I recently went back to work after Maternity Leave. Peanut is 3 month old. I will explain in a separate post why I decided to go back to work relatively soon after the birth of my daughter, but what I wanted to talk about today was my experience with pumping at work.
With my first child, Apple, I stopped breastfeeding at the 3 month mark, and although I also went back to work relatively quick, I had already stopped nursing her by the time I stepped foot in the office. With my second child, Peanut, breastfeeding was so pleasant that I decided to give the whole pumping-at-work thing a go. In this post, I will explain the reasons why I made that decision and I will share some practical tips for Mums with a busy work schedule who would like to do the same
Why did I decide to pump at work
Because I love feeding my baby
This is the number one reason. I love the feeling of closeness that it brings Baby Peanut and I. I feel it is the best way for us to be reunited at the end of a long day and it ensures I have a quiet moment with her the moment I arrive home every night. Now that she is a bit older and quick to feed, it is also very practical to just be able to feed her from the breast rather than having to make bottles, especially at 4 a.m.
I could just have asked the caregiver to give Peanut bottles of formula during the day but because I wanted to make sure that I could keep my supply abundant for mornings, evenings and nights, I decided to fit in 2 pumping slots in my workday.
I won’t deny there is probably a bit of Mummy guilt in there too. I felt that it would ease the daily separation for both Peanut and I if I kept on nursing her at night and if she was drinking my milk during the day. I didn’t want work to stand in the way of our sweet breastfeeding relationship.
Because other mothers showed me it was possible
Towards the end of my maternity leave, when I was wondering if I should embark on the pumping at work adventure, I read a lot of blogs from fellow mums. And I discovered than in the US, where maternity leave is pretty much non-existent, many, many mums continue to exclusively breastfeed their newborns past maternity leave. And I found tons of blogs with practical tips and reassurance that it could be done. This gave me enormous confidence.
But what tipped me over the edge is a conversation I had with one of the top senior executives in my company. She told me that she had pumped at work for months and that, past the initial weeks, it had become really easy. She reassured me that a) it had been done in my company before and b) I would get support from a senior manager if I needed advice c) It didn’t stand in the way of her being promoted at least 3 times since she returned to work.
Because it’s not just about Peanut and me
Immediately after I had made my decision, I started worrying about 2 things :
- Find a decent place to express and store my milk
- Carve out 2 pumping breaks in a calendar usually full of meetings
How would I muster the courage to ask the Head of Facilities (a man !) for a special room and a lockable fridge ? And how would I tell my boss (again, a man !) that twice a day, I would need to leave my open-space desk to attach my breasts to a machine that would extract the milk ? I worried that these conversations would be embarrassing, awkward, that they would say no, or say yes and ask for details etc. The prospect of having these conversations was terrifying.
Then, I realized something. Throughout the world, many mothers pump at their place of work. Some of them have to do it in difficult conditions, because their employer does not provide them with a comfortable place to express their breast milk for instance. Some of them get mocked, bullied, harassed, threatened.
So how come me, who is a senior manager, who works for a decent family-friendly employer, who controls her calendar and can schedule her breaks as she pleases, was so scared of asking for the necessary provisions for such a basic and natural need ?
If I can’t do it, who can ?
I thought it was my chance to make an impact for other mums in the company who were not in the same fortunate position as I was. I could make their lives easier. There was a bit of a militant in me when I asked for that private room and that fridge and when I told my boss. And because I remain very factual and transparent (and also because my colleagues were actually very supportive), it was not at all awkward, and I now have the room, the fridge, the breaks, and so will all the other pumping mums who will come after me.
My top practical tips
- Block out your 30 min pumping sessions in your calendar. If you have a PA or a team assistant, let them know why so they can protect that time for you. Ditto, block out the room.
- Buy a hands-free pumping bra so you can read a presentation / answer e-mails / have some lunch while you pump.
- Embrace clothes that open at the front. This is actually when formal business attire (shirts, blazers etc) are actually working for you as opposed to against you. Don’t forget to put a muslin clothes on your lap to catch those drops of milk that might stain a dark pair of trousers or skirt.
- If you have to stay in a meeting for more than 3 hours, put some breast-pads on to limit the risk of stains due to leaks. It might also be a good idea, if you can, to request a comfort break so you can manually express some milk in the toilet for your own relief. Chances are your colleagues might also appreciate a 5 minute breather. If you feel it would be appropriate, let the chair of the meeting know that you will need to excuse yourself for 10 minutes and why, this will make your life easier and they will probably appreciate your trust in them.
- Limit travels if you can. If you can’t, buy a manual breast pump that you can use in the toilets of a moving train or enlist your mother / mother in law to come with you and baby-sit the baby.
- Don’t make it a secret. Just as I am sure you are a confident professional, be confident when it comes to your choice. Confidence is the mark of seniority. As a nice bonus, if words travel that you are pumping at work, then one day your example might help a more junior staff member in a similar position. It may also educate your peers about pumping at work and make them more receptive to their staff requesting the necessary provisions to do it.
- Relax ! If you have to miss one pumping session because of a deadline, it’s ok ! If you have to make your pumping sessions super quick and end up not pumping enough to feed your baby exclusively with breast milk, it’s ok ! If you realize after 2 weeks that you have to choose between taking pumping breaks or leaving work at a decent hour in the evening and decide to prioritize the latter, it’s ok ! Returning back to work after having a baby is a tricky time and you have to find your own balance.