Friday, August 10, 2012

Being a Working Breastfeeding Mother

So for mothers like me, there comes an inevitable point when we must return to work. With Ethan, that point was at the 7-week mark. With Dylan, I was fortunate enough to stay home for 12 weeks. I feel truly blessed to have been able to spend that time with him. I know that many moms give up breastfeeding at the back-to-work mark, whatever it may be. And that's okay. Being a working breastfeeding mom is not easy, and its made less easy by the perception of so many.

Yes, there are laws that make it mandatory for companies to provide a clean, private area for pumping moms to pump. However, companies do have the right to fire pumping moms. It can be done under abandonment of the job. And such a thing has even been held up in a court of law. Ludicrous but true! How can this be? Well, apparently, "lactation is not pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition." Granted many states have laws regarding pumping and breastfeeding, if you're stuck in one that doesn't, well, you're screwed! Either way, once you leave the house with pump in hand, a whole new dimension is added to the breastfeeding experience.

I pumped in a janitor's closet with Ethan. It was so far from ideal and did not help me meet my quota. It was before the "Break Time for Nursing Mothers" law. So as I pumped, I was privileged enough to stare at dirty mops and filthy floors. Nothing says "let down" quite like smelly mop water! And so it was no wonder that at 5 months, Ethan was not gaining well and we had to start supplementing.

I now work elsewhere, and I have an office. During the pumping occasions, it's quite nice that my office does not have windows to the outside world. I simply shut my door and pump away. For at least 15 minutes, three times a day. The whole process of getting the bottle, hooking it all up, and taking it all apart takes around 20 minutes.  It's a rather annoying process. And, since I can only fit into dresses, I'm usually sitting in my office chair with my dress hiked all the way up to my neck!

I have come to realize there is an art to pumping and having the right instruments are essential. I have always had a Medela Pump In Style Advanced, which is a double electric pump. I don't think it'd be possible to pump enough without it. I have found, too, that relaxing is key. If I'm relaxed, I can get about 3 let downs a session, resulting in varying amounts of milk. I have a goal. My current goal is 15 ounces a day. And that's where I have yet to perfect my art.

Because I had to supplement Ethan at 5 months, I'm worried I may have to do the same with Dylan. That leads me to stress about the amount of milk I'm able to get in pumping session. So when all I find in the bottles at the end of a session is 2.5 ounces, I freak. I work really hard on that first bottle of the day. I push my body to give all it can give. If I can squeeze out 4.5 to 5 ounces in that first session, I'm relieved because I know the amount will dwindle from their. That morning session is WAY TOO IMPORTANT!

But learning how to pump at work isn't just about pumping in your office. This week, I had an off-site retreat at the local library. I came early and inquired about possibilities. The woman assured me that the study room would provide privacy. So when I arrived at the study room with key in hand, you can imagine my shock at realizing the door was a window. Yes. A window. But I made it work.

Being a breastfeeding working mom is not easy. It requires a level of dedication I didn't think I was capable of. It requires commitment. And it requires the willingness to see if your child wants to eat every 2 hours on the weekend so you can reestablish your supply for the upcoming week. There is nothing in the world that has made me feel more like a dairy cow than hooking up that pump and watching a machine pull sustenance from my body. I hate it. I loathe it. But I have a goal. I want to do for Dylan what I was unable to do for Ethan. I want him exclusively breast fed for 6 months. That means I just have to hold out for three more. At that point, the pump goes on craigslist, and I step back to feeding Dylan in the morning and evening. A year would be nice, but I'm a realist.

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