash so you’re not stressed about your baby not having enough to eat while you’re at work. Shoot for storing up three work-shift days’ worth of feedings just in case your caregiver spills some, which is going to happen. You can build up that amount in a few weeks. Pump right after your baby’s morning feeding. If you do that most days, depending on your supply, you’ll have a little stash in the freezer in a few weeks. You’ll go from a few drops to half an ounce to an ounce, and so on.
It also helps to do a dry run before that first day. Put on the outfit you’re going to wear and see how hard or easy it is to access the pump. Just practice once or twice to take the mystery out of it.
Q: Would you recommend having two breast pumps—one for home and one for work?
Shortall: If you can afford it; if insurance covers one and you can cover the other–that would be amazing because you’ll never forget anything. It happens to everyone. Forgetting a bottle is okay because you improvise. You can pour a little water in two coffee cups, put a saucer on top of each and microwave them for a minute to sterilize them. After pouring out the water, you can pump into those and pour milk into bags or pump directly into a Ziploc bag if you needed to. But if you forget tubing, those tiny little membranes, the connectors or the pump itself, you’re sunk. You’ll have to live with this enormous chest all day. Or you’ll be hand expressing or running to Target, if you can, and buying a hand pump.
Q: Any hacks for promoting letdown, especially when you’re on the go?
Shortall: It’s important to make your environment as relaxing as you can get can. I wore my headphones, turned the music up really loud and shut my eyes. It would block out whatever weird place I was pumping in that day. I also did a lot of staring laser beam holes through pictures of my baby. Some people sniff something that smells like their baby for letdown, such as bringing their baby’s T-shirt from home. Stick a video of your baby crying on your phone. It all helps.
Q: Best apps for pumping moms?
Shortall: Mamava, which provides breastfeeding and pumping pods in airports, has an app with an airport lactation station locator. Other apps will help you log your milk storage, how much milk you’ve pumped, such Milk Maid. Don’t feel the need to track your milk production. Milk tracking apps are great for more obsessive Type A moms. There are also apps that let you get in touch with a lactation consultant in real time and ask questions. NuuNest is created by nurse lactation consultants who are lovely, compassionate and kind. I like them and I like that app a lot.
Q: Any tips for storing and thawing breast milk?
Shortall: In the beginning, I filled my breastmilk storage bags really full. Then I realized that if you just put 5 ounces in each, they’ll freeze into a little brick rather than into a big pouch. Bricks are stackable. You can put use a storage organizer or even just put a shoebox in the freezer, and stack the bags so that you’re using the oldest bags first–first in, first out. That works pretty well for freezing. With thawing, a lot of breastmilk bags crack and leak. Thaw them inside a big Ziploc bag, just in case.
Q: Is a pumping bra necesssary?
Shortall: I didn’t use a pumping bra all the time. It was a bad idea because a pumping bra can help make sure the flanges are centered right so you get better output and pumping is more comfortable. A good pumping bra, such as Pumpease, will hold them firmly in place. There’s one called Pump Strap, which is made out of neoprene, like scuba material. You can put it over your regular bra. It looks like a good one too.
Q: What other products can help make pumping more comfortable?
Shortall: Pumpin Pal flanges! The super shields are angled so you can sit more comfortably and spill less when taking them off. They’re designed to mimic a baby’s natural latch and be less painful. They’re compatible with almost every brand of breast pump, including Medela, Ameda, Lansinoh and Rumble Tuff. Not enough women know about Pumpin Pal and I’m slightly obsessed. When I was done breastfeeding and having babies, I did a very solemn ceremony in which I passed a couple of Pumpin Pal flanges along to a friend because they were such a big deal to me.
Q: Any tips for pumping on a business trips—and when you know meetings will run long?
Shortall: It’s tough when you’re traveling for business and pumping. While everyone else is just going about their day, you’re on hyper drive, thinking about where you’re going to be in an hour, whether you’ll have a room with a lock you can use to pump in. Who can I ask for access to a fridge? That’s always front of mind. I advocate making some allies. Say to a few people you work with, “Hey, I’m going to be doing this thing. We don’t need to get into details. I know it’s weird, but I’ll need your help.” It’s helpful to have someone who can see the look on your face, and say, “Hey, can we take a 15 minute break? I really could use a break from this long meeting,” instead of having the new mom, just back from maternity leave, always being the one asking for a break.
Another thing…on business trips, I always packed a manual breast pump just in case my double electric pump burned out. What if I plugged it in and it fried? That can easily happen, especially if you’re traveling internationally. You just never know.
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