Pumping on the job
Recently I passed a real personal milestone. I expressed milk for the last time at lunchtime. I never planned to pump at work when I returned last November. I thought I might do it for a week, two at the most to give my supply a chance to settle.
If you’d told me then that I’d still be pumping five months later I would never have believed you. The idea of it! It just sounded like so much hassle.
For me, pumping at work always evoked images of high powered American business women, back to work mere minutes after the baby is born, with a double-electric pump strapped to her while she simultaneously types a report and chairs a conference call. I’m not interested in any Superwoman awards, so that level of commitment didn’t appeal to me.
But the reality was quite simple and straightforward. I agreed with my boss and with HR that I would start work 15 minutes earlier than usual and then take that extra time at lunchtime to express. We have a shower room at work that I used each day. It’s clean and it contains a chair, a sink, and a lockable door, which was everything I needed.
I have an Avent manual pump, which I bought on sale for €25 while I was pregnant. I also have my trusty Kindle, which kept me company each day – because once you’re set up, pumping is deathly boring!
I decided early on to spend no more than 15 minutes pumping. It was interesting to see how my supply changed over the months. In the beginning, I was getting 7-8oz in that 15 minutes, which I divided into two bags for the next day at crèche. I also used to pump 2oz in the morning for the first month or so, to make up three milk feeds in total for crèche each day.
But after a while, as she started to take more solid food, I dropped the morning pumping session. And in the last month of pumping, just after she turned a year, I could really see a drop in my supply once she was no longer feeding that much in the daytime. On my last day of pumping, when she was 13 months old, my 15 minutes yielded 5oz total. And if I dropped all of that into crèche, she would only drink about half of it.
It’s been an interesting journey, returning to work while still breastfeeding. Beforehand I worried about things like leaking in the middle of a meeting! Of course it never happened. I didn’t really think about how old my baby would be at this stage. My supply has totally regulated so my days of leaking at the drop of a hat are long gone.
I wondered what would happen if she wanted to feed more when we were together, and whether or not my supply would be affected once I stopped pumping during the day at work. But it seems to have made no difference whatsoever. If she wants to feed during the day, as she did last weekend when she and I both had tonsillitis and were feeling unwell, then I have milk for her. And if she doesn’t, my body seems to adjust to that.
Overall, I’ve found continuing to breastfeed while back at work to be an extremely positive experience. I know people often talk about the oxytocin rush that a new mother feels when she feeds her new baby, but no one ever told me how strongly I would feel that when I sat down to feed my baby after a long day at work. No matter how stressful my work day, and the commute home, and the crèche collection, and the making of dinner… as soon as I’d sit down with her and cuddle her and feed her, I would just feel my body relaxing. And in my arms, I’d feel her relaxing. Even if she was cranky and irritable at pick up, after a five minute feed, she’s happy and smiling and ready to play. It’s like it reconnects her and re-grounds her when she gets home. It’s wonderful.
Now that it’s done, I won’t miss pumping at work. I’m glad to have my extra few minutes back at lunchtime. But I’m glad I tried it, and I’m happy that it worked for us for so long.
If you’re returning to work soon, and would like to continue feeding, I recommend just taking it one day at a time when you get back. Pumping may work for you, or it mightn’t be feasible depending on your work setup. It might be possible to switch to combination feeding, giving your baby formula while in childcare but continuing to nurse when you’re together. Your body is remarkable, and although it might take a week or two, it will adjust if you do this. The main thing is to realise that it is an option – and it might be an easier option than you’ve been led to believe, as I discovered.