Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pumping at work - teacher edition

My sweet closet setup - I think it's improved my balance.

At first, I thought I could never post about this, and would have to leave the intimate discussions of breast milk up to moms who have jobs where they work exclusively with adults. I’m about two months in now, and certainly no expert. One thing I have learned is that to make it work, you need to have no shame about it. Not that it’s a shameful thing, at all, but there’s just something about pulling out your boobs at work that doesn’t feel like it goes hand in hand with professionalism. Obviously, it’s not something that I share with the children, but you know what, if a child or parent from school finds this, well, I’m discussing doing what I need to do to feed my child the way I choose to.

If you don't want to read about how this child eats, you need to stop now.

This post is in no way a “how to”, because as I said, I’m pretty new to it myself. It’s just my experiences with it so far, to compare, commiserate, or maybe give a look into the future for any pregnant teachers. Like, so, so many things, and many more I’m sure I have yet to discover, my thoughts about this while pregnant and my thoughts about it when the time came differed quite a bit. I planned to breastfeed exclusively while on maternity leave, and transition into pumping and sending breast milk to daycare (continuing to provide straight from the source on nights and weekends) when I returned to work.

I started pumping and Dalton started on bottles when he was three weeks old, as recommended by our pediatrician.
 I had heard a lot about babies refusing a bottle, and it made me really nervous. That was my first lesson in not worrying about things that are not actually problems for your baby, because Dalton guzzled his first bottle down with no issues.
Much like his parents, anyone who feeds him is his friend.
From then on, Eric would give him a bottle once a day (usually in the middle of the night) to make sure he would continue to drink from them.
Ahhh you can barely even see him here because he is SO TINY.
I pumped twice a day for the most part. Once to work on building a freezer stash, and once around the time Dalton would get his bottle. While that meant I was waking up in the middle of the night to pump, I still felt like it got me more sleep since the pump didn’t require a diaper change or being soothed back to sleep. It was worth it to maintain my supply and start work with a decent amount of breast milk in the freezer. (Breastfeeding is a supply and demand process, which means that it’s important to pump when the baby eats, so your body knows to make more milk.)

My original attitude was that I would make it work no matter what. Let’s stop here, because I need to put a caveat in. I 100% support any mom who feeds her baby. Period. I’m not a doctor, but I don’t agree with “breast is best”. I understand the nutritional profile comparison, but my personal opinion is that a healthy, sane mom is best. I don’t think someone forcing themselves to do something that they aren’t comfortable with 8-12 times a day is best.

With that said, we did decide that breastfeeding was best for our family. But once my maternity leave was coming to an end, and especially my first few days back at work, I started to realize that providing breast milk while I was away from Dalton wasn’t such a cut and dry process. I had foolishly assumed that it was a simple equation. Mom + Pump = Bottles.
So, so many bottles.
Only when I actually dived in did I realize that pumping is one fickle bitch. Did you know you can pump at the exact same time, in the exact same place, after eating the exact same thing, two days in a row, and get half as much milk on the second day for no apparent reason? I sure didn’t.

I was totally unprepared for just how much it takes over your life. Imagine if you absolutely had to hook yourself up to a machine which renders you immobile, every 3 hours, at work,  preferably in private, no matter what. Just think back on last week and try to fit it into your schedule. It’s doable for me, but it has to stay at the forefront of my mind. Also, you know how they say don’t weigh yourself every day, because your self worth gets caught up in the number? Luckily I don’t suffer from that problem, but it’s really easy to start measuring your self worth in how many ounces you can (or can’t) pump. Crazy, yet true.
For all intents and purposes, this is what you become. Less cute, though.
Then there’s the math. My boobs aren’t nice enough to pump exactly the amounts that Dalton needs for each feeding, so there’s constant storage, transferring, and my god the math. Way more than this reading teacher ever wanted to do.
This is my evenings now. Bagging, rotating the freezer stash, getting bottles washed and new ones ready for daycare - fun times.

