A Working Mother’s Guide To Lactation

by Erin Morrison-Fortunato
Originally Published: 
If I had known

Let’s face it, as much as we working moms who choose to breastfeed love to provide our hungry little nurslings with nourishing milk, pumping at work sucks. Literally. Hopefully this will help it suck a little less…

1. Find a clean, private, and, above all, secure location in which to pump. There’s nothing more appealing than a homemade meal, maybe a nice pastrami on rye, prepared while sitting on the toilet. Wait. That doesn’t sound appealing to you? Guess what? I’m likewise, not keen on serving my baby milk that was pumped in a bathroom stall. The first thing one must do when attempting to provide baby with milk is to find a clean place in which to pump. Preferably one in which there is not a readily available supply of toilet paper. A locked office, a private conference room… Hell, the custodial supply closet is probably better than the john.

The one benefit a stall does offer is a sense of security. There is something to be said for being able to slide that latch closed behind you and pump with the reasonable expectation that no one will be popping his head under the door to sneak a peek at the ladies.

There are few times when I feel more vulnerable than when my nipples are being sucked in and out of transparent plastic cones. I would almost rather be caught using the toilet than caught pumping, at least every human can empathize with availing oneself of the loo.

Whatever you have to do to get comfortable, moms, get to it! Throw on your hooter hider, lock the door, jam a stop under it, and put a sign on the outside that reads, “WARNING! Enter at your own risk. Lactating mom at work.”

2. Remove all pictures of your nursling from your work area. I once made the horrible mistake of looking at a picture of my darling little daughter while in the middle of teaching a lesson on Shakespeare. Almost immediately I felt it, the let down reflex. The milk came rushing in, and within moments, the front of my sweater was soaked.

Now, if you work a job that allows you to be relatively solitary, this may be no big deal. Run off to pump, change into the emergency clothes you’ve stashed in your desk and, voila, you’re ready to return to a productive day of work. However, when you teach high school, things are a bit more complicated. There’s no running off for a quick pump and change in the middle of explicating Hamlet’s “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy. Those kids require constant supervision. The catch-22 is, when you are standing in front of a classroom half populated by 16-year-old boys, the last thing you want to do is to draw attention to your breasts in any way. The answer? Look pissed off. That’s right. Find something to get snippy about, some reason to cross your arms over your chest and stubbornly leave them there until the bell rings and you are able to run out of the classroom, shoving bewildered teenagers out of your desperate path to escape.

3. Wear a “bulletproof” bra. The wonderful thing about nipples, is nipples are wonderful things. Pre and post nursing, they are useful, basically, for one thing, foreplay. But, while nursing, they become a conveniently portable milk delivery system. However (at least in my experience in nursing three babies), they also become insanely, uncomfortably, annoyingly sensitive to even the slightest touch.

God forbid your older children want to be snuggled. Their body heat is equivalent to waving your nipples over a flickering Zippo flame. Even the slightest gust of cool air orders your nipples into full on SNE (sudden nipple erection) salute.

It may be considered somewhat unprofessional to walk about the office proudly displaying your headlights. Hence, a thickly padded bra works best in camouflaging the protrusions, but may make your already swollen boobs that much more protuberant. But, hey, the greatest benefit of breastfeeding, in my opinion, is waking up three days after having your baby with ta-tas that rival those of Dolly Parton.

4. Make your pump time productive in more ways than one: produce milk and relaxation. After pumping for three children, I’ve perfected the ability to hold both pump apparatuses with one arm while checking Facebook, Pinterest, or reading a trashy magazine with the other. If you can manage it, have a little chocolate. Treat yourself, friend!

5. Create a code word or phrase to alert the necessary co-workers of your need to pump. Many male co-workers, while perfectly happy to discuss breasts in a sexual way are, for some reason, disturbed by the idea that breasts produce more than just erections, but also produce milk to nourish a human life. To keep these Neanderthals comfortable, I would use a code phrase to inform necessary co-workers of just why I needed to excuse myself. “I gotta go do the thing,” I’d slyly inform my female co-workers. Of course, if they bothered to pay any attention, the men would certainly notice that I was carrying a pump, pump accoutrement, and a cooler bag. But, thankfully, they tend to notice very little.

6. Bring a cooler bag with ice packs to store your milk in order that you don’t have to store it in the office fridge. For some reason, co-workers are put off by accidentally using your milk as coffee creamer, no matter how thoroughly you explain the nutritional value and immunity boosting properties of breast milk. Weird.

7. Don’t cry over spilt milk. Unless, it’s breast milk. They don’t call it liquid gold for nothing! After milking yourself like Bessie the dairy cow, you carefully unscrew the bottle from the breast shield, cautiously reach for the cap, and…DAMN!!!!! DAMN!!!!! DAMN!!!!! You spill ounces of your hard earned boobie juice across the filthy floor. Swear. Scream. Stomp in frustration. CRY!!!!!

8. After you’ve spent the time and effort to hook yourself up to the medieval torture device that is the pump, make sure to store your precious milk in a freezer that LOCKS. Twice, my hubby has accidentally left the milk storage freezer open, ruining hundreds of ounces of my milk. This is, in fact, grounds for divorce, in case you were wondering.

9. Program Your Pump to Chant a Calming Mantra/Reminder (You may well have to program your imagination too.) After a particularly exhausting night dealing with one tireless child or another, I doze in and out of consciousness while pumping. I can almost swear that my pump is speaking to me. My pump definitively chants the name of the child for whom I am pumping. After baby number one arrived, I could have sworn that my pump would repeat, “Leo. Leo. Leo. Leo.” It lured me forward, enchanting me like the beautiful song of the sirens. Of course, in my fatigue, I may well have been hallucinatory.

I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in hearing the pump chant. My bestie swears hers would reprimand her: “Keep going! Keep going! Keep going!” “Milk. Milk. Milk,” another friend reports discerning. My neighbor insists that her pump’s motor would demand, “Relax. Relax. Relax.” And, that’s what I would suggest you program your pump (and hallucinations) to repeat. Hey, if you’re going to be driven slowly insane by both working and mothering, you may as well relax and enjoy the ride.

10. Realize that, this, too, shall pass. As with most mildly uncomfortable things we mothers endure for the good of our children, pumping is a transitory part of life. Baby will grow out of his need for milk. But, for now, revel in the fact that, for all the truth there is in saying that pumping at work is a real pain in the nipples, even when you are unable to be with your nursling, your milk is there to comfort and nourish baby.

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