Ask any nursing mama who is looking down the barrel of her return-to-work date what she is most anxious about and she will probably say continuing to breastfeed while working. It’s a major source of anxiety and stress that forces many to quit breastfeeding before they’re ready or lose confidence in their ability to be successful working mothers. Indeed, only 26% of full-time working moms breastfeed for the first 6 months of their baby’s life and only 17% full-time moms manage to for the first year.
We need to work together to make it easier for moms who wish to continue breastfeeding. But if you are the mama going through it right now, you don’t have time for all that, you just want to know how the hell you’ll do it. Here are some things I learned as a breastfeeding/working mama of two kids these past few years:
1. Don’t Hide It.
It’s ok to be discreet, but don’t treat pumping at work like a secret you have to hide from everyone else. I don’t mean that you should pull out and start pumping your bazongas in the middle of a meeting, but you have to be open about your status as a nursing mom and what that means for you with your coworkers. It feels awkward to talk about it at first, as if there is something to be ashamed or embarrassed about, but your boss and coworkers aren’t going to treat it like a natural part of your daily routine unless you do. And you know what’s REALLY awkward? Two coworkers walking in on you pumping because you were too embarrassed to tell people they should knock or ask for a lock on your door (or even ask for a cover for your door window, which is why you were hiding in a corner of your office). So just tell people the truth, it’s better than the alternative, trust me.
2. Ask for What You Need.
If you need a lock, get one (see above). If you need to block out your calendar at certain times of the day, do it. If you need to adjust your schedule temporarily to meet the needs of your baby’s feeding or pumping schedule, ask your boss for a change. I’ve turned down lunches, excused myself from portions of long meetings, and shifted my entire schedule to make it work. It’s not easy, and there are probably people who won’t understand it. But once you prove that how you feed your baby doesn’t interfere with your brain or productivity, most people will be fine. And if they’re not, f them.
3. Remember How Tired You Are.
A mama who was up 3 times feeding her newborn and still has to be showered (sometimes) and presentable (sort of) and at work by 8 will sometimes forget, well, everything. Forgive yourself for how absent-minded you will be in advance, and just prepare for it. Leave extra pump parts and freezer bags at work for when you inevitably forget something. Carry your pump charger with you in case your pump dies midday. Leave an extra shirt (or entire outfit) in your car for when you spill milk. And let yourself weep when you spill it.
4. Keep Your Perspective.
Breastfeed for as long as it feels doable for you, but don’t think in terms of goals. Your kid will never remember or care that he or she wasn’t breastfed. That said, you can ride out the hard days by remembering that it continues to get easier and easier. If you would like to do it for a year, just know that the 2nd 6 months are WAY WAY easier than the 1st 6 months. Your baby will start sleeping through the night, and it will get easier. Your baby will start drinking less frequently during the day (so you get to pump less), and it will get easier. Each month, it WILL get easier. If it doesn’t, or you don’t enjoy it anymore, then stop. But if you’re just having a hard day or week, just know that you can do this.
5. Pay It Forward.
No matter what your feeding choices are, support other moms and their choices. If your coworker is going through it, advocate for them. And if you supervise a new mom, be cognizant of what she may be going through and ask how you can help make it work. When breastfeeding at work becomes a normal part of the dialogue, policies will change and the stigma will (hopefully) vanish. We can all be a part of that.