Breastfeeding 501: Exclusive Breastfeeding for the Working Mom by Ashley P.
Written by Ashley P. Originally posted on September 3, 2016.
For many breastfeeding working mom’s, the fear or anxiety of returning to work post-delivery is high and strong. I know it definitely was for me. Thoughts that flood some mother’s minds include: Will I be able to keep my supply up? Will my baby take to a bottle or experience nipple confusion? I don’t have a freezer stash, will I have enough milk to leave with the baby? How will I juggle work life, pumping life, and home life?
Well, my friend Ashley, (a full time working mom) shares her experience of how she was able to maintain an exclusive breastfeeding relationship with her daughter Mercy for over a year. She is quick to let you know that although it was not easy, and took a strong commitment, in the end, it was well worth it and achievable.
I wasn’t married until the age of 29; no big deal I know now. Our first, a beautiful baby girl, came at 31. Baby fever has me hopeful for another at 32 or 33 years old. What I know is God is in control. It’s a truth I’ve known for some time but, it is very humbling when God reminds you. He had made this obvious to me, on multiple occasions, however, being the control freak that I am; I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that life was not moving in the direction that I felt it should have been.
I wanted to finish college on time, start a business and be married in my early 20’s. Start a Family by mid 20’s. Have a perfect pregnancy and birth, and be this lactating machine; nursing for a year. I’ll pause here for God’s laughter… In reality, life continued out of my control. It hit me hard as all of my plans never came to fruition. Instead, friends became engaged, married, and of course, pregnancy announcements were not far behind.
Turning 30 already comes with heavy reflection on life; and for me, I was dealing with the loss on multiple levels. I felt like I had lost so much time in my reproductive years and then I miscarried at 7 weeks 2 days right before Mother’s day. I know any mother who has lost a baby/child can understand the many questions you have, for yourself, your life, your body, and even God. Again, it is very humbling when God reminds you He is in control. My doctor assured me it was not time to push the panic button. She made it clear that I was young and healthy and there was no rush. She would just say, “Enjoy your husband,” You have plenty of time.
Through it all my husband was my rock. Without wavering he declared and ensured me that, someday, I would be the mother I was called to be. With all the support I had around me, surely, God had not left me. He simply asked me to trust him; and I did!
After much prayer and a smooth pregnancy; we were awaiting the arrival of a baby girl due August 28, 2015. Just like her mom she seemed to be on her own time. At 36 weeks 5 days on August 5, 2015, at about five in the morning, I was watching the clock waiting for my alarm. Gassing myself to get up and get ready to waddle my way to work. I suddenly had the sensation that I peed in the bed. I raced to the bathroom as little trickles continue to run.
Convincing myself that baby was just resting on my bladder, I idiotically, continued to get dress and proceeded to work. I did caution my husband to check in with me before he did the same. I was going to call the doctor to see me that day; I had that “I don’t know about this feeling”. I even called my older sister, who has three children, but she came to the same conclusion I did; it was probably nothing. Let us pause here for another moment of laughter….
Long story short, my waters completely ruptured at work as I was waiting for the nurse to call back. I didn’t tell anyone. I messaged my boss. She drove me to my car. I drove to the doctor (5 minutes away, thankfully). Husband met me there. I was admitted. I labored for 19 hours total and at 1:33 am on August 6th I was someone’s mother (Mercy M. Phillips).
Hospital Experience, Nursing (exclusively)
Mercy was immediately placed on my chest for skin to skin. Once the attention that I required was complete, the nurse helped Mercy get latched for the first time. It only took a min for her latch. I was able to nurse and obsess over her for as long as I liked. My hospital practices “baby at bedside”. There is no nursery, so to speak, for well babies. However, since Mercy was technically preterm and my waters were ruptured for so long she was taken, for about an hour and a half, to receive antibiotics, measurements, etc, and then returned to our room for the remainder of our stay.
Once in the room I had my first consult with a lactation nurse; it was maybe four hours or so postpartum. The lactation nurse first encouraged me to try and latch baby on my own. I was able to do so quickly with no problem. I was relieved that all my reading and classes had paid off. I was confident that baby would do great.
The nurse then asked me questions, once Mercy was latched on, about comfort. She showed me more nursing positions for both baby and I. She talked in depth about the importance of skin to skin. She was truly knowledgeable and such a help. I loved her. She was in no rush. She made me feel like I was her only patient and I truly knew she wanted to help.
Well, just when I think I have it all figured out; things change. At one of Mercy’s vital checks we discover she was losing weight (normal) but her sugar was low. We knew it was common for babies’ weight to dip, especially in preterm babies; so, the nurses just encouraged me to nurse often, on time, and for a consistent amount of time. They explained the sugar being low was just from her not taking in enough calories and how babies burn breast milk rather quickly. So she should eat often for at least 15 minutes.
