I’ll be honest – I had no idea how much work was involved with breastfeeding until I started on my own breastfeeding journey.
I naively thought that labor was going to be the most physically challenging part of becoming a mom, but man oh man, breastfeeding was a JOB!
There were moments when I loved the feeling of being snuggled so closely to my baby while breastfeeding. I felt such an intimate connection and gratitude to my body for being able to sustain my baby.
But then there were other moments where I spilled my milk over ALL THE THINGS, threw my breast pump on the ground in frustration, and shouted with tears running down my face that, “I feel like such a cow right now.”
That was not my finest moment.
Breastfeeding and working creates a unique challenge for working moms
Slowly but surely I figured things out. I learned about a good latch, grew more confident, and created a system for pumping, washing, drying, and repeating.
But just when I began to think that I had mastered the breastfeeding challenge, my maternity leave came to a close and I was faced with my next challenge – breastfeeding AND working.
Yet another challenge that I had no clue how to handle. I was beginning to sense that this might become a pattern throughout motherhood – master one thing and then move on to the next obstacle that you know nothing about. Alrighty then.
Breastfeeding while working is possible – it just takes a little extra planning
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Breastfeeding might work at home, but can you be successful at breastfeeding while navigating the demands and stresses of whatever workplace you’ve been called to?
When breastfeeding and caring for a newborn already feels like a full time job, can you add in ANOTHER full time job? Can you work and breastfeed and survive the season you’re in?
Maybe you’re wondering if it’s even possible to continue breastfeeding while working. Does the term “breastfeeding working mom” even exist? And if so, what does that look like?
What information should you know? What do you need to pack? How can you best prepare to be a successful breastfeeding working mom?
The good news? Yes, breastfeeding while working is possible.
The bad news? It takes some extra thought and planning, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it can absolutely be your reality.
Here are the 5 secrets for success as a breastfeeding working mom.
Secret #1: The right supplies are essential for success
Getting a basic breast pump is a must
For starters, you need a basic breast pump. Most employer sponsored health insurance plans provide a breast pump free to all new moms and you are allowed one new pump for each pregnancy.
Obtaining the breast pump through insurance is a bit more complicated because it involves filing a claim and if you’re like me, I try to avoid being on hold with health insurance call centers at all costs.
If you have health insurance, I highly recommend using an online service such as Aeroflow. Companies like Aeroflow take all the busy work out of getting your breast pump through insurance by contacting your insurance company directly, getting the claim processed, and shipping the pump directly to your home.
You only have to fill out an online form and they take care of everything else. Great timesaver for a working mom!
If you don’t have insurance or don’t have the ability to get a free pump, you can buy a breast pump directly from most major retailers (i.e. my beloved Target) or directly from a medical supply company.
Breast pumps can be expensive, so if cost is prohibitive for you, search online for a used closed system breast pump.
Closed system breast pumps have a barrier between the milk collection kit and pump to prevent any possible contamination from bacteria, while an open system has no barrier. Since only closed systems have the barrier in place, only closed systems are recommended for use by more than one person.
I got a Medela Pump in Style Advanced breast pump through my insurance but also splurged on the Elvie breast pump to have a wireless option to pump more conveniently and it was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.
Wireless breast pumps are a splurge worthy investment
As a working mom, my commute to work each morning was a prime “pumping window” for me and having a wireless option that I could just slip under my shirt made a huge difference.
I used my trusty Elvie to pump on a plane while on an international business trip, in an Uber (it’s so discreet that my male driver didn’t even notice), and in a restaurant while out with girlfriends.
I personally used the Elvie because it didn’t require any additional bags to be purchased in addition to the pump and I’m all about saving a dollar where I can. The Willow is another wireless option that I’ve heard other moms rave about.
Don’t forget to accessorize!
In addition to the breast pump, you’ll need the accessory supplies to go along with the pump. The pump itself usually comes with flanges, bottle containers, filters, and any needed connectors. I’d recommend getting an extra supply of these items to make the washing and cleaning process easier each night.
You’ll also want to buy a breast pump bra and breast milk bags. I bought this hands free bra, but I’ve heard of women cutting holes in sports bras to make their own free version of a hands free bra. If you’re more of the DIY type, go for it!
Secret #2: Preparation makes perfect
Your first day back to work is going to feel like A LOT – at least it did for me. The emotional weight of getting dressed in real clothes again, leaving your baby, and returning to work is heavy.
