Last week, I began the process of weaning off the pump.
Jackson is almost a year old, and I plan to be pump free by his birthday next week. While I love nursing him, I LOATHE pumping, and though there’s a little bit of bitter in with the sweet, by and large my feelings on ending pumping are:
I will say, though, that I’m pretty damn proud of myself for sticking it out for 9 months. Pumping is an uncomfortable process, one that requires a time commitment, understanding from my boss and colleagues, some serious time management skills and something that causes way more stress than nursing ever did for me. I’m proud I stuck to it, and now, I’ll happily run over the damn pump put it away.
Still, in 9 months I learned some things that helped me successfully reach this point, so I thought I’d share my hard won tips in case they help anyone else out. A lot of these are geared towards working moms specifically, but there are also some general good tips. Every situation is a little different, but these are the things that helped me.
- Don’t wait until the day you return from maternity leave to figure out the details. If at all possible, let your boss and HR department know before you go on maternity leave that you’re planning on pumping. If you can’t do it before you have the baby, send an email when you’re nearing the end of your maternity leave. You’ll want to find out where you’ll be able to pump definitely, and you should also think about finding out whether/how you’ll have to account for those breaks. The first day back will be stressful enough, you DON’T want to have a freakout over pumping to boot. More than anything though, you want to get everyone used to the idea before you show up on your first day back.
- Pump before you go back to work. There are several reasons for this. The first is so that you can figure out your pump and the parts. I figured out that I needed the soft flanges,for example, and played with some different sizes. It’s easier to do that while you’re still home, not under pressure of finishing and going back to your desk! Second, you’ll help your stress level quite a bit if you have some breastmilk stashed. That way if it takes you a few days to establish a rhythm, you’ve still got the comfort of knowing there’s milk for the baby.
- When you first go back, be rigid in your schedule. After you get comfortable, be flexible. When I first went back to work, I was pumping 3 times a day. I picked times (that corresponded best to Jackson’s schedule), made sure they didn’t conflict with standing meetings, and put them on my calendar as repeating appointments. This way if anyone tried to schedule a meeting with me, that time was already blocked off. Also, this allowed me to get into a comfortable schedule at work. After a few months, I didn’t need to be so rigid–I dropped to two pumping sessions, and had more general times (between 11-1, for example). I made sure I got my sessions in, but was able to relax the schedule to accommodate work needs more.
- TRY your hardest to not hide what you’re doing. I’m lucky that I work with a lot of women, but even to the men in my office, I’ll say “I’m going to pump.” Yes, it’s kind of awkward, but I don’t think I could have gone for 9 months acting like this was some shameful little secret. I wasn’t announcing it from the rooftops, but if I had to go, I would let people know why.
- Don’t overfeed the baby at the expense of your sanity. Here’s what I mean–it’s really easy to get caught up in the measuring of milk. It’s really easy to look online at how many ounces your baby “should” be getting. But that baby and your baby may be different. For example, at one point, Jackson took two 5 oz. bottles while I was gone. Almost everything I read said that he would take three to four 4 oz bottles. Not my kid. So I was beating myself up about not getting those extra 2-6 oz. but Jackson was fine. It may mean feeding bottles a little before your leave (and occasionally a weekend day after you go back–baby will most likely change volume amounts over time), but try and get to know what your baby needs and not what daycare/family/the internet tells you.
- Don’t do work while you pump. Look, I tried this. I felt overwhelmed at the time spent away from work. At one point, I was under crazy deadlines, and so I tried working while pumping. My output decreased significantly. Now, I think it can be good to do something else while you pump (I read blogs, blog, read books, play words with friends) so that you’re not so focused on filling up those bottles that you stop producing, but really, take your pumping time to do THAT job. If you need justification, think of it as your version of a smoke break.
- Plan for the worst. I can’t tell you how many times I forgot: bottle lids, connectors, valves. Bottle lids in particular were my downfall on many a day. I eventually got smart and had extra valves and bottle lids at work, AND I put some milk storage bags in my pump bag for the days when I forgot even those. If you have the option, you might even want to have two sets of everything, for just such occasions.
- If you can stand it, don’t fret about washing and storing. Ok, this may make some of you crazy, but I saved myself a TON of time in two simple ways: I didn’t wash my pump pieces after every session, and I didn’t refrigerate the milk until I got home. Here’s what I did do (on the advice of an LC I talked to): I got some insulated bags, and some awesome ice packs. Plop the pump pieces in with the ice packs until the next pumping session. Plop bottles in the insulated bag with the ice pack. Wash everything when I get home. Breastmilk is fine in those conditions for something like 24 hours, so going a few hours between sessions? No problem.
- Make pumping as comfortable as possible. Whatever space you have for pumping, try to make it as comfortable as you can–bring a pillow for the chair, for example, or turn an overturned trashcan into a foot rest. Make sure you have some good lanolin (even if you don’t need it nursing, it will make pumping SO much easier). Bring a book, or laptop or smart phone to give yourself something to do. You can try one of the hands free options (I had a bra, but honestly, dealing with it was more time consuming than I wanted. I also tried the hair tie trick, which failed miserably for me, but works for lots of people. I ended up just sort of futzing with things like chair height, angle and the desk in front of me until I could pump hands free. I couldn’t move much, but I could turn the pages of a book, or thumb through my phone.). Try the soft flanges, if they come in your size. Don’t be afraid to try different sizes–it can make a crazy world of difference in both comfort/pain and output. Oh, and don’t wear a dress, unless you know it can be pulled down enough to pump. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than sitting almost completely naked at work–locked door or no.
- Be aware that your supply will fluctuate. Over time, your supply will fluctuate. You’ll get sick. The baby will go through a period of not eating, and then a period of doing nothing BUT eating. You could be like me, and have a massive supply drop during ovulation and the week leading up to your period (my supply dropped, like in 1/2. It freaked me the hell out the first time, until I figured out what was going on). You’ll be dehydrated, or stressed, or not eating well–all things that can affect your supply. But before you throw in the towel, give it a good week or two of pushing through if you can–drink more water, eat better, try (!) to get more sleep, try to reduce stress. Think about if your supply is going down or if the baby isn’t eating as much in general. It’s really easy to just jump on the “ahhhh,I’m not making enough!” train, but before you blame your supply, think through all those little pieces. But then remember…
- Pumping is not the be-all, end-all. If you’re not making enough milk–it’s ok. It’s ok to do what you can and supplement with formula. It’s ok to not pump. It’s OK!! I approached pumping much like I did nursing: I would do it until I couldn’t (physically, mentally or emotionally) anymore. There were a few times I was on the verge of giving it up because the stress of “dear god is there enough milk in this bottle for my baby to eat tomorrow” almost got to me. I also learned that it’s all too easy to equate that bottle of milk to my worth as a mother. Pumping is something I do as a mother, not something that defines me as a mother. I pushed through a lot (and especially in the early days, when I was just a bundle of raw emotions), but there was a limit. I didn’t get there, but if I had I would have stopped and not looked back.
So there you have it, my 11 tips for pumping after 9 months of living it. I hope these help someone out there and I hope I remember them for my next kid!
What tips do the other pumping moms out there have to share??
As always, more lists can be found over at Anna’s at abdpbt!