Intro: Having a baby, whether for the first time or the 10th time, is life-changing. You’re up at all hours caring for your new little love, recovering physically, and establishing breastfeeding (AKA nursing round the clock.) Add in mountains of laundry, hundreds of diaper changes, and of course, countless times spent soaking in the newborn snuggles, and it’s easy to see why the days blur together. Before you know it, as a working mom, your maternity leave may be up. You’ve barely had time to settle into a routine at home, and now that routine is changing again. I’ve been through it myself twice, as a mom to two under 2 and a full-time teacher. While I’m certainly no pro, I have discovered some tried and true ways to find balance as a working and breastfeeding mom. Here are three things you can do to help ease the transition back to work and set you and your baby up for success.
Make the most of your time left
Chances are you’re reading this because you are not yet back at work but are starting to prepare. If that’s the case, I highly recommend spending whatever time you have left of maternity leave in the way that feels best to YOU. With my first baby, that meant doing lots of “trial runs”. I practiced waking up and getting ready for work, drove the route to daycare to see how long it took, and even did a couple of practice days of daycare where I sent my son for a half day while I ran errands or cleaned the house. All of those things helped me be less overwhelmed on my first day back at work, and helped ease the emotional transition of being apart from my baby for the first time.
With my second son, I didn’t feel the need to prepare in that way, and instead just snuggled up on the couch with my baby and squeezed every last drop out of that juicy newborn stage. There’s no wrong way to do it! I don’t regret the time I spent preparing to return to work with my first, or the time I spent doing absolutely nothing but loving on my second baby. Both choices served me best in that particular season of motherhood. The only wrong decision is avoiding making a decision, and instead spending your last days/weeks of maternity leave anxiously stressing over whether you should be doing something else. My pro tip: take some time to reflect on what feels best to you, and then be confident and at peace in how you choose to spend your time.
Identify your breastfeeding goals
As a breastfeeding mom, figuring out how to pump when you return to work is probably one of your biggest concerns. I live in the United States and unfortunately, support for breastfeeding moms can be about as dismal as our maternity leave policies. If you live or work in a place that does an excellent job accommodating nursing mothers, congratulations! Your transition back to work will be even easier. If your pumping accommodations at work will involve a storage closet... same, sister. It’s not ideal but I promise you’ve got this.
Identifying your breastfeeding goals before returning to work is essential because only YOU are in charge of advocating for you and your baby when you return to work. The hard truth is that it's not your employer’s business whether you plan to breastfeed your baby until 6 months or 2 years, whether you plan to supplement with formula, or how long your body can go between feeds/pumps without negatively affecting your supply. Your work doesn’t know if that 10 a.m. meeting will work for you or if it’s absolutely necessary for you to pump at that time. YOU make that call. Once you’ve identified your goals for breastfeeding, be kind but firm in your boundaries at work.
For myself personally, I want to make it to at least one year of breastfeeding this time around, and my baby is a big eater. I also don’t have a plentiful freezer stash at home, so I know I can’t be laissez-faire about getting my pumps in at work. As a general rule I pump FIRST and do my other tasks later. For example, when I pump over my lunch break, I always pump before eating. It’s easier for me to squeeze in a protein shake if my pumping time goes late than to try to fit in a rushed pump session because I got caught up chatting with coworkers over lunch. When you know your goals and keep them at the forefront of your mind, you will naturally make decisions that set you up for success.
Make things as easy and enjoyable as possible
When I was growing up, my family had this old fashioned vacuum that was huge, clunky, and a total hassle to take in and out of the closet. Did it work well? Yes. Did I avoid vacuuming like the plague? Also yes.
I tell you this to highlight my main point: the easier and more enjoyable a task is, the more likely you are to do it regularly. The easier you can make pumping, the more likely you will be able to stick with it and meet your goals. If you think you’re going to use a manual pump to avoid having to be near an outlet, but you hate manual pumping, it’s probably not the best plan for you. If you’ll have to walk down two flights of stairs to wash your pump parts each time you pump at work, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
My pump location at work is the storage closet in the nurse’s office. Is it ideal? Not really. But I’ve made it as easy and enjoyable on myself as possible by choosing an enjoyable podcast to listen to, using a hands-free pump so that I don’t have to worry about being near an outlet (check out this great Momcozy option that I love), and storing my pump parts in the fridge during the day at work so that I don’t have to wash them repeatedly throughout the day. It’s the little things like this that make pumping a much more enjoyable and sustainable habit.
All in all, the greatest tip I can give is to keep perspective. No matter how long your breastfeeding journey lasts once you go back to work - you’re a good mom. Your baby will be fed and nourished in one way or another. Your mental health matters too and never be afraid to make a decision that honors that. Happy mom, happy baby. That’s the only goal. You’ve got this, mama.