Working full time while breastfeeding and pumping? Here is what you need to know.

When I got pregnant, I knew I was going to give breastfeeding a try once my baby was born. I had the idea that it was completely natural all around and its nature’s way of me providing the best nourishment for my son. The night he was born, I immediately put him to the breast and it was very natural and he latched on and was eating immediately. I had enough of the “new parent high” hormones at that time that I hardly noticed the pain until a couple of days later.

The doctor told us he had a lip tie and a tongue tie which was making him less able to open up wide to get a good latch. My son would latch on and start feeding and it felt like a thousand little needles chomping on my breast, it was excruciatingly painful to say the least and combine that with all of the postpartum emotions, my breasts feeling full and heavy from the milk coming in, and the stress of thinking this pain would last forever was enough for us to take action. We took our son to a pediatric dentist to remove the lip and tongue tie and it was life changing. I also had a lactation consultant come to my home afterwards to make sure the latch was good, he was getting enough milk and gaining weight . Everything was going great and the pain was gone during our breastfeeding sessions. It was just proof that while breastfeeding is totally natural, it isn’t always easy and that was my first challenge with it as a new mom.

I exclusively breastfed my son for the first 16 weeks of his life. It was around that time that I returned to my full time job after my maternity leave. I started thinking about pumping ahead of time but I also read that it is better to pump a day or two before the baby needs the milk as the mother’s milk changes based on the baby’s growth needs, whether or not he is sick, etc. So for example, milk from four months ago will not meet the same nutritional or basic needs the baby may currently have. I did pump around 6-7 bottles of milk before returned to work to cover for when I was away from him, either on a date, an interview or something else. Those bottles were quickly used up though! Now that my son is nearly seven months old and I have been back to work for three months, here are the things I wish I had known or done before returning to work full time as a pumping/breastfeeding mom and the tools that helped me:

I wish I would have regularly pumped after I nursed him during my maternity leave.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and while I sort of knew this going in, its just I knew it was going to be a lot of work pumping and nursing my son. Especially since he nursed so frequently in the beginning (roughly 8-12 times a day). I just didn’t feel like pumping at all and it was hard to find the extra time to do it since I was already exhausted. The nursing was going very well so I never felt the need to pump extra or supplement with formula those first 16 weeks. It would have been a much easier transition if I included a coupe of pumping sessions in my daily routine at that time to make the jump from exclusively breastfeeding to mostly pumping a little smoother.

When I returned to work full time, suddenly I was pumping when I woke up, three times at work, then often once before I went to bed, while only nursing him 1-2 times a day for shorter periods. My body was definitely not adjusted to the pump so it was a little bit of a shock. I discovered I was also someone that did a lot better having a baby on the breast over being hooked up to a breast pump. I believe this is because a baby can better stimulate the serotonin release during nursing which lowers stress hormones. While I felt extremely fortunate to have a mother’s room at work to pump in a private and comfortable environment, I was still at work, pumping with my laptop in front of me so it wasn’t exactly the most stress-free time for me. Even in this situation, I still feel like it would have been easier for me had I been pumping during my maternity leave.

Pumping early in the morning usually produces the most milk

This may seem obvious but pumping in the early morning (between 4am and 6 am) is the best time to pump for maximum milk output. It can be difficult, especially when I’m tired and would rather sleep but its definitely worth it to get extra milk for when he is at daycare.

Add in a nursing session to the middle of the night

Some call this a “dream feed” where mom wakes up sometime in the middle of the night to wake the baby to nurse. This will naturally increase milk supply since it will signal the body to make more milk (there is no long stretch of time without nursing). This helped me initially and increased the milk output in my morning pumping sessions but it wasn’t sustainable since my son was mostly sleeping through the night and I wanted my sleep :)

Magic Foods and Vitamins (contains affiliate links)

There are a few foods I would recommend as mostly a pumping mom to increase and maintain milk supply. One of the things I do before work is make myself oatmeal with fruit and nuts. Each time I do this, I notice a significant increase in my supply. Here are some other things I recommend to boost pumping output:

  • Fennugreek (I love to mix this in with my protein shakes)

  • Go Lacta (vitamins to boost milk supply)

  • Eating anything with ground flaxseed or brewer’s yeast in it. There are plenty of yummy cookie recipes out on Pinterest for boosting milk supply.

I’ve done all of these things and while all of these definitely help, nothing is quite like having a baby at the breast all day. Unfortunately, mama needs to work so that isn’t an option for me right now. In all honesty though, I’ve come to accept the beauty of it all and still being able to provide my son with about 50 percent breast milk while he is at daycare and still being able to nurse him in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends when I am not working. I’ve learned over the past few months that I have to give myself some grace because I am working very hard and I need to remember I am also doing my very best. A happy mom equals a happy baby too!

So if you’re a working mom struggling with the pumping transition and you wish things were different—its all going to be ok. I hear you, I feel your frustration, I see you. You are an awesome mama and you’re doing your very best.

I’d love to hear about your pumping journey in the comments below!