Recently, my husband ran across my old pumping bag from my corporate days. The sack has remained untouched for two years. It is a reminder of a past life, a previous self, a completed journey.
As a part-time working mom with two kids under two years apart, I pumped at work for three years. I was fortunate enough to have an office that provided a lactation room, and a relatively cushy one at that. For the lactating associates among the 2,000 employees in the building, there was a room near the nurse’s office that held eight curtained nursing alcoves, each outfitted with a desk chair, a table, an electrical outlet, and sanitizing wipes. Six of these alcoves sported a hospital grade pump. (If you chose to use one of the communal pumps, you would need supply your own pump heads, bottles, flanges, membranes, tubing, and piston. Otherwise, you could use your own pump.)
The room also housed two small refrigerators with tiny freezer compartments, a sink with dish soap, paper towels, a bookshelf on which you could store your pumping bag and donate or borrow a magazine, and a donation drawer where one could generally find old, sanitized or never-used pump parts, storage bottles, sanitizing bags, etc. That drawer got me out of many a “mom brain” bind when I had forgotten an invaluable pump piece.
With a long commute and babies at home (who I craved to be with instead of sitting in a cubicle farm), that pumping room became my place of solace in the corporate environment. I would enter the quiet room and smell the scent of disinfectant and sugary breastmilk, knowing I had 20-30 minutes to myself. Sure, I was hooked up to a machine but it was brief solitude amidst an otherwise hectic life. I could flip through fashion magazines, read a book, scroll through photos of my little ones, scan social media, or just sit. It was MY time. There was no other such time in the day like that for me.
When others would moan about pumping and ask how I pumped so diligently, my advice was always the same: 1) make it a priority, 2) make it “you” time, 3) remember this is a medical need, nothing less.
1) Make it a priority: View your pumping sessions as if they’re a meeting with the C.E.O. In the corporate world it is easy for pumping to get pushed to the back burner, but breastmilk supply is not so forgiving. Push back a pumping session once for someone, and you can bet that will become the norm. I left meetings early or temporarily to pump. I blocked my calendar to secure my pumping sessions. They must be a top priority.
2) Make it “you” time: if you make the pumping sessions enjoyable, not only will you be less likely to skip them but you’ll be more likely to produce more milk. Just as “happy cows make better milk”, so do happy mamas. Read, text, meditate, knit, do kegels… do whatever it is that makes you feel happy when you’re pumping. It needn’t be a burden. If you have to work while pumping, go ahead, but relaxing is best. The less tense you are the sooner your milk letdown will start and the more milk you’ll make.
3) Remember this is a medical need, nothing less: never allow someone to make you feel guilty for pumping. No one would dare berate a diabetic for taking time to check his/her blood sugar or administer an insulin shot. This is no different. A skipped pumping session can not only be the potential for mastitis but could lessen the food you have available for your child. Over time, frequently missed sessions can deplete your supply. Never let someone stop you from pumping.
To cope with business demands while maintaining an every 2-3 hour pumping schedule, think rigid flexibility. If you must attend a meeting during your pumping time slot, be upfront and say you must pump then but ask if you can call in. If it’s a long meeting that overlaps with your pumping time, step out to pump then return to the meeting afterwards. If you have an off-site meeting at a hotel, call ahead and speak to the front desk and ask for pumping accommodations. More often than not, the associates will gladly assist you. If you run into an associate who is not helpful, ask to speak with the General Manager, who will undoubtedly accommodate your reasonable request. If you have to be at a non-hotel off-site location, get a car adapter and pump in your car. If you must travel, bring a nursing cover and pump on the train or plane. You have options!
Pumping at work is possible but does require effort, just as all things worthwhile do. You can do this. You’re a mom.