I remember the day I opened my breast pump. I was a couple of weeks into the New Mommy Thing. My mom and my good friend were by my side. I took the pump out, took a look at the pieces, took a look at the manual, and cried. We’re talking huge tears, snotty nose, ugly cried.
I knew I wanted to exclusively breastfeed my child and then continue to breastfeed after introducing solids. I knew I was going back to work when she was three months. I knew the only way to avoid formula was to make this pump my friend. So I did. My pump became my best friend — OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. I did, however, manage to make it to the one-year mark of pumping! Some days were harder than others, and there definitely were tricks I learned along the way.
1. Pump early and pump often.
Start pumping before you go back to work. I started around the three- or four-week mark, which helped me build a freezer supply and get super familiar with my pump. I pumped twice a day, on top of feedings, and very rarely used any of that supply before I went back to work. By the time I headed back to the office, I had a million or so ounces of liquid gold.
2. Work your baby’s feedings around your work schedule.
I breastfed my baby right before I took her to daycare and then raced back to daycare to nurse her for the late afternoon feed, rather than use a bottle. Most days this worked. Some days, I either didn’t get there in time or chose to do something else right after work.
3. Treat your pumping times as standing meetings.
When you go back to work, or even before, talk to your supervisor about your plans. Let him/her know the pumping schedule you are hoping for, and get his/her support. Explain that you may need to adjust this and describe how your schedule will be adjusted. Legally, your employer has to provide you with time and space to pump until your baby turns 1. I was very lucky that my employer was supportive of this and had a spectacular space to do so. During my designated pumping times — 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. — no one was allowed to bother me. Early on, my breasts would let me know my pumping time was approaching. As time went on, I would have to rely on my Outlook reminder. Either way, this time was sacred.
4. Make a system and use all available shortcuts.
I had my pumping routine down to the minute — two minutes to set up, 20 minutes of pumping, three minutes to disassemble and clean. At first I balked at the Medela Quick Clean wipes. But they proved to be such a time and sanity saver while at work, and I did a full soak of my parts at home overnight. The Medela microwavable sterilization bags also saved my sanity on those “never enough hours in the day” worknights.
5. Think of your baby.
Visualize your baby latching on and nursing. Take a piece of your baby’s clothing. Look at pictures of her on your phone. It may sound airy-fairy, but doing so has been proven to increase milk production. Especially as your baby goes through growth spurts and demands more milk, you will want to get every ounce you can.
6. Supplement and eat well.
Hydrate!!! Make sure you are drinking enough. Breastmilk is 80% water. Enough said. Also, certain foods and supplements are known to increase milk supply. Oatmeal, garlic, and brewer’s yeast were my top three.
7. Don’t stress!
First of all, stress affects milk production in a negative way. It’s biological — if you were fighting off a sabertooth tiger, your body would not be in a breastfeeding kind of mood. When you’re stressed, your body doesn’t know there is not a sabertooth tiger around.
Also, don’t stress if pumping doesn’t work out for you. Many babies are on formula, and they are doing just fine. Maybe your baby wants more than you are able to produce. Maybe you’re sick of feeling like a milk-making machine. That’s OK. Let it go. An upset and stressed momma is much worse for your baby than a can of formula.