I knew from the very beginning that if breastfeeding worked out for me I wanted to do it well after my son’s first birthday. My goal was to make it to age two but I was also aware that circumstances don’t always allow this. Thanks to living in Canada I was able to take an entire year of maternity leave, and I breastfed the heck out of that year. My son and I built an incredibly strong breastfeeding relationship and I was nervous that going back to work would ruin this. I should mention that I’m a registered nurse in an intensive care unit. I work part-time doing a variety of day shifts and night shifts, always 12 hours long (7-7). Part-time allows for flexibility but my shifts are all over the place. On average, I like to work 4-5 in a 2 week period.
It’s been about 10 months since I’ve been back at work, and while it took about a month to really get the hang of things, I can say now that I’m pretty well versed in managing the work/pump life. For that reason, I thought I’d share what worked and what didn’t for me to hopefully make your transition easier.
My first piece of advice is to prepare prior to going back to work. Invest in a good quality double breast pump, practice using it, find a bottle your baby likes and make sure they will take it in your absence, figure out what type of clothes/bra you will wear to pump, and talk to your manager if you have any concerns about the logistics of pumping (i.e. location, coverage for your pumping breaks). I purchased a Medela double breast pump (the one that comes in the backpack) and practiced using it. My husband’s benefit company actually covered the majority of the cost of the pump so check with yours to see if they’ll do the same. Next, we made sure our son was comfortable taking a bottle. I recommend enlisting dad or another family member for this. Thankfully, he didn’t have any issues there. I did some research regarding best bottles for breastfed babies and ordered 4 of the Nuk Simply Natural bottles with medium flow nipples. These have been wonderful. Next, I figured out what I was going to wear at work to make pumping quicker and easier. After talking to a friend, watching several YouTube videos and reading an article on Kelly Mom, I decided against buying a hands-free pumping bra. I knew I wouldn’t have much time to pump at work, since there are days where it’s so busy we barely get to take a break. However, I still wanted to make my pumping hands-free so that I could eat at the same time. I settled on the Kelly Mom hack of looping 2 elastics together and hooking one end to the breast pump flange and the other to the clasp of my nursing bra. It took some practice to perfect but once I got the hang of it it became so quick and easy. I practiced pumping with this method before going back so that I knew what I was doing. So, my outfit always consisted of a nursing bra, tank top (to keep belly covered), and scrub top. I stocked my pumping bag with 2 bottles and their flanges, milk storage bags, a sharpie to write on the bags, a plastic bag to put my dirty pump parts in, some extra membranes, a face cloth, and a nursing cover. Finally, prior to going back to work, I made sure I had a pretty decent freezer stash of milk. It made me feel more relaxed knowing that I had all of that milk in storage just in case I ended up not being able to pump as much as expected at work. I built a good amount of this using my Hakaa pump with little to no effort.
After my first day back I decided I hated pumping with just a regular nursing cover. I had the OVer cover and found when I lifted my arms to eat, the cover would pull up, making it hard to eat and stay covered. For this reason, I started using an oversize long sleeve shirt I purchased at Urban Planet instead and it worked wonderfully.
Making pumping a priority and not feeling guilty about leaving the floor to do so was probably the hardest thing for me, mind you, also the most important. I’m fortunate to work in a smaller department with mostly female nurses so I’d say the majority were supportive of my pumping. After a couple weeks every one of my coworkers knew I needed breaks to pump and would often check on me to make sure I was taking them. By the time I went back, Calvin was feeding about 4 times a day, first thing in the morning around 630, mid-morning around 930, mid-afternoon around 2, and before bed at 7 pm. I tried my best to stick to the same schedule at work to keep up my supply. To reduce the number of pumping sessions at work, I either pumped or fed him (if he was awake) in the morning, and fed him at night when I got home from work around 730 pm. This meant only 2 pumping sessions in a 12 hour shift. I found this to be very doable, even during the busiest of shifts. On night shift I technically didn’t need to pump since I wasn’t feeding Calvin at night anymore. However, I always tried to get one session in around 2 am because I found this to be an easy way to keep a small freezer supply.
My next recommendation is to find an area to pump where you feel comfortable. I’m fortunate that we have access to a break room with a fridge so that’s where I go. There are times where other staff members are using it but like I said before, we’re a small department, so that doesn’t happen all too often. Even on the rare occasion when someone else is back there having a break, they haven’t seemed to mind me pumping beside them. If you don’t have access to an ideal space like this, I suggest talking to your manager before going back to work to see if they can assist you in any way. No one should have to pump in a bathroom. In the unfortunate chance that your workplace isn’t supportive, remember that you are protected by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
So now that you know all of that, here’s what a typical pumping session looked like for me:
After checking with my coworkers and making sure my patients are covered, I head to the break room, take my scrub top off, take my arms out of the straps of my tank top (so now it’s like a tube top), and put on that huge oversize long sleeve shirt. I then do that Kelly Mom hack I was talking about earlier and that’s basically it. Once I’m set up it only takes me about 10 minutes to pump. When I’m done, I wipe myself with the facecloth, do up my bra, pull my tank top up and put my arms back in the straps, and switch back into my scrub top. Just a side note, a nursing tank top would probably be a life saver and make it so that I wouldn’t have to do all of that pulling the straps down business, but I bought two before going back to work and they didn’t end up fitting, so I just did it this way. It takes 2 seconds to pull it down and my belly stays covered. I also think that a zip-up scrub top would be amazing but I never ended up buying any.
Once I’m done pumping and have my uniform back on, I dump the milk into a storage bag, label it, and throw it into my lunch bag in the fridge. I then wash my parts really quick in our break room sink and leave them on the drying rack for the next session, or shake them off really well and put them in my pumping bag. If I’m really strapped for time I’ll put the dirty pump parts in the plastic bag I keep in my bag and put them in the fridge. That way they can be used again without washing and bacteria won’t grow. When I get home I wash everything really well.
A lot has changed since those early days of pumping twice a shift. Around the 18 month mark we started a very gentle weaning process and dropped my son’s mid-morning feed. That left three feeds a day (morning, before nap at 1230, and before bed). That meant I only needed to pump once at work which made everything that much easier. We then dropped the feed before his nap around the 20 month mark so he was down to 2 feeds a day, but I continued to pump once at work to keep a little stash in the freezer. Last week, at 21 months, we dropped the morning feed, so now he only breastfeeds once a day before bed. For the first time in 10 months I went to work this weekend and left my pumping bag at home. I fed him before leaving for work and that was that. It feels great to finally be free from that thing, but a little weird at the same time.