If you ever wondered what it’s like to pump at work 3 times a day, 5 days a week, you’ve come to the right place. Now that I’ve shared my minimalist pumping supplies, I’m going to talk about how I use them. This post discloses the nitty-gritty of pumping and might be TMI for some of you. Consider yourself warned.
To start, let me remind you that I’ve experienced two considerably different pumping journeys. At first I was only going to share how it’s gone with Maggie, but I started writing it up and it was so depressing. So I’ve chosen to include my routine when I was pumping for Lily because while pumping is never easy, it’s also not always ridiculously difficult.
Pumping for Baby #1: The “This is so easy!” Routine
When Lily was still nursing I was like a cow. I produced enough milk for at least 2-3 babies. At work, I pumped 2-3 times per day. If I pumped 2 times I still walked away with excess milk, but I also risked leaking through my shirt (there were plenty of times when I didn’t bring enough extra breast pads and had to stuff my shirt with paper towels). I typically pumped every 3 hours, and did it in my office while not working. My boobs would literally start leaking at 2 hours 45 minutes, so I had to be pretty strategic about making sure I could do this because I was also running lab participants for up to 3 hours at a time. These were paid breaks–this wasn’t actually discussed with my employer, but just assumed.
I shared an office with another girl during my brief stint working full-time, and I would just go and sit facing the window so our backs were to each other. I kept headphones in my bag, and would listen to music while either closing my eyes, gazing out the window (at half a tree and a brick wall–we were in the basement), or scrolling through my phone. I tried to avoid looking at my phone unless I had something coming up I needed to plan, or to look at photos of Lily. Looking at photos of your baby is a good way to help you relax and, hence, let down. I actually occasionally listened to meditative music to help with this, which is something I forgot about until just now and will have to start up again.
I started each pumping session by double pumping. My right boob has always been a better producer (I could pump 6-9oz during my morning session), and I completely stopped pumping my left boob when Lily was about 9 months old. The last few minutes of each session I would switch to single-sided pumping so I could massage the last drops out. Because pump bottles are made for normal women (they hold between 5-6oz milk), I usually switched to single-sided once the bottle hooked up to my right boob was full. In the morning I’d pump anywhere between 7-10oz total, and then about 5-6oz at each of my other sessions. I seem to remember averaging around 16-24oz a day but I could be wrong. I also know that if I had a pumping session where I only pumped 3oz I probably would have had a heart attack. I was so obsessive about my supply, even though I had like 80oz just sitting in the freezer, and really anxious about missing sessions and my supply just disappearing. I also drank Mothers Milk tea like water for literally no reason.
After pumping, I would try to stealthily transfer milk from the pump bottles into Lasinoh bags. Sometimes I just left the milk in the bottles, but this was like playing Russian Roulette because when I did this I would typically overproduce that day and run out of bottles to use for my 3rd pump. I’d then bring my little freezer bag of milk to the kitchen and stick it in the fridge. I typically washed my parts once a day, because I’d bring two full sets.
Once I got home I would stick the milk in the freezer. It’s recommended to date and time your milk bags so you can give milk you pumped in the morning to your baby in the morning, etc. We never did this. I figured that she was getting breastmilk which was good enough. I typically put the bags it would make most sense for Maggie to drink in an obvious place. I’d sometimes have to cobble together a few bags of different sizes to get to around 6-7oz. The next day, my MIL would thaw the milk in a measuring cup filled with hot water before pouring it into a bottle.
Pumping for Baby #2: The “FML” Routine
Pumping for Maggie has been so hard. I’m working full-time, I have a real job, and I also have a low supply. Having a low supply is really unusual if you’ve had an oversupply in the past, and breastfeeding second and subsequent children is typically much easier, so I just have terrible luck. I don’t take paid lactation breaks, so usually try to shift my hours (really minutes) around so that I get to relax until my milk fully lets down, and so I can wash my pump parts (about 5 minutes out of the 20 minutes total it takes to set up, pump, store, and wash). Sometimes I take the full time to blog, look at my phone, right angry letters to Governor Cuomo about needing paid lactation breaks, etc. and then just knock time off my lunch or come in early/leave late. I pump for 15-ish minutes, 3 times a day.
I try to start by washing my hands, which I usually only remember if I just went to the bathroom. I’ve also been trying to sanitize my desk once a day (for like the past week. and Maggie’s 10 months old. whatever.). Anyway, I then sit down at my desk in front of my computer and hook my pump up to my right boob. Let-down usually happens about 2-3 minutes in. After that, I have to do a lot of “massaging” to get enough milk out. This means that I’m holding the pump with one hand, and squeezing with the other. If I wasn’t also trying to work at the same time, this would take less time because I could massage continuously. About 10 minutes in, I switch to my sad left boob, which I get 1/4 to 1/2oz from. While with Lily this wasn’t enough to justify pumping on my left side, now I need all the liquid gold I can get and I do a little “woot woot!” on the inside when I get a little stream vs. a few drops. I’ll often switch back to the right for a minute at the end to try to get to my goal. This is 3-4oz in the morning (depending on the last time I nursed Maggie), and 2-3oz for subsequent pumps. My daily goal is 10oz, as Maggie takes 2 5oz bottles during the day (thankfully she isn’t as demanding of milk as Lily was or we’d be buying a lot more formula). If I only get 9oz, I’m also happy as half the time she doesn’t finish her bottles.
After I’m done pumping I pour the milk into Mason jars. Like I mentioned before, I’m trying to aim for 5oz per jar. I’m so glad I read about storing and handling breast milk on KellyMom, because I now know it’s okay to add to previously cooled milk throughout the day. When I bought my Spectra, I also learned that you only need to sanitize pump parts and baby bottles for breastfed babies before the first use! This could have saved me (okay, Ryan) soooo much time when we didn’t have a dishwasher and were sanitizing in a thing on the counter. If you don’t have time to wash your pump parts, you can just store them in the fridge because this prevents the milk droplets left on them from going bad. You can also store milk in the fridge up to 8 days, so I never freeze milk anymore. side note, breastmilk also lines your babies got with magic fairy dust that prevents them from getting sick (just swirl, don’t shake, the milk). Basically, breastmilk = magical rainbow unicorn.
I store my milk in my lunch bag in the fridge. I’m careful to rinse the Mason jars under water before reopening, because, let’s face it, there are tons of germs in lunch bags. Then I go on my happy way. I usually wash my parts right before I need them because I’m lazy. I have a sink in my office because it used to be a doctor’s office, which is random but I LOVE it.
One of the worst parts about this whole situation is that my back is wrecked from trying to pump and work, which requires a lot of hunching over. I have a pretty bad diastasis recti, and this is making it much, much worse because I spend so much time with terrible posture. I’ve let this go for such a long time, but I decided on my morning run today that I’m going to see if I can get physical therapy or rehabilitation for this covered by health insurance. I might day-wean Maggie at 12 months because I am so uncomfortable.
The only thing better about pumping for Maggie vs. Lily is that I have zero anxiety. Because I have no expectation of being able to pump enough for her, it’s not stressful.
Yay, isn’t pumping fun! Now everyone go write angry letters asking for better support for new moms. And free yoga for me, because seriously, my back.