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The Pumping Mom’s Survival Guide

25 May 2010 32 Comments

I’m a lucky mom. For my daughter and me, breastfeeding was love at first latch. Chloe seemed to get the hang of it right away, and all those cautionary tales of clogged ducts and cracked nipples? Let’s just say I’ve had to find alternative uses for the arsenal of lanolin cream I’d amassed in preparation.

The challenge came when I returned to work as an elementary school teacher after twelve weeks. I wanted to continue breastfeeding through the first year, which meant my breast pump and I would be getting to know each other intimately. To be honest, it hasn’t been a stress-free experience. But in a strange way, I’ve come to enjoy it. It’s my connection to my daughter while I’m away from her. I love that I’m able to fulfill her most vital need despite my absence. It’s my way of taking care of her during the day, if only for a few minutes at a time. And with only weeks to go until her birthday and days until school is out for the summer, I’m proud to say that I’ve managed to keep Chloe exclusively breastfed throughout my first year as a working mom.

Working full-time and breastfeeding full-time is tough to balance, and it’s no wonder many moms find it daunting. How will you find the time to pump several times during your busy workday? What if your boss accidentally catches a glimpse of the wrong kind of “assets”? While I’m no expert, I hope the lessons I’ve gained from my experience can help you if you’re wondering how to manage working and breastfeeding.

Stock the freezer before returning to work. As tough as it is to find time while caring for a newborn, pumping even just once a day during your maternity leave and freezing the milk will allow you to build up a reserve that will come in handy once you’re back at work. You’ll be glad to have it on hand for the days when you didn’t have time to pump enough or experience a dip in your milk supply.

Buy the best pump you can afford. Take it from me – if you plan on pumping full-time, you need equipment that can stand up to the challenge. My “bargain” pump turned out to be the most expensive piece of trash I’ve ever thrown away when it kicked the bucket after only a few weeks of regular use.

Establish a “mother’s lair”. In many states, your employer is required to provide you with a private location (besides the bathroom) and allow you two to three short breaks for pumping. Sure, it’s an awkward conversation to have with your boss, but if you don’t have a place where you can relax and feel comfortable, your milk supply will fare about as well as a slug in the Sahara.

Keep a set of spare pump parts and bottles at work. This will save you a frantic call to your husband to come quickly because you forgot one crucial piece . . . not that I would know anything about that.

If possible, invest in a mini-fridge to keep in your office or workspace for storing milk. It’s totally worth the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your liquid gold isn’t in a community fridge where a bleary-eyed coworker might accidentally splash a little into his morning coffee. Added bonus: stashing your pump parts in the fridge between uses eliminates the need to wash them after every use, a major time-saver. Any milk that remains on them won’t spoil and you can wait until the end of the day to give them a good scrub. You might want to run a little hot water over them before your next pumping session, though. Brrrrr.

Go with the (slow) flow. You know how the nipple packages instruct you to use a certain level for a certain age? Guess what – if your baby still seems content with the slowest flowing nipple, there’s no rush to move up a level. Your baby will have an easier time switching between breast and bottle if she doesn’t become accustomed to a quick, steady flow of milk from a bottle.

Nurse as much as you can. In the morning, nurse just before you leave – if your baby has eaten recently, top him off before heading to work. Talk to your childcare provider and aim to have your baby ready to eat when you take him home in the afternoon. Every feeding you can accomplish by nursing is one less bottle you have to pump.

Take care of yourself, too. Take the time to manage your stress, eat your veggies, and catch your zzz’s. As a nursing mom, your body is working hard to sustain itself and your baby. Give it the rest and nourishment it needs. And if you find yourself overly stressed about having time to pump or producing enough milk for the next day, don’t get discouraged. Breastfeeding isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, and supplementing with formula won’t negate the benefits of any breast milk you can still provide. Give yourself credit for the effort you’ve made and the incredible gift you’re giving your baby!

