You have a brand new baby and have soaked it all in, nursing on demand, snuggling up close, and providing physical and emotional nourishment for your little one. But now it is time to return to work. You want to continue to provide breast milk to your baby and also don’t want to lose your breastfeeding relationship, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to break out the pump. I never enjoyed pumping personally, viewing it as a necessity more than anything, but there are some things you can do to make the time more enjoyable and efficient.
1. Get the pump that is right for your needs. For most women, this is going to mean a double electric pump. It allows you to pump both sides simultaneously with very little effort on your part. Make sure whatever one you use is intended for frequent use. Some insurance carriers provide pumps, but the only one that was available through my policy was for occasional use. Be sure to set yourself up for success.. not all pumps are created equal! While you’re at it, make sure the breast shields you are using are the right fit for you. Here is a great guide (http://www.nursingangel.com.au/page/resources/choosing-the-correct-breastshield-size/).
2. Purchase or make a hands-free pumping bra. When I started pumping, I was manually holding the breast shields in place, noticing that my wrists were getting very sore from the awkward angle I had to hold my hands. When it came to working the controls on the breast pump while simultaneously holding the shields in place, it was like an awkward juggling act. I personally chose to buy a commercial pumping bra that had a fully adjustable Velcro strip in the back, but in a pinch you can make your own by cutting a hole or slit over the nipple in a sports bra or belly band. Place the opening of the breast shield through the opening of the bra, position it correctly, and voila! Free hands! These bras don’t necessarily look the best under clothing, so I would wear a nursing bra and then when it was time to pump, pull back the cups and place my pumping bra over top.
3. Pack pictures and/or a cloth that smells like your baby. The hormone prolactin is responsible for the creation of breast milk, but ocytocin – the love hormone – is responsible for let down, or ejection, of the milk. Breast pumps have special settings that are supposed to help trigger let down, but for some women, this can take a long time. If you surround yourself with reminders of your baby, you can increase the flow of ocytocin, and hence the flow of milk. It’s also a great reminder of why you’re voluntarily holed up in a closet with a strange device strapped to your chest. Perspective really can make a difference!
4. Practice “hands on” pumping. While breast pumps are really becoming quite advanced, they still cannot mimic the complex movements of a baby’s suckling, and are not quite as effective at removing the milk. Even when the flow slows to a trickle while using a pump, there can still be a good amount of milk left in the breast. I didn’t use these hand expression techniques for the first six or so months of pumping, and when I started, I kicked myself for not doing it sooner. Check out this (NSFW) video by Stanford University to learn more about the technique and make the most out of your pumping sessions! (http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/MaxProduction.html)
5. Drink a glass of water and eat a healthy snack while pumping. Your body is doing the amazing task of creating food for your child, but it is up to you to make sure that it has the fuel and fluids needed. Sometimes it can be hard to remember to stay hydrated or get the nutrition you need throughout the day, and pumping breaks are a great time to do this. I lost a lot of weight very quickly after my daughter was born, and was excited about that, but wondered why my supply never seemed high enough. I didn’t realize until much later that I hadn’t been supplying my own body with what it needed to properly provide for my daughter.
6. Buy extra pump parts and bottles. If you’re like me, you hate doing dishes.. especially ones that you have to wash by hand. Maybe you have a partner who’s especially helpful with cleaning at the end of the day, but even still, you will want to have at least one whole set extra for those times when you just can’t bring yourself to break out all the special little brushes needed to get into all of the small crevices on the multiple pieces that seem to NEVER END. I was clear that I hate doing this, right? Personally I liked having one set for each day I worked and would wash one large batch at the end of the week. Find out which bottles will attach for your pump, because if you can pump directly into a bottle that your baby will drink from, so much the better!
7. Wear tops that would be easy to nurse in. You’re heading back to work and finally have a reason to shower and look your best. You’re starting to get your pre-pregnancy body back, and are excited to get into some of those cute tops and dresses you used to wear. It’s time to pump and suddenly that outfit is not so cute anymore. Even if you have a completely private space, it may still seem awkward to strip your clothes off at work. If you wear button down shirts, or even a stretchy tank underneath that can be positioned below your breasts, you’ll be able to pump without completely stripping down. Remember that if you need help getting into or out of a top or dress, it’s probably not going to be a great choice for pumping!
8. Breathe. This is a lot of information and may make pumping seem more difficult than it really is. I promise that as awkward and time consuming as it may be at first, you’ll fall into a routine and a rhythm in no time. Try to let yourself relax for the time it takes (20-30 minutes start to finish for me), and enjoy the peace and quiet that you might not get so much of anymore. Your body is doing an amazing thing, creating this nurturing gift for your child. Trust it to do what it needs to do, and breathe in the knowledge that even while you are away, your baby is still getting this amazing nourishment from you.
Did I forget anything? Please comment below if you have other tips you’d love to share with fellow pumping mamas!