Another factor is everybody’s good friend, stress. Stress can take a happy pumper and SHUT. THINGS. DOWN. As I was getting more and more anxious about returning to work and Dalton going to daycare, I was getting less and less milk in my home pumping sessions. It became a vicious cycle; the more I would watch the bottles to see how much, if anything, I was getting, the less I would be able to pump.

No problem, though, right, because I was on my way to pumping only in everyone’s favorite stress free environment: work! The first day was a disaster. I time my pumping sessions for various reasons that are boring. Which means I can tell you that exactly 2.5 minutes into my first work pumping session, I got walked in on. In my classroom, with the door locked. I had been merrily pumping along, and then the shock of the door opening completely ended things. No more milk that session, and pretty much for the rest of the day. I didn’t get nearly the amount I needed for daycare, and I cried. At work. In front of kids.


Clearly, something needed to give. My “I’ll make it work no matter what” attitude was shutting the whole operation down. I changed my mindset to “if it works, great, if it doesn’t work, formula, and either way he will be fed”. It wasn’t quite as easy as POOF! new attitude!, and it’s certainly not like I never count my ounces and stress over it, but eventually I got to a better place.

Teaching is kind of simultaneously fantastic and terrible for pumping. There is absolutely no flexibility in the daily schedule. The good news there is that my boobs are now on this schedule and know when it’s time to get it going. The bad news is that you don’t choose your schedule, and it may suck for pumping (you really need your “breaks” to be spaced out).

As I said at the top, I quickly learned that it was crucial to get over being embarrassed about it. I can only speak for my profession, but teaching is a pretty collaborative job. I teach elementary school, so I have students with me at almost all times of the day. Obviously, I’m limited to pumping only during times my class is with another staff member (special area and lunch). Even during those times, I often have to meet with colleagues. That left me with three options: don’t pump, don’t attend the meetings, or get over it, throw a cover on, and keep it moving. I went with #3.

Generally, people go into teaching because they like kids, so they often have their own. This means my coworkers are really supportive when I inform them that during our meeting I will be stripping down, playing baby crying videos, and using a loud, irritating machine for the majority of the time. In my short time as a work pumper I’ve gone from crying over getting walked in on (by a good friend, not a random) to sitting in a data meeting with maybe 10 other adults, discussing test scores while pumping under a cover. All staff members involved were mothers, and really nice about it, although there was a college intern that I most likely traumatized. I needed to pump, and I needed to discuss data with my team, so there you have it.

I have to be borderline maniacal about protecting my pump times. We just went on a field trip, and I called ahead and found a place to pump and once again my wonderful coworkers supported me by watching my class there, and when we returned (when I needed to pump again). I leave my night (penis) class to pump in the bathroom. I’m pretty sure everyone thinks I have to take a twenty minute dump at 5:30 each Wednesday night, but it is what it is. I had to just lay it out there for a male coworker who “needed” my help during my planning time, and tell him that if I didn’t pump at that time, I wouldn’t have enough breast milk to send with my son to daycare.

Missing one pump session isn’t going to derail all my efforts. But, aside from the obvious reason of needing the milk to feed Dalton, my supply depends on consistency. Again, one deviation isn’t a big deal, but at work (and I’m guessing this is the case at all jobs) there’s always something that comes up. It seems like it could be a very slippery slope to skip it “just this once” for the field trip, the data meeting, because the gym teacher needs me, etc, etc. So I don’t skip it. Ever. Unless a true emergency does come up.

Originally, I was going to breastfeed for a year, come hell or high water. Now, I aim to just make it one month at a time. Dalton is five months, so my current goal is to get to six months. He starts solid foods then, although I recently learned does not mean he needs less milk. I would be absolutely thrilled to make it to the end of the school year. I really love breastfeeding. I'm not planning to go all Lysa Arryn or anything, but if the stars align and the gods smile at me and we are still going at the one year mark, I don’t necessarily plan to wean then. However, all that will be thoroughly reevaluated when Dalton gets teeth.

That thought is what nightmares are made of.