Danielle Light is an art teacher and self-described “crunchy mom”.  She lives with her husband Bryan and daughter Chloe in the metro Atlanta area.  She blogs about new motherhood and natural parenting at www.sweetchloelight.blogspot.com.

Share one tip for nursing, pumping, or exclusively bottle feeding moms below. One person will win a Breast Pump Adaptor and Twin-pack of 9oz bottles!

Click “Like” or “Share on Facebook” and leave a bonus comment (“I shared”) for a bonus entry! Good luck! You can also email moms@newbornfree.com as a bonus entry.


  • Mel1010 said:

    I say go with the back up supply if you have it. Therefore if you dip or “run out” you can still give them your breast milk for a while.

  • Mel1010 said:

    i shared

  • Jessica Allen said:

    I am currently bottle/formula feeding my little guy. During the day, I just make his bottles ‘to order’ but at night, I premake one and put it in the fridge. So when he wakes up in the middle of the night, I can just grab it out and feed him. So much easier to do then try to make a bottle when he’s screaming and I’m half asleep… :)

  • Sydney said:

    Be prepared if things don’t go according your plan! I had the breast pump, the lanolin cream, the breast milk storage bags, nursing pillows, you name it. After about 3 weeks of exclusive nursing my very cranky baby who rarely slept started getting horrible rashes, I cut EVERYTHING out of my diet till I was eating a plain chicken breast and drinking only water (I lost 41 pounds)! Still the rashes, crankiness, and gas continued so we tried Similac Sensitive and she was a totally different baby, happy, smiling, and SLEEPING! I was totally heartbroken and upset for weeks that nursing didn’t work for us (I still am) but I did pump an entire freezer full of milk before I let my milk dry up and I’ve started giving her a little and she seems to be doing okay, just some mild gas.

  • Sydney said:

    I shared

  • kelly muir said:

    I’d say all you can do is the best you can…I keep some formula at home as a safety net… I haven’t had to use it but it takes some of the pressure of exclusively breastfeeding off me just knowing its there if i run out of milk. also invest in a good pump it makes a lot of difference…

  • Jessica Allen said:

    I ‘liked’ this on Facebook

  • angela tuttle said:

    Great article, I wish I would have read this a few months ago…I don’t work but I do chase a 3 year old all day and it has possed as a major challenge!

  • kelly muir said:

    I Shared!

  • K. O'Connell said:

    I shared! Work on the freezer stash while you’re at work. I’m burning through mine at rocket speed now and I had hundreds of ounces!

  • Amber said:

    I shared and “liked” on facebook! Great advice!

  • justine said:

    i EBF and i have so much respect for mommies who pump. i try to pump whenever i can, and it is frustrating and uncomfortable, but a necessary evil. so when i see women pumping 10 oz’s, i get a little jealous. not gonna lie. =)

  • Regina H. said:

    I BF for 13 months! Best 13 months of our lives…and that included my return to work full-time after 16 weeks. My pump & I were breast friends. Certainly glad I put out the extra bucks & got a GOOD pump…can’t imagine doing that by hand or otherwise!

  • Shannon C said:

    Have a back up plan for storing your milk. We had a storm and lost everything in our fridge and freezer. I cried about losing my milk more than our food. Then a few months later we lost everything again when the freezer died!
    Build your supply before returning to work is very good advice that way you’ll have less stress when you return to work.

  • Lucia Storms said:

    I have always intended to exclusively breastfeed my children. As a stay at home mom I only pump occasionally. However, I can imagine how difficult it must be to go to work full time and continue breastfeeding. Moms like Danielle show a great stamina and determination and should be admired.

  • Stef Jordheim said:

    I second and third the storing up milk before returning to work. i can’t believe how fast it goes when you have to dip into it.
    also, try not to get discouraged…it is hard to pump at work. i don’t get scheduled breaks (or any guaranteed breaks for that matter) at my job and work 12 hour shifts. so i actually use a manual pump in case i need to tear it down mid-pump. i know it may be more convenient for most with the dual, mechanical, all that, but if you can’t afford one or otherwise get your hands on one, a manual one will still do the trick.

