I thought the hard part about returning to work would be leaving my baby for 9+ hours a day. I had spent the weeks before returning to work preparing my heart for that. What I did not prepare myself for was how hard it would be to return to work and still provide for my daughter in the same way that I had been able to, while taking on life as it were before I had had her.
Balancing my to-do list and meetings between pumping sessions quickly started to weigh on me. As soon as I started getting into a task, it was time to hook myself up and try to take my mind elsewhere, relax, and pray that I pumped enough to cover her needs for the following day. While I was lucky enough to have a great experience nursing and had really enjoyed that precious time with my girl, pumping was not at all the same. It was another task on my list. A hard one. One that drained me mentally and emotionally more than it did on a physical level.
And then I stopped producing as much. I stopped pumping enough during my sessions. The small freezer stash I had accumulated before returning to work was gone and daycare was asking for more to satisfy my daughter. I felt completely defeated and suddenly lacking as a mother.
I had to really check myself and my feelings. I had to be kinder to myself and push the negative thoughts out of my head. And I had to learn to accept that the idea I had in my head for how things were going to be looked different in reality. I started figuring out how to make things work for me and my situation. Because it was mine. And comparing myself to others would lead me nowhere good.
Sound familiar? Here are some of the things I learned and wish I had known then:
Pump Before Returning to Work: While I had pumped a handful of times for nights out and to introduce a bottle to my daughter, I had not added any extra sessions in to build up a milk supply at all or get myself better acquainted with the art of pumping. It wasn’t until I had to pump at work and realized I wasn’t producing as much as my daughter needed during the day to fill her belly and needs. Next go around, I will be sure to add in a pump session during the day to start building up a freezer supply (or even during the night if I’m lucky enough to have another good sleeper – fingers crossed!).
Stick to a Schedule: Even though I fed my daughter on demand while I was on maternity leave, there was a general schedule to her feedings. I highly recommend trying your best to stick to that similar schedule. Not every day will be by the book since meetings do pop up, and things happen that require you to be flexible. But on all the other days, your schedule should be your pumping bible to live by. By setting and sticking to a schedule, you’re putting in a “milk order” with your body. If you don’t – well, you don’t – and your body will likely think you don’t need it.
Give Me All of the Snacks (And Baby Pics): Just like breastfeeding, pumping takes a lot out of you. To replenish the calories lost and help nourish your body, have snacks and water on hand while you pump. Even when you’re not pumping, keeping up with your water intake and making sure you’re nourishing yourself is so crucial to being able to produce milk. I also always kept my phone nearby to scroll through pictures and videos of my little one to help ease my mind and encourage let down (and because she was so stinking cute, I couldn’t help it!)
There Is A Reason to Cry Over Spilled Milk: The day I spilled a bottle full of freshly pumped milk haunts me. Not to mention that I spilled it on my lap and had to continue work looking like I had peed my pants. I breathed deep. And then I cried. I needed to. Liquid gold, they call it. And I had just wasted the liquid gold I had worked so hard for. And you know what? If you spill your milk (which you likely will) feel free to cry, scream, feel whatever you feel. It is so warranted. But also know that it has happened to all of us and we totally, completely understand.
Keep Extras at Hand: I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I left something essential to be able to pump at work…at home. I don’t know how many times I had to run to the downtown CVS to pick up milk storage bags. I don’t know how many times I had to squeeze in as much office time as I could before racing home, nearly exploding, to pump because I had left my pump bag there. I finally wised up and bought extra parts that I commonly left behind to store at my desk. If you are lucky enough to have two pumps, just leave one at work to make pumping life easier on you.
Ask for Advice!: I was lucky enough to have another mom at work who was nursing/pumping at the same time. I turned to her a few times for advice or just to vent some of my feelings. And she heard me. And understood. And supported me without trying to fix the problem, because, really – it wasn’t a problem. What I was experiencing was normal. If you have a friend or coworker that knows what you’re going through, reach out! If you don’t, then – uh, hello! I’m here. Sometimes you just need someone to understand when it feels like no one does. (Thanks, Ashley!).
What You’re Doing Is Enough: When my daughter surpassed what I was producing, and I had gone through my frozen stash, I felt completely defeated. I cried to my husband and felt lost in what to do even though, deep down, I knew what I needed to do. I needed to supplement. I needed to feed myself the same reassurance that I would to a friend. I had to tell myself that what I was doing was more than enough. That fed is best. That my daughter was happy and loved me in spite of all of the ways I was making myself feel inadequate. And I want you to know now, that you are enough.