Make things easier on yourself by preparing for the pumping sections of your day in advance. A little preparation will help to ease your transition back to work.
Determine in advance where you’ll pump at work
In an ideal world, you would start preparing even before you leave for maternity leave by locating the lactation rooms in your workplace or speaking with your management team about space you can use if nothing is currently available in your office.
I was fortunate enough to have a dedicated lactation room to use in my office, but I’ve heard of some crazy arrangements with everything from hanging curtains in conference rooms to pumping in storage closets and bathrooms.
If that happens to be your situation, know that you’re not alone and many a mom has come before you and pumped in your footsteps.
You are selfless, courageous, and I truly hope that someday we’ll live in a world where every breastfeeding mom has the lactation space available at work that they deserve.
Pack your bags in advance
Next, pack your bags in advance so that you’re not scrambling to remember all the little things you have to remember on your first day back.
I’ll add in a pro tip – pack an extra set of milk bags to keep in your desk or locker just in case you ever run out or forget to bring bags to work.
I learned this lesson the hard way and was scrambling one day at work to find an alternative for my freshly pumped milk after forgetting bags. Luckily someone in my office had ziplock bags that I could use, but I’d rather spare you the embarrassing conversation I endured of, “why yes, those ziplock bags would be perfect for my bodily fluids.”
Remember all the essentials
In your pumping bag, make sure you remember all essentials: insulated bag, milk bags, wipes, hand towel (you never know when a spill might occur), breast pump, electrical cord, hands free bra, and sharpie for writing the date pumped on each bag.
For those of you who like to be extra prepared, I’d recommend packing nursing bra pads and an extra shirt. The nursing pads will come in handy if you ever have to quickly end a pump session too soon due to time constraints but your body keeps the gold coming (if you know what I mean).
And the extra shirt might just save you in case you ever leak unknowingly during a session or spill accidentally. You never know what might occur in the adventure of the lactation room.
Secret #3: Create a routine that works for you
As someone who craves schedules and routines, finding my groove as a breastfeeding working mom happened once I settled into a predictable routine that was flexible enough to fit into my ever changing work schedule.
With that said, I’m a business professional who works in a corporate office and I’m able to set aside time in my work day that I realize other professions cannot.
In future posts, I’ll share what the specific pumping routine looks like for working moms in other professions including medicine and teaching, so stay tuned for updates!
Sneak in an extra pump session each morning when your milk supply is highest
With that said, decide ahead of time on the routine that will work best for your personal work schedule.
From the research I’ve gathered (purely anecdotal from my fellow working mom friends), most working moms start by nursing their baby first thing in the morning when the baby wakes, then sneaking in an extra pump session right after nursing because that’s when their milk supply is the highest.
If you have time to do this at home, that’s great because it will mean one less session away from home. But, if you’re anything like me and you literally sprint out the door in the morning and have no time for coffee, let alone pumping for 30 minutes, use your commute time to pump there instead.
I used my wireless pump in the car, but the standard pumps all have accessories that you can purchase to make them compatible for your car.
I’ll be real – pumping in the car is a little awkward, but you can cover up pretty well using a zip up jacket or lactation cover. On the bright side, I’m guessing that most cops will gladly let you go on your merry way if they happen to pull you over mid-pumping.
If possible, line up pump sessions to align with the hours your baby eats
Once at work, most moms try to pump the number of times that their baby will be drinking from a bottle while out of your care.
For example, if your baby gets a bottle at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm while you’re at work, you should aim to pump at least 3 times during your work day if your goal is to keep your milk supply consistent with your baby’s consumption.
If you’re able, block out your work calendar ahead of time to reserve your pumping times and ensure that meetings won’t get scheduled over your all important pumping time blocks.
You don’t need to mark your time blocks as “pumping time” if you don’t want to announce it to the world. Rather, just mark those blocks as “busy” so your colleagues can see that your time is reserved during those blocks.
A pumping session generally took me 20 minutes plus the time needed for set up and tear down (never thought I’d use the word “tear down” to describe pumping), so I would block off 30 minutes for each session.
My work is mainly on a computer which meant that I could still work while pumping. Breast pump background music is admittedly not the best for focused work time, so I tried to reserve my pumping sessions for tasks that required less focus such as checking email.
After each pumping session, I would leave my milk in the lactation room refrigerator and would grab all the milk at the end of the day to bring home. If a refrigerator like this is available for you, this is a great strategy.
