Miriam gets personal this week, sharing her advice to other new mothers who make the choice to pump breastmilk when they go back to work, as well as to the partners who support them, the co-workers who share their offices, and anyone who wants a glimpse of what it takes to continue breastfeeding a baby while working.
No one submitted questions this week, so as I sat on the floor of a bathroom stall at the Temple Law School deciding what to write about, I thought through the questions people ask me most in my capacity as “person” rather than “advice columnist.” Everyone wants to talk about my son, who was born in March, or they ask, “How is it being back at work?” but people never say, “How’s your milk supply now that you’re working again?” or, “Sat on any nice bathroom floors lately?” Someone actually did ask me about pumping in the advice columnist context, but I thought, “Surely that’s too personal, even for me.” Guess not.
In the past five months, I’ve pumped in the following locations: every room of my own house, a friend’s living room, six different co-workers’ offices (thank you!), the student kitchen at Penn Hillel, the National Museum of American Jewish History, a borrowed office at a downtown law firm (on two separate occasions!), a hotel lobby bathroom, my car, my husband’s office, both an office and a bathroom in the Jewish Community Services Building, and now, a bathroom at Temple Law.
I am reporting rather than complaining; this is my choice. I believe I’m doing what’s best for my baby, but it’s not my only option (and I would be remiss if I didn’t echo the recent Huffington Post campaign by saying that I support all parents, regardless of how they choose to feed their babies). However, for anyone who might wonder why I’m schlepping a humungous cooler everywhere I go or why my productivity at work drops precipitously every 3-4 hours, I’m coming clean (perhaps I should stop sitting on bathroom floors).
In the interest of providing actual advice, here is what I offer to working mothers everywhere who are making this choice, as well as to the partners who support them, the co-workers who share their offices, and anyone who wants a glimpse of what it takes to continue breastfeeding a baby while working.
- Be open about what you’re doing. To whatever extent you’re comfortable, tell people what you’re up to. It makes all that office-borrowing and sneaking around with bottles of breastmilk a lot less suspicious. I almost wrote, “To whatever extent you’re comfortable and it’s appropriate,” but I deleted “appropriate.” It just can’t be inappropriate to talk about feeding a baby, so don’t act like it is or like you have something to apologize for.
- Buy the right equipment. Specifically, invest in a hands-free pumping bra, the right bag to carry all your supplies, wipes so you can clean the pump parts without water and storage bags or extra bottles so you don’t have to wash bottles every night after work in addition to everything else you have to do. There are workarounds for all of these purchases, but it’s worth a small investment to make a potentially onerous task a little less stressful. Also, if you can’t pump at your desk, bring a magazine or smartphone to stave off boredom.
- You only need enough milk for the next day. Many mothers seem to have the urge to stockpile many days' worth of milk. You only need enough for one day at a time. Consider having one extra day's worth in the freezer to relieve some of the stress, but it's not really necessary if your supply is sufficient. Enjoy the time when you're home rather than constantly pumping to stock up. And try to enjoy the time that you're at work instead of constantly calculating ounces.
- Stop when it stops working for you. It turns out that breastfeeding isn’t an all or nothing game. You can pump until your baby turns a year old (or longer, but a year seems to be a pretty standard goal among the people I talk to). You can also stop pumping at work much earlier than a year and still breastfeed when you’re home. Formula will not hurt your baby, but your stress level might. Resist the urge to make pumping into a contest with yourself or your mommy friends, and don’t make yourself into a martyr to fulfill the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. No one knows your situation better than you, and no one else can decide what makes the most sense for you and your family.
- Continue this conversation. There are lots of breastfeeding support groups around town, online support groups, lactation consultants and other individuals who can help you if you let them. Talk to friends who have pumped and worked, and talk to friends who haven't to see what the other side looks like. Heck, I've just shared an awful lot of information, so feel free to email me if you have more questions!
Bonus fun fact: Breastmilk is pareve! That means that in a Jewish context, it is considered neither meat nor actual dairy. My understanding is that because it is not food for adults, it is not bound by the rules of kashrut that adults are instructed to follow. It also means that if you keep kosher, you don't have to worry about keeping the bottles separate from meat or dairy dishes.
I hope this opens up the conversation even the teeniest, tiniest bit to make it not so taboo to talk about this pumping thing. And I hope I find a non-bathroom option before three hours are up.
P.S. I'm happy to add to the list, "empty law school lecture hall."