My mom was passionate about breast feeding and taught me– long before I was married and ready for kids– about the many benefits of breast feeding. So for me there was never any debate as to whether or not I would breastfeed. The complication was that circumstances have also required that I be a working mother. I managed to breastfeed Parker (no formula) for the first year of his life. I continued with the morning and evening feedings after a year old… eventually dropping down to just the morning and then stopping altogether at 16 months. As this is now my second time doing this, I feel like I’ve learned a few things and have a pretty good system going, so I thought I would share my experience in case it’s helpful for someone who is new to breast feeding while working.
Selecting a pump: it’s the little things
Paying for it
The first time around we paid for the pump ourselves. It started to act up at the end of my time breast feeding, and as I failed to address the issue back when it would have still been under warranty, I was frustrated to realize we may need to shell out the money for another one. Fortunately someone told me I could get one for free through insurance!! It turns out they were right– I have 100% coverage on a free pump once per year– awesome! So tip #1: check with your insurance. If you’re going through your insurance, you may be limited in your pump options, but let me run through some things that make a difference to me in a pump that you may not think of.
The pump we bought with Parker was the Medela Freestyle, and the pump we got for free this time was the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. The biggest benefit to the Freestyle is no power (outlet) is required to use it. I could pump in the car, on our bed, in a bathroom (not my first choice, but sometimes it’s your only option), in a conference room… wherever! That is by far it’s best feature. With the Pump in Style (PIS), you’re going to want to have an outlet available most of the time. It does come with a battery pack for pumping on the go but it requires 8 AA batteries!
One of my favorite features about the PIS is that it requires less washing. This may not seem like a big deal, but when each attachment (per side) is 4 pieces (for the Freestyle) and you’re pumping 3-4 times per day, this can really add up. Each attachment for the PIS is 3 pieces, but the little white piece is so easy to wash it’s like only washing 2 pieces. Late at night when you’re exhausted, a little thing like less washing can make a big difference!
Another thing to consider is the type of bag that comes with the pump. The first time around I used the pump bag as my purse at work (and at various work functions I went to) rather than carry two purses. A clutch (see my previous post for how I recommend using a clutch) can easily be tossed into the pump bag along with anything else you might need, such as a case of sunglasses and keys. In the Freestyle bag, there is enough room to comfortably add these items. The PIS bag is less spacious as the pump is bigger and built into the bag (taking up about 1/4 of the space), so this time around I’m carrying both the pump bag and a purse. As a note, I haven’t tried the backpack version, but I would say there are times when you may want to play off your pump bag as a purse, so I would recommend against that style.
A nice advantage to the Freestyle is that it comes with a timer built-in. You will definitely want to time your pumps. I have an app I use to keep track of pumps, breast feeding, etc. that includes a timer, so that’s how I get around that disadvantage of the PIS. It was nice with the Freestyle to just glance at the timer rather than turning on my phone to check the time, but it’s not the end of the world to live without it.
While pumping I personally like to multitask– i.e. reading on my phone. In order to do that I need to be able to hold the adapters with one hand. The PIS is not comfortable to hold (it digs into your hand or arm), whereas the Freestyle adapters have a smooth back which is much more comfortable. As a matter of fact, even if you don’t feel compelled to multitask while pumping, the PIS is less comfortable to hold with two hands as well. I know some people use special hands free pumping devices (in fact, the Freestyle comes with one), but I’ve never used one, so I can’t speak to that option.
Once again, look all the way to the right to see what your hand would be pressing against with the PIS…
Packing your pump bag
I recommend buying multiple adapters for the pump. Everyone has their own way of handling pumping at work, but personally I like to be somewhat discreet about it. Therefore I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to wash pump equipment in the sink at work. Multiple adapters allow me to do my washing at home. I find 3-4 sets of adapters are sufficient.
I just label one large Ziploc bag “clean” and another “used.” After I finish pumping I simply place the used adapters in the used bag.
I keep bottle labels and a pen in the outside pocket.
I like to bring a burp cloth to keep the milk from dripping and overall make it a neater affair.
The number of bottles you pack will depend upon the amount of times you intend to pump during the day. I recommend using both regular bottles as well as smaller ones if that works with the quantity you are pumping (will discuss this more under logistics).
So personally I pack 4 of these:
When to pump
Right now I’m pumping 3 times per day. Austin normally eats every 2.5- 3.5 hours, so I aim to pump approximately every 3 hours. Occasionally it will be as soon as 2.5 hours or as long as 4 hours. I try to be flexible so I can work around meetings or busy periods, but it usually works out to a pump within 30 minutes to an hour after arriving at work, then another just before or after lunch, and a last pump shortly before I leave for the day. I try to make sure the timing of that last pump is early enough that I can feed Austin shortly after I get home if I need to.
I think it is beneficial to give a few key people the heads up so they don’t wonder where you are or why occasionally you “have to take care of something.” When you go, I recommend bringing your phone with you so you know the time (and as an added benefit it can serve as a source of entertainment). I do my pumping at work in a conference room of sorts– it’s a casual conference room with a couch. Make sure whatever room you use has a lock for the door. You may need to put a repeating appointment on the calendar for the room or make sure there isn’t a meeting scheduled.
The room I use functions almost like a private break room, and it is almost never used for meetings. However, one time some people were in from our headquarters, and they hand wrote a meeting on the calendar that I didn’t notice. So there I am smack dab in the middle of pumping when someone knocks on the door. I tell them someone is in there. They tell me they have a meeting scheduled. I tell them I’ll be out shortly. They continue to beat on the door regularly as they don’t understand why I’m not coming out right away. Suffice to say it was awful and incredibly awkward. So don’t let that happen to you!
In the morning I usually have enough milk for two feedings, so I just leave it in two bottles, though I may adjust the quantities to make them more even. However, for most other pumping sessions I combine the milk from both sides into one bottle, which is why I recommend using the smaller bottle I mentioned above. I generally don’t have more than the max capacity of 2.75 oz on one side, and the smaller bottles are cheaper and easier to wash. When you’re done pumping, I recommend labeling the bottle with the date and time. Our school also requires us to label it with the content (breast milk) and the child’s name. Then I just store the bottles in the fridge at work in the small black cooler that comes with the pump. You shouldn’t need to use the ice pack that comes with it unless you are not going home after work.
The fun really starts when you get home and get to wash all the pump equipment and bottles you used that day. The first time around we set out the pump equipment to dry on paper towels, which was a waste of paper and took up a lot of space. I noticed a friend using a grass drying rack, so we got that this time, and I love it. I can fit much more pump equipment and bottles in a much smaller space now, and no more wasting paper! So I would recommend grass or any other drying rack you like. The cleaning process is much easier if you allow the equipment to soak for a while first. Then we just use a bottle brush to remove any remaining milk. Don’t forget to also rinse out your used Ziploc bag so it doesn’t get too stinky. The next morning the equipment should be dry, so toss it into your clean Ziploc along with your bottles for the day, and you’re good to go.