If one isn’t available, you can put your milk bags in a lunch style cooler container and put it in the community refrigerator during the day.
Pro tip – get a discrete cooler container to transport your milk to the fridge if you care about being discrete. I preferred for my whole office to NOT know what I was carrying in my cooler container and purchased an all black cooler container to satisfy my needs.
Secret #4: Utilize available benefits (or advocate for them if they don’t exist)
One of the best things about being a mom in the 21st century is that benefits have come a long way for working moms. I still think we have a long way to go and I’ll advocate for better family benefits until my very last day working in Corporate America, but I’m so grateful for the countless men and women who have created impactful change for those of us in the working world today.
Many of those change makers have created innovative products as solutions to problems they faced in their own journeys of working parenthood.
These products and services are now being offered by countless employers who are striving to make their workplaces better for working parents.
Learn about the benefits offered by your employer
Before I share my personal recommendations of services and products that you might be able to utilize (or advocate for) in your workplace, start by learning about what is currently offered from your employer.
Chances are high that at least some type of family related benefit is offered. Check your company’s internet site to learn more or speak directly with someone from your human resources team.
Discover the new benefits that are game changers for working moms
Now for the services and products that are game changers for the breastfeeding working mom…
Game changer #1: Breast milk delivery companies
If you are a working mom who ever has to travel for work, there are breast milk delivery companies that you just have to try.
I’ve personally used one such company, MilkStork, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. MilkStork was created by a fellow working mom who encountered the difficulty of shipping home breast milk during her own career so she created a solution for the rest of us and friends, it is GENIUS.
The whole process is easy as pie. I used MilkStork on my first international business trip after returning from maternity leave and it was an all around great experience.
Many international airports only let you take a small amount of breast milk through security and MilkStork saves the day for nursing moms. With two sizes available, you can choose the option that works best for the amount of milk you’ll need to ship home.
I ordered my box online and picked it up from the front desk when I checked into my hotel. When I was ready to leave for home again, I packed my milk bags in the dry ice storage container included with the box and left it at the hotel’s front desk for the next delivery pick up.
My milk arrived back at my house in the US the same night that I arrived home. No packing milk bags in my suitcase. No putting milk bags through security. And no lugging milk bags in a carry on while hoping the milk doesn’t spoil.
It was PERFECTION.
Game changer #2: Virtual women’s health clinics
Another service that is becoming more and more common are virtual health clinics with tracks specifically designed for new moms.
My company uses a virtual health clinic called Maven which offers free virtual calls with health professionals ranging from lactation consultants to physical therapists to mental health professionals.
Most health insurance companies offer some type of maternity or postpartum health coaching service, so look at your benefits to determine if you can take advantage of what might already be available for you.
Secret #5: Realize the power you possess
As a breastfeeding working mom, you are powerful beyond belief. You’ll have days when you feel that power and glide confidently from pump sessions to meetings all day long. You’ll feel like you can take on the world and in many ways you already are.
But there might also be days when you forget an essential pump part, or spill your precious just-pumped-better-than-liquid-gold breast milk, or feel scattered all day long having to navigate from pump session to meetings and beyond. On those days, you’ll wonder if you can keep going.
If those thoughts cross your mind, I want you to remember that you are powerful, strong, and if you want to continue on your breastfeeding journey, know that you can absolutely keep doing it and that breastfeeding and working is absolutely possible.
Conclusion: Make your breastfeeding journey uniquely yours
I also want you to know that if you find breastfeeding and working to be excruciatingly difficult and impactful to your emotional health or professional performance, know that you also have the power to end your breastfeeding journey when you choose, or to supplement to help provide for your baby.
I wrestled in the in-between stage for too long and I grew resentful of my body for not producing enough milk to keep up with my baby’s consumption. My pumping sessions were filled with anxiety as I slowly watched my milk supply become less and less.
At the same time, I started to feel less and less like myself at work, focused more on what I WASN’T producing than on what I was. At the end of the day, I started to feel powerless over my circumstances.
But friend, you are not powerless. In fact, you are incredibly powerful. You have the power to sustain a human life with fluid from your body. That is a miracle right there.
You are powerful in your workplace, in your home, and you’re a great mom no matter what your breastfeeding journey may or may not look like.
So in those moments when you wonder if breastfeeding and working are even possible, know that yes, they absolutely are. You can do both and you can do both well, just like you can do anything else that you decide to do.
We’re all in this together, friend.