Unable to see how much baby was really eating made me quite nervous. I knew I was only producing colostrum but I was unsure if that was enough. I tried to get super religious on feeding her; yanking her out the arms of visitors to nurse. But then, my sweet little angel decided she was too sleepy to eat and getting her latched on was impossible.
Insecurity, sadness, and complete defeat began to over take me. The old feeling I had, after miscarrying, began to creep back in. My body, in my mind, was once again letting me down. Doctors explain that she was too sleepy to eat because she was not eating enough, but in order to eat she had to wake up which she was just not interested in doing. The doctors and nurses by the end of day one began to speak of supplementing. This was my fear. I knew too many moms that had to give up nursing once baby preferred the flow of the bottle and fell to nipple confusion. I wanted to give my child what was naturally made for her and I knew the benefits of my milk.
Thankfully, my Lactation nurse was as determined as I was. Just as she assured me, she came to help when I called. I’m so glad I didn’t give in and I called for help. She was truly amazing. “We will get this baby to nurse” she said to me. She advised me to skin to skin as much as I could stand; of course I had no protest. She explained how Mercy being a little early may not have given her a chance to perfect her suckling. She showed me places to stimulate baby, and she helped me, literally, hands on, express on spoon and syringe for baby; until we mastered latching. We tried nipple shields and every position known to nursing.
But what really helped and worked best for me was the pinch move. (You pinch around the areola aiming the nipple up to the roof of baby’s mouth. As baby opens his/her mouth, guide the nipple back and upward into the mouth)
My Lactation nurse came to every feeding she was available for after that. Mind you, my baby’s weight had dropped from 6 lbs 9 oz to 5 lbs 13 oz. But, by the end of day two, baby and I were back on track for exclusive nursing. She was able go home after our three day stay but we had to bring her to her pediatrician every other day for a weight check for the first week.
Nursing once home on my own was no problem. It was priority and Mercy and I ultimately found our flow. I exclusively nursed every two hours. Then I pumped for 15 minutes after each feeding. This was our routine for the first six weeks.
After six weeks I introduced a bottle (Avent Naturals), but Mercy was never fond of the bottle and we never used pacifiers.
Nursing/Pumping While I Work work work work work!
I stayed home on maternity/bonding leave for 12 weeks. During this time I exclusively nursed; only using bottles the few times I was away from the baby. Two weeks before my return to working full time, I decided I would try to feed Mercy only from a bottle during the hours I would be at work. This did not work out so well for my child. She would NOT take a bottle. I was beginning to get so anxious and worried that she would starve herself until I got home from work.
I was down to one week before my return to the workforce when my mom (who would be watching the baby) and I decided to do a dry run of my work day. I dropped baby off in the morning around 7 am and picked her up in the afternoon around 3 pm. The result was protest at first. My mom said she did refuse the bottle at her first feeding but after waking from her nap she did take a bottle; with a little fussing. The same went for the feeding to follow. I was cautiously relived. So in the days to follow, I tried to continue giving her a few bottles during the day and nursing in the evenings and nights. (Ha) She would NOT take a bottle. I’m talking complete protest. What I soon discovered is Mercy would take the bottle from everyone else, just not me, and only if I was not in the room. She knew my smell and my presence.
Returning to work full-time was hard. It is still hard. I still miss my baby and I call often to check on her. I work forty hours a week; a schedule from 7 am to 3:30 pm. When I first returned to work, I would nurse baby and pump for 30 minutes (5-7 oz.) before I left home around six. I pumped three times during the work day. I would pump at work for 9 am, 12 pm, and 2 pm (15-20 oz). Then, I would just nurse her as soon as I got home around 4 pm. I would then nurse on demand for the remainder of the evening. Before bed, after her last feeding I would pump for 30 minutes.
By 12 weeks she was pretty much sleeping 8 to 10 hour stretches. So, I would get up to pump every three hours, if the baby woke to nurse, I would only pump 15 minutes after her feed instead of a full 30 minutes. This was our routine, on the weekends I nursed on demand, which was every three hours. I would only pump during the day after a feed to empty but I kept my night schedule.
I was able to keep up this schedule, physically. I never had an issue with cracked nipples; some minor soreness here and there. I was very religious about applying lanolin, when needed and coconut oil after feedings. I had two comfortable nursing bras from Target so I bought multiples. I also made myself somewhat of a uniform for work by rotating my most comfy nursing tops with either a black skirt or slacks and a black blazer (I work in a business office for a hospital). Thankfully, my job had a lactation room and I did not have to search for a place to pump. It also helped that my manger was a new nursing mom as well. She was understanding to the demand of pumping.
