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.
What a fantastic post. I’ve never been in that position, but for anyone contemplating going back to work and wondering how they will manage, should they wean, you give such hope and positivity! I thought though, that you were legally entitled to time for expressing and/or breastfeeding during work? X
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You are legally entitled to breaks if your baby is less than six months old. But most people take at least that long for maternity leave if they are entitled to maternity benefit, so the legislation isn’t much use to anyone who might want to keep feeding longer. I believe that public servants are entitled to breastfeeding or pumping breaks until their babies are 2, the minimum age to which the HSE and the WHO recommend breastfeeding. Shame the legislation doesn’t reflect the same thing.
What a positive and informative post. This is something we rarely hear of.
For many mothers going back to work signals the trauma of a clock ticking as they try to transfer their baby to a bottle, putting a lot of stress into those precious final few weeks of leave.
I’m delighted it all worked out so well for you, and glad you’re feeling better.
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You’re right Tric. This was a much gentler transition back to work – and a lot less stressful for me
That’s just great to hear! Mostly I hear about American mothers pumping at work, because they have such tiny/nonexistent maternity leaves. And I hear about Irish women weaning at 6 months because they’re going back to work and they think there’s no option. It’s great to hear that – once again – there is a middle way!
Yeah it’s part of our cultural myths surrounding breastfeeding I think Christine. As I said, first time around I didn’t even consider that continuing was an option.
Wow,we done you. It’s so lovely to read about breastfeeding/pumping mums. I’m the only one out of my 10close friends that has breastfed so far, I admire you for continuing for so long after starting work!
Now off you go and buy some pretty bras….that’s what I did as a treat when I stopped breastfeeding, time to think about you!x
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Thanks Triona. The pretty bras will have to wait though because I haven’t stopped breastfeeding – I’ve only stopped expressing while I’m at work. Neither of us is ready to call it quits on breastfeeding yet. 🙂
Great post, Lisa! I pumped at work with both my children too. The first time around it was really necessary as maternity leave was only 14 weeks. The second time around it was because I wanted to and I knew I could do it – my son was about eight months old. I kept it up with both until they were about a year – when it was the right time for both of us to stop. I would recommend it to anyone – and always great to hear from others how they managed. Also – those Avent pumps are the best!
That’s exactly it Sara. It’s so important to be able to continue for as long as is the right time for you both. I think first time around I just wasn’t ready to stop when I did so I found it harder.
Oh I used to love that first feed straight after work! It was such a wonderful way to re-connect again after a day in the office and creche. It was also a lovely way to help smooth the transition from maternity leave to working full time – along with the super powers for fighting creche germies 🙂
The two year entitlement is for civil servants only, rather than public servants. Civil servants can take an hour off their working day until their baby is two if they are still breastfeeding. It would be great if that option was available to all working nursing mothers!
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It’s an amazing entitlement. I’d be happy to see it up to 12 months though. I was lucky to be able to take a couple of unpaid months but other women can’t do that and have to go back to work even sooner. For those women some legislated time for pumping would really help them continue breastfeeding if they wanted to.
I loved this, Lisa! I’m going back to work myself in August. India will be 15 months then so I don’t intend to pump in work but I think the women who do are real heroes. Pumping is hard work, not to mention the washing etc. The American moms who do it for 11+ months blow my mind. I’d love to see similar legislation in Ireland that demands employers provide working mothers with a place to pump if they so wish.
I’d love to see that too!
Love the title and great that you’ve been able to do this – wouldn’t it be wonderful if all employers were like this?
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