  • liza penaflor said:

    i shared!… thanks for the advice…it will surely come in handy after my mat leave.:)

  • Felicity B said:

    I shared! I wanted desperatley to BF my little girl, however after her stay in the NICU and reliance on bottles, I was never able to get her to latch on. I was able to keep her on breastmilk exclusively for only 3 months from pumping, before my milk supply decreased so bad. I’m hoping to have better luck exclusively breastfeeding my next little girl- due in Aug, and hopefully I will find a good pump that won’t give out on me! I went thru 3 pumps in 3 months!!!

  • Jessica said:

    I Shared!

  • annagracesmomma said:

    The one thing to remember is plan for things to not go your way. My entire pregnancy I knew I wanted to at least try to nurse, then I said I will pump it is just easier. Once my little girl got here, I tried my hardest to get the hang of nursing and it just did not work for me. I went through weeks of breast milk enhancers and pumping night and day, but nothing seemed to work. I wanted so badly to do what was best for my daughter but nothing seemed to work. This was devastating to me, though it’s two months later and I have pretty much gotten over the guilt I still sometimes feel bad. She has a very bad case of GERD and I can’t help but beat myself up over not being able to give her the only milk made especially for her. We have been through every type of Enfamil, Gerber, and two types of Similac formula. We finally found one that helps a little bit, but nothing is the miracle cure. I have three breast pumps and want to talk to my doctor about finding a way to get my milk to come back in, it’s the only way I know to help my baby.

  • Leslie S said:

    Drink plenty of water, take fenugreek and watch your caffiene intake. Despite working FT, I was able to exclusively BF my firstborn for 10 months before becoming too ill to nurse or pump for 10 days straight. After that, I had to supplment with formula until he was 1. Now that I have 10 month old twins, I’ve been able to provide 2/3 – 3/4 BM and supplement w/formula while working FT. You do what you can to provide for your children. There is no right or wrong way so don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • Ashtyn said:

    I love this article! I solely pumped for 10 months with my daughter because she couldn’t latch on.. It is amazing the determination and will power a mom can have. I am so happy I continued to pump even once my daughter slept through the night and I had to get up.. She is very healthy, and is growing into a beautiful baby girl! Thank you for the encouragement.

  • Leslie S said:

    I shared! (or in my case, Liked)

  • Katy said:

    I have to do lots of pumping and the one biggest help has been the Lansinoh – Soothing Gel Nursing Pads. I had so much pain when I first started pumping that I almost had to stop and these soothing gels did wonders for me. They are expensive but worth it to help sooth and stop the pain!!! :)

  • Katy said:

    I Liked!!!

  • Kellie said:

    I enjoy my workplace for pumping. They provide us with a pumping room and a symphony pump. All I do is bring my supplies!

  • Kellie said:

    I shared!

  • Carlee said:

    I am an elementary music teacher and I agree wholeheartedly with you! Especially the extra pump parts stored at your workplace. I have forgotten “that one little part” a few times and it was NOT cool! I keep a spare manual pump at school, complete with needed parts, plus a few milk storage bags. You never know when the electricity will go out, or you will be booted from your classroom (in the case of a specialist!) and won’t be able to find an outlet, etc.

    Also, I shared on FB. :)

  • Darrell Carlisle said:

    You have done it once more. Great writing.

  • Jen said:

    I exclusively pump- I excluseively pumped for over 1 year with my first daughter and am pumping exclusively again with my second (already 4 1/2 months through!!!) and plan on through her first year. Its tough- I will be the first to admit it. I pump every 4 hours and basically live with my pump bag attached to my hip. The best advice I can give is look at the time you have to pump as “me” time. Use the time to collect you thoughts, and just think of all the money you are saving by not buying formula!!! Born free bottles have been wondeful and a lifesaver for us :)

  • Elbert Xiong said:

    bornfreemom.com’s done it once again! Amazing read.

  • Ingrid Bentley said:

    Super awesome writing! Honest!

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