From what I understand, the way some people are blessed with height, or perfect teeth, or whatever, some people are blessed with the natural ability to make a ton of milk. I am not one of those people. If you google “how to increase your supply”, you can assume I’m doing all the things you will see. I pump in a closet at lunch, balancing the pump parts and my lunch in my lap because I honestly can’t afford the extra 3-4 minutes it would take to return to my classroom (where I could actually eat at a table). I pump four times (at least) each weekday to get enough milk to send the following day, and 1-2 times on the weekends to build my freezer stash. I’m not complaining – I feel super lucky to be able to do it at all, and it’s 100% worth it for me.

Because those thigh rolls do not grow themselves.

I do wonder if milk production is genetic? It’s hard to evaluate because pumping at work wasn’t really as much of a thing in the previous generation, and my mom just breastfed all of us exclusively after her three ZOMG natural births (the desire to do that sure as hell wasn’t passed down). My sister and I both noticed that our lefties carry the team, while the right boob is like the guy who just lets everyone else in the group do all the work while he completely slacks. We were fairly similar in our pumping output. If my prediction is right, and she’s currently carrying my niece (they aren’t finding out!), maybe we can see in like 30 years. But by then pumping will probably be revolutionized and way easier.

Thoughts on milk production being genetic? Feel free to keep any stories along the lines of "I pump ten ounces in a few moments just like my mom!" to yourself though.

If you work with me, on a scale of 1-10 how sick are you of seeing and/or hearing about my boobs?

If you have nothing to say about breasts, what's the worst problem that stress causes in your life?


  1. I am seriously impressed with your commitment to pumping!! I'm not building a supply in the freezer because pumping any more than necessary fills me with dread.

    Don't worry about the teeth. Leif has 4 and I do not get bitten on the regular.

  2. I appreciate this glimpse into what my life will be like when I am returning to work in ~6-7 months. I just need to hold on to my current job because while it does not have a routine schedule each day, it does offer flexibility to take breaks during the day. Congrats to your sister on #2!

  3. You already know more about my boobs than most people. It takes so much work and so much thought to make it work. I had no idea. I agree that the first few days are definitely the hardest and then it gets easier. The one thing I've heard that I completely agree with is to not quit on your hardest day.
    So exciting for your sister. I think I could wait to find out the sex but my husband couldn't! My SIL just found out they're having a boy!!

  4. So much of this post resonated with me. My daughter will be 1 in a few weeks and I am a school social worker. Just like you, I spent my maternity leave getting up in the middle of the night to pump. When I went back to work that was just impossible. At 10 months I began supplementing with formula, and I've already decided I will not be setting an alarm to get up in the middle of the night to pump for our 2 child. He or she will make it just fine with a little formula in their breast milk.

    My favorite part (and I believe the most important part) was about protecting your pumping time. In a helping profession, it's difficult to prioritize your needs. Just like you, I've had to really spell it out for people, but I like to think I'm making it easier for the next mom.

  5. You're a rockstar! I admire moms that are able to maintain pumping at work because pumping at home is hard enough, I can't even image doing it at work as well!

    On a side note, Dalton literally makes the cutest little cow ever.

  6. This is awesome! Sounds like you are doing great. I pumped for over a year and work it definitely is something you need to stay consistent with. I don't miss it now, but love that I actually made it as long as I hoped. Thinking of your meetings...have you seen this new pump! http://www.freemie.com/ It's amazing. A colleague of mine uses it and says it's great. Wish I had it 17 months ago!!

  7. Thank you for this post! Very helpful!

  8. I am a first grade teacher and I just went back to work while my 5 month old stays with my mother-in-law. I am blown away by your courage to pump in your data meeting! I am currently incredibly stressed out about maintaining my supply. I was exclusively pumping during the summer with relative ease, but the school year has me nervous. Most days I would pump 6 or 7 times, but now that I'm back in school most days I'm lucky to get 5... Kudos to you. I'm curious to hear how it went a year later.


Thanks for commenting! Comments make me probably more happy than they should.