I will, however, admit my pumping schedule took a toll on my work quality. Honestly, it took a toll on how I viewed my job in general. Pumping every two hours for 30 to 45 minutes, out of an 8 hour schedule, is work. It took up a lot of time to stop working, gather my nursing bag, take an elevator to a different floor, pump, store my milk correctly, go back to my floor, and get back into the groove of what I was doing all while snacking like crazy. My work day revolved around my pumping.
It did make the workday seem shorter but, after being back at work four months and feeling like I’m only there to pump; it became annoying to go every day. Sure, I was getting paid, I was getting out the house, but I missed my baby and my day was still consumed with caring for her; just away from her.
I had become the stereotype of a working mom; unfocused and non-attentive to my job. It did not go unnoticed. My manger scheduled meetings to help me plan out my day on paper. She gave a few tips she used to balance her pumping and work load. I’m thankful she knew what I was going through. I was so ready to quit; my job, not nursing. My baby was completely hooked on my milk. I knew she wouldn’t do formula. Plus, knowing that I could produce enough milk; I didn’t think it was fair to give her an imitation when I was able to give her my milk. Every week and month that went by without a decrease in supply was my motivation. Also, having so much support around me of other mothers was a blessing.
I hit another obstacle once we introduced solids at four months. My cycle returned and I noticed a significant dip in my supply the first two days of my cycle. I would barley get two full ounces during a 30 minute pump. Luckily, I was storing a large portion of my milk so during these days I was still able to send milk with her to my mom.
Though I was not producing much, I continued to pump on schedule. I also used two drops of fennel essential oil (orally) during these days and drinking tons of water. Doing this, I was able to at least get 3-4 oz most of the time. When Mercy turned 9 months and she begin to eat almost anything; I dropped to two pumps during the work day.
I also stopped pumping over night around seven months. I would just nurse whenever she awoke. I was able to still keep up with her demand and I had almost 500 oz frozen. My goal had always been a year so at 11 months I planned to stop pumping altogether and for her and my breast to work out their schedule. I also, wanted to start introducing whole milk with breast milk to ease her into the switch.
One and Not Done
Now at one year old, we are down to three to four nursing sessions a day. She still nurses in the morning before I drop her off. She has some whole milk during the day with my mom (sometimes my mom mixes the two). I still have a large stash of frozen milk. I actually started donating some of my supply to the “Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin”. The Hospital I work for opened a donor drop off center; so I was excited about the chance to help preemies who need breast milk. If you’re able to; it’s a great cause.
I now only pump once at work; mid day. Then when I pick her up she nurses and she will nurse before bed. I thought at one year old she would be over it, I would be over it, but we are doing well. I thought she would be too grown (lol) to still nurse at one; if that makes sense. However, I’m fine with her going the fifteen months. I still plan to remove a nursing session each month. I think taking away the bed time one will be the hardest. I know I don’t want to go pass two years.
I laugh at some family and friends that make remarks about her nursing; “she will still be sucking at five years old,” or “I thought she was off the boob.” It doesn’t bother me. It’s my child. I remind myself that older generations didn’t really emphasize or know the benefits of breast milk like we do today. Moreover, it’s my child. It’s our journey and it’s for her well being and health. I have never second guessed my decision to breast feed. I’m not shy about it or ashamed. It is what God made me to do. I love it. When the day comes; I will miss it!
Final Thoughts and Tips
- Nursing exclusively is NOT easy; it’s time consuming. Don’t let anyone else decide what’s best for you and your child.
- I preferred my manual pump when pumping at work. I didn’t learn this till after 6 months. It is so much better at fully emptying your breast. And a lot easier to carry, but you can only do one breast at a time.
- Always bring cleaning supplies and extra parts in your pump bag. The pain of engorgement all day, because you realize you didn’t grab that little white membrane piece, is not worth it.
- Wearing dark colors hide leaks and spills (they happen).
- Make sure you know how to store your milk properly and remember to put it up as soon as you get home. Having to dump milk will make you cry.
- Cliché but, support is SO needed.
Thank you, Desirae for having me on the blog this week. I truly hope I was able to give some insight into my journey of exclusively breast feeding for a year and working full-time. My journey has not been perfect, it did not go as planned, it has not been easy, and it is not over. I only hope that I have opened a mind or show a different view. I pray you all maintain hope on where ever you are in your journey. May God Bless you, and your healthy babies!
Check out this easy cheat sheet infographic by Mom Loves Best, for tips on preparing to pump at work.