In my experience, the most important factor in one’s success or failure as a pumping mama is ATTITUDE. As I’ll describe in coming posts, equipment and environment are two more important aspects. However, I firmly believe that if a mama is truly committed to pumping, she will find ways to overcome a difficult work environment and to make the best of what equipment she has available.
When one first decides to pump, whether out of necessity or by choice, there are several decisions to be made and options to think about and these ideas are all affected by a mama’s personal beliefs and her body’s capability to produce for a pump. Some things to consider:
1. What are my goals for pumping? Do I want to attempt to feed my baby breastmilk exclusively, or am I willing to supplement if needed?
Breastfeeding isn’t an all-or-nothing relationship. Even if your body is not able to produce enough for the pump to breastfeed exclusively, every ounce of breastmilk counts- and, after all, breastfeeding isn’t just about breast milk. I’ve heard many mothers say that they were unable to pump “enough,” so they quit entirely and went to formula or donated breastmilk. Remember that inability to pump DOES NOT equal inability to breastfeed, as some women are physically unable to maintain their supply on a pump. Are you willing to pump even if you have to supplement? Giving formula during the day and nursing when you’re home is an option. Even when my supply plummeted during my pregnancy with Junie, and Lucy was receiving formula bottles while I was at work, I was able to nurse Lucy when I was home. She didn’t get much milk, but I reminded myself that every drop of breastmilk contains antibodies, and the comfort and closeness we shared was wonderful.
Some suggestions: continue to breastfeed when you’re home. If you’re comfortable with the idea, put your baby in bed with you- baby can nurse at night. I’ve slept through more nursing sessions than I can possibly count. Some babies even reverse-cycle, sleeping while mom is away and nursing frequently when mom is home. This makes things easier for a mom who has trouble producing for the pump, because it decreases the amount that baby must be supplemented- especially in an older baby who is also taking solids.
2. How long do I want to pump for?
Setting a goal in regards to how long you want to pump is important, both emotionally and for practical reasons. If you only want to pump for a few weeks or months, renting a hospital grade pump is probably a better option than buying a pump designed for home use. If you are committed to pumping for several months to a year or beyond, buying a pump is the more economically sound decision.
Goals also help keep you focused. Set short-term goals- they are easier to meet, which is very motivating. Once you meet those, you can set your sights higher. I’ve known mamas who initially wanted to pump for 4 months, and dedicated themselves to that amount of time. By the time they reached that point, they had adapted so well and pumping was such a part of their daily routine that they set new goals for themselves- pumping for a year or even beyond.
3. Who can I talk to? What support is available?
I have found that talking to other mamas who are going through the same experiences as myself is incredibly helpful. In-person support groups, online groups, someone who works with you and pumps as well- all are options. In my last workplace, we didn’t have a designated pumping area- so I made my office into one. I pumped at the same time as a co-worker, and it really made things easier. It was a wonderful opportunity to support one another and share “tips of the trade,” which I’ll talk about later.
4. Be gentle with yourself.
Even if pumping doesn’t work out for you- whether it’s because of physical or emotional reasons- treat yourself kindly. You’ve done the best you could, and there’s no shame in that.