Mommy stuff

>> April 27, 2012

I think this post is long overdue. Men - be warned. This is a female-centered post. It's all about pumping and adjusting to work after becoming a mom, and how our lives are fraught with emotions we cannot control. On the bright side, I might say “boobs” at least once…maybe even twice. So if you want to hang around for that, you can. But be warned.
A friend of mine at work recently came back after maternity leave, and (rightfully so) was quite emotional about transitioning back to work full-time, worried about leaving her only son in the care of someone else, and wondering how she was ever going to pump at work and still manage to get things done during the day. We exchanged a few emails over the past couple months, as I tried to answer the many questions about how to adjust and how to manage.

Now I am not an expert, but I have had a few people ask me about transitioning back to work after becoming a mom. So maybe you are thinking of starting a family, or maybe you are just about to head back to work? But I figured if three people I know asked me these questions, there have to be at least a few of you out there that never asked, but are wondering. So here is some of the advice I gave her and some tips I wish I had known.

Q: I'm planning to continue nursing after I return to work. But I don't have much experience pumping. How does this work? How much should I pump during the day? And how many times should I pump?

A: This is different for everyone, based on how much you "yield" during the day, how many hours you work, and how flexible your schedule is. First, I read these two blog posts, which were really helpful and talk about the "math" being pumping.

Thank you to my good friend Jamie for sending me those as I went back to work. I have passed them along to a few, very thankful, friends. When I first went back to work, Caroline was eating two bottles of 4- to 5-ounces at a time. After probably 3 or 4 weeks, she was quickly going from 2, 4-ounce bottles (a total of 8 ounces) to 2, 8-ounce bottles (16 ounces). This was just her growth spurt and was totally normal. That transition, pumping wise, took a bit of an adjustment however. At work, I pump twice. I work 8-to-4, so I pump around 10:30 and again around 1:30. I get home by 4:30, and would then feed Caroline as soon as I walked in the door. This schedule follows Julia's suggestions in her blog posts, and ended up working out really well. When I’m at work, I block time on my calendar as "meetings" to pump, otherwise I would get caught up in my work, or I would forget, or people would just schedule something in its place.

Your child care provider should easily be able to work with you, in order to get your child onto a good eating schedule and to try to time feedings to work with your arrival and departure. Tell your child care provider that you want to be able to feed her right when you get home, so they should try to space out the feedings accordingly. (This also means you have to pump one less time at the office.) When I first went back to work, Caroline would eat a bottle around 10 am, then again around 1:45 - which meant she got hungry as I arrived home.

Q: How did your body and milk supply adjust when you returned to work? Did you notice a change when you started pumping more and not feeding on-demand?

A: Absolutely. I noticed a change almost right away. First, a breast pump is not as efficient as your child. It's just a fact. Second, I was stressed out. Stressed about leaving Caroline. Stressed about adjusting back to a 9-to-5 (or 8-to-4) schedule. Stressed about balancing being a mom and being an employee - and all of this affected my milk supply. 

When I first went back to work, my milk supply was adjusting to not feeding on demand, and adjusting to meet Caroline’s increased intake (going from the 10-ounces to 16-ounces each day). My two pumping sessions would each last approximately 15 minutes - from "set-up" to "break down". This time frame changed over time, as well. After a while, it took me longer, closer to 20-minutes to get each pumping session in. But now that Caroline is eating mainly solid foods and relying on very little milk, I yield very little during the day. So each pumping session is closer to 10 minutes, at most.

But at the beginning, from my two sessions each day, I would get roughly 14-ounces, total. I do not have the option to pump in my office, we have "wellness rooms" at work, so pumping in some random space, took some adjustment. I always felt like I was taking time away from work. The stress of having to stop work, get up from my desk and feeling like I have to get right back, probably prevented me from yielding more with each session. Now that I am used to the pumping routine, it doesn't bother me as much. In fact, I actually need the break in order to force myself to look away from my computer for a few minutes each day.

But to make up for only getting 13- to 14-ounces during the day (but needing 16 ounces to meet Caroline's needs), I had to pump a third time at night to cover Caroline's bottles. I would feed Caroline around 7:00, right before she went to bed. Then I would pump once more around 10:30 pm, right before bed. That 7:00pm to 10:30 stretch would allow me to pump the last few ounces, in order to meet Caroline’s daily intake. But between my three daily pumping sessions, I would have just enough milk, so I wouldn't dip into my freezer supply - but often I found, it was only JUST enough. I had to make sure I pumped each night at 10:30 – even on weekends. This would help maintain my supply, and I would freeze the milk from these sessions for a rainy day. Pumping three times a day was totally exhausting and a lot of work, but it was honestly worth all the effort. Caroline was always well fed and healthy. And being at work and away from her all day, it was all I could do to feel like I was still "contributing" to her well-being.

Depending on your schedule, there are a few ways you could schedule your day and your pumping sessions. I know some girls who fed their child first thing in the morning, and would THEN immediately pump, all before heading to work. Typically, a woman's milk supply is highest in the am - so if you have the time/energy/etc. to be able to do that, it could work, too. My advice? Give the whole thing a couple test runs before you head back to work. See how much time everything really takes you, and how you and your spouse can work together in the morning.  I totally winged it when I first went back, because I didn't know what I was doing - but I wish I was a lot more prepared.

Q: What do you bring with you to work when you are pumping?

