As a working mother who breastfed I have limited time in a working day to pump milk for my babies’ consumption, especially on busy workdays or during business trips, it can become even more challenging. In my scenario, I didn’t have the luxury to pump the ideal intervals of every 3 – 4 hourly from when I last fed the baby in the morning. Eventually, I managed to find methods and ways to optimize the pumping sessions when I’m at work, which ensured that I was able to maintain a consistent milk supply for my kids without affecting my working hours and commitments too much.
As a basis for reference, let me say that I have three children of whom I managed to breastfeed, each up to at least 14 months old. My third and youngest child is 16 months old to date and I am still breastfeeding her. With my first child I really tried to follow the general rule of pumping 3-4 hours intervals, but looking back to that period in 2016, I was able to do so as the amount of work responsibilities and scope of tasks were lesser compared to my current job situation. Even so, on some days at work, I really had to push myself to get these pumping sessions in. As the years progressed, my workload at work increased and I really now pump at the bare minimum to get just enough to meet the daily milk output for my baby girl, who was the only one of my kids who refused frozen milk, and therefore I needed to pump her stash of milk fresh daily to give to her grandparents for her consumption the day after at their place.
After my maternity leave ended, I was adamant that my pumping sessions did not affect my work. I worked as an engineer in a manufacturing company and the majority of my immediate colleagues, and my bosses included were men, or were singles without kids, and I did not want to appear to be held back because I choose to breastfeed. Although there is nothing wrong with that, it was just a personal choice for me. It didn’t help that nursing mothers, at least long-term nursing mothers who usually nursed for over a year, in my work environment were a minority.
Fortunately, the place that I worked in offered comfortable nursing rooms, and my immediate boss was a family man himself and was understanding of my decision to continue nursing my children for over a year each.
Some caveats before we get into these breastfeeding tips are that I am sharing from my experience of being a mother who has a regular milk supply. If your supply is low and you are topping up or supplementing with formula, you may want to check out how to increase your milk supply.
Nevertheless, the key techniques below are still the same and can be applied in either scenario. In this article, I will talk about how to extract the most milk in a short period of pumping time (optimizing your pump sessions) and how to avoid these pumping sessions from interfering with your work schedules. Refer to below for recommendations on how to effectively pump breastmilk from my experience.
1. Catch the letdown reflex
The letdown reflex is the milk ejection reflex for nursing mothers. This happens when the body is stimulated by the baby when he/she is nursing or when you are pumping. In the early days during your postpartum period, you may leak when baby cries or when you even think about your newborn, as your body is still establishing and regulating the milk supply from your body. The leaking occurs when your body goes through the letdown reflex, and if you are pumping or nursing this helps in milk extraction tremendously. This means when you pump you should trigger the letdown reflex, and you will know when it happens, as your milk will flow out well and consistently at this point and you are able to extract more yield in a short period.
Typically my pump sessions will not exceed 20 minutes each. This is because after the letdown reflex has been triggered after the first 5 mins or so of pumping, you do not extract much beyond the 15-minute mark, from my experience at least. Hence, it is not about pumping longer, instead, it is to catch the peak milk secretion during your letdown reflex in your pump session. This will save your time and avoid over-pumping, which can actually hurt the nipples.
2. Pump while driving (or when your partner is driving )
I have a nursing cover always with me in the car. This is because I would pump in the car when my husband and I are driving out for lunch breaks and when we’re on the way home from work, as this then utilizes the time spent in traffic and during the commute back home. In my situation, I am fortunate that my husband and I do work in the same company so during lunch breaks and after work he would drive the car while I pumped under a cover in the passenger seat. Even if you worked separately from your spouse or are in the type of work that requires quite a bit of travel, I would say take the opportunity to pump while you are driving between locations or before and after work. That way, your pumping sessions will not eat into your working time. If you are solo driving , it would be best to get a hands free pump. As for me, I have used both my electric pump and my manual pumps ( after my electric pump gave out after 5 years) in the car since I was not driving.
Of course, it goes without being said, that you will also need to carry your cooler bag with your icepacks in the car with you for breastmilk storage after pumping. Fun fact, in my experience my breastpump icepacks managed to stay sufficiently cold for over 8 hours in my cooler bag.
3. Be Relaxed When You Are Pumping
Okay, most breastfeeding mother’s already know this. Your body expresses milk much better when you are feeling calm and relaxed. This is because your body releases oxytocin, the hormone that regulates the letdown reflex, when you feel relaxed. That is why some mother’s do online shopping while pumping, or watch YouTube videos or watch their favorite shows. The amount of collected milk is more as the letdown reflex is easily triggered when the mother is in a good mood. Try not to think about work, stressful topics, or be anxious when pumping, as you will find that your body will not express much yield and you would waste a good amount of time pumping and feeling frustrated. You can also refer to this helpful article on the Guide for Pumping Breastmilk by Whattoexpect.com.
Another thing you can do to trigger the letdown or stimulate more milk is by looking at photos of your baby on your phone while pumping. This actually worked for me as well.
4. Get a Breastmilk Collector
Ladies, I didn’t get this in my first postpartum after my son was born, but I used it in my second and third breastfeeding journey after my daughters were born. It really saved me time, prevented milk spillage, and helped to collect more milk for storage when my baby nursed on one side or when I felt engorged and needed to release some milk without actually ‘pumping’.
The silicone milk collector cup, or popularized by the Haakaa milk collector, is not a breastpump. It works by acting as a vacuum cup over your nipple that produces a natural pull or suction, which will collect milk from your body. It is especially useful in the first month or two after delivery when your baby may wake up frequently at night and you need to nurse her on one breast, while you can place the milk collector cup on the other breast to collect milk. Otherwise you might leak on the breast that your baby did not nurse on, and with the milk collector on it you can save the milk. It helped me stock up on my milk supply before I went back to work, and it was very easy to clean as it was in a shape of a single open cup, instead of washing all the parts of a breast pump.
One more mention, I did not actually get the popular Haakaa branded milk collector, as you can see from my photo above. If cost is a concern, do note there are other cheaper brands out there but it works the same. Do check the reviews online first before deciding on which one to purchase.
5. Keep your pump parts in the fridge in between pump sessions
This tip is for working mothers. After my firstborn, I religiously followed all the rules of washing and sterilizing my pump parts after every single pump session. If I was at work, this meant washing all parts, and then soaking them in hot water for at least 5 minutes to sterilize them, then drying the parts off. This took up quite a lot of time. So what did I do differently my third time around?
I placed the pump parts in a ziplock bag or plastic container, and I stored them in the freezer or fridge after pumping. No, I did not wash the parts, and the milk stains on the pump did not get ‘spoiled’ as the parts were kept cold in the fridge. Imagine how you would keep your fresh milk in the fridge for a week if not consumed, and it does not go bad right? Same for breastmilk residues on your pump when you store it for a few hours in the fridge. You can reuse then it for the second or third session of pumping. At the end of the day, I would wash the pump parts after getting home. Just make sure that you keep the pump parts in a clean and sealed container that is labeled under your name when you are storing them in a common fridge at work or in the office.
Those are the top 5 useful tips that I can share on this topic. My aim for this post is to encourage more working / or home-working mothers to breastfeed longer by taking away some of the assumptions that breastfeeding will demote you at work, or that it will consume too much time, or is too much a hassle to continue breastfeeding. Pump effectively and make it work for you and your baby. That being said, the decision to stop breastfeeding is purely up to you if there are other reasons of course.