A: I bring: my pump and parts, four 6-oz bottles to pump into, my freezer pack and the little lunch bag that came with my pump. I also bring a burp cloth and I bring a blanket. I put the blanket over my pants in my lap, so I don't get anything on my work clothes. I tuck the burp cloth in my bra while I am pumping, so I don't get anything on my top. Then when I am done pumping, I wrap the pumping parts in the burp cloth, so they don't leak all over the place in my bag. I store the freezer pack in the freezer at home each night, and it easily keeps the bottles cold all day, so they don't need to be in the gross common fridge at work. I keep my pump under my desk at work. 

I don't wash my pumping parts in between sessions at work, and have not had a problem so far - so I never experimented with the microwave sanitizer bags, or anything. I don't know what your work environment is like, but I would have felt more than a little awkward to nuke all that stuff in the lunch room. From what I have read, milk can be left out of the refrigerator for up to 4-to-6 hours. So I figured my first and second pumping session each day is only three hours apart, so I was "in the clear". If you have to pump more than twice during the day, and therefore your used pumping parts have more than a 6-hour window between your first and last pumping session, you may want to clean them - just to be safe. But for my situation, I just make sure I wash all the parts really well each night when I get home. I also have two sets of pumping parts - and it's really come in handy. I rotate through the "tubes", so none of them get too used - and still maintain a good suction. When I get home, I transfer the milk from the four little bottles into the two 8-ounce sized bottles Caroline will use for the next day.

Q: What was your morning schedule like? How did you manage to get up and get everyone out the door on time?

A: I did a full recap of our daily schedule here. Start by reading that to get a sense of how I managed our schedule. But when I first went back to work, I tried to get in a full feeding right before I left for work. Caroline would be sleeping, and I would just be finishing my morning routine. Hubby would wake her around 6:45, change her diaper, and bring her downstairs. While I was feeding her, Hubby would shower and get ready, so he was dressed, etc., by 7:30. I would finish nursing Caroline and would literally hand her right over, then walk out the door.  If we stuck to that routine, we could both get out the door ok - and Caroline would be fully fed before our nanny arrived. 

Q: Do you go out to lunch and still pump during the day? Or do you feel like you are spending too much time away from your desk?

A: I am not a big "go out to lunch" girl. I like bringing my lunch. But I did feel guilty at first for taking so much time away from my desk. But I try to remind myself that it's the law to allow me to pump during the day. Plus, I don't smoke. But people who do smoke often take two or three smoke breaks during the day - so that's about the same amount of time I am away from my desk. I just try to view my pumping sessions as my own personal "smoke break". But just to make myself feel better, I eat lunch at my desk almost every day. I try to limit my lunch-time plans to only once a week, at most.

Q: What was it like heading back to work? What adjustments have you made in order to make things easier?

A: I'm being honest, I still struggle with being away from Caroline almost every day. I still probably cry once a week. Granted, this could easily be hormonal. But like many families, our lives are much easier with two incomes. If we could afford for me to stay home, I probably would. At first, being back at work was. But the hardest part is actually walking out the door, or coming home and thinking about what you miss. When I'm at work, I am pretty good about just thinking about my job. But when I leave each morning, it's so hard to think about how I'm not the one she plays with, and I'm not the one who reads to her...etc. You could drive yourself crazy. But it does get easier, and honestly I just try to tell myself that it's good for me to be working. Caroline already has (small) college fund. We live in a great little house, with a great school system...and these are things we might be not be able to do if I wasn't working. So I try to take some comfort in that. Plus, it helps to have a really great childcare provider, who you trust. Our family is incredibly fortunate to have a fantastic nanny, who treats Caroline like her own granddaughter. I feel better knowing that if I can't stay home, Caroline couldn't be in better hands. But be aware, it's hard. If you are anything like me, you will think it all sucks...and that is totally normal.

To make things easier, I also shifted my hours when I went back to work. My office typically works 9-to-5, but being flexible enough to accommodate my 8-to-4 work schedule means I get to spend more time with Caroline in the evening, before bed time. That one hour makes a big difference for her schedule. On weekends, I try to make a true effort to only do errands, or things around the house, when Caroline is napping. And when she's awake, I try to turn off the tv and be very conscious of being present with her. 

Q: What other advice do you have?

One great piece of advice my friend Courtney gave me...figure out how much information you want your childcare provider to tell you about the day. Our nanny is really great - I receive multiple text messages and photos each day, such as: "we are heading out on a walk mommy!" Each note from "Caroline" makes the day a bit easier and puts a smile on my face. And I asked our nanny, if Caroline did something for the first time - rolled over, waved, crawled - I did not want to hear about it. I didn't want to feel like I missed something…that Caroline's major milestones were shared with someone else, and not her mom. So I figured, if I didn't hear about it, then it feels like the first time I saw her roll over, or sit up, or crawl, it was actually is the first time. I enjoyed being oblivious and it made me feel less guilty about being at work all day. The first few weeks heading back to work are the hardest. But your child will quickly adjust, and it will become his new "normal". He won't know that you are "gone" during the day, because that will quickly become how things work.

And it will get easier, promise. Just think, you will get to eat lunch on your schedule. A real lunch, not just a granola bar. You will get to go to the bathroom – whenever you want! And you will get to interact with adults and have adult-like conversations. Adjusting takes time, so don’t worry it will get easier. 

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