Pumping at work: One mom’s frustrating story

Recently on the mother to mother Breastfeed, Chicago Facebook group, a mom vented a brief story of a negative interaction with a coworker that she had regarding her need to pump at work.  This story sparked a very strong memory for me of a time, now 6 years ago, when I too returned to work and was pumping so that I could continue to breastfeed my baby.  I wanted to share that story with all of you in hopes it might be helpful to others.

Whenever I think about new and veteran moms returning to work and pumping, I am immediately brought back to December 2005.  I was a new mom, returning to work after my 3 month maternity leave.  I was a social worker in an outpatient HIV clinic within a large hospital in New York City.  I was very fortunate in that my daughter was going to the day care that was part of the hospital across the street from my office.  This afforded me the opportunity to go over during my lunch and breastfeed her, thus eliminating one time a day when I had to pump and also one less bottle that someone would be giving her.  Like many new moms who have returned to work, I was no longer the same person I had been when I left to give birth just 3 months before.  I now had a new role in life, new priorities and my job no longer really ranked up there with the things that mattered most to me.  I knew that I was going to be moving in 6 months and had it set in my mind that I could handle pumping at work for that amount of time.  I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but with an end in sight, I thought, “how hard could it really be?”

At the time, I shared an office with two other coworkers, both female social workers.  One was, and continues to be a very close friend.  The other was a friend prior to me having a baby and even came to my home to visit me and my daughter while I was on maternity leave.  My actual cubicle was at the back of our office space, meaning that my coworkers did not have to walk past my office to get to their own.  On my first day back at work, both of my office mates were out.  It was great!  I did my job, saw my patients, put up my little curtain and pumped when I needed to.  In between I washed all my pump parts, and nursed my baby at lunch over at the daycare.  I felt empowered by my ability to work and also provide the most nutritious food for my baby. Sadly, when everyone returned, this all changed.

The coworker who I was very close with thought it was great that I was pumping at work.  She didn’t have children of her own but understood the purpose and the necessity of it.  The other one, we’ll call her Veronica (her name has been changed to protect the not so innocent), was another story entirely.  I told her that I would be pumping a couple of times a day in my office and that I would try to do it at a time that she wasn’t going to be seeing patients.  I asked that, if the actual door at the entrance to the office was closed, could she please knock before coming in?  She didn’t take this well at all.  She accused me of trying to control her and thus preventing her from doing her job.  She also told me she was not comfortable with hearing the pump from the other side of the cubicle wall.  I’m embarrassed to say that several screaming arguments took place between us which usually led to one of us storming off.  Suffice it to say, this did not make for a very relaxing environment to pump in.  In retrospect, I realize now that I was very hormonal, exhausted from being up at night with my newborn for the last three months, and in the midst of a major life change between having just become a mother and now transitioning into my role as a working mom.  I also naively assumed that all would be supportive of my choice to breastfeed.  Now when I think back on it, I realize that I did not have any other friends with babies, and I didn’t know anyone who had returned to work while pumping.  As time went on, I began to think about some of the things that had happened to Veronica that may have made her react how she did.  She was single and her slightly older sister had just had a baby a few months before I had.  Her sister had chosen not to breastfeed so the actual process of continuing a breastfeeding relationship while working was foreign to her.  That being said, she made no attempt to understand what it entailed or what I was going through.

The hostile climate in the office worsened, when a week or so after I returned to work, the New York City Transit Authority went on strike for 4 days, discontinuing bus and train service in all 5 boroughs.  Since I no longer had any sick time left (it was all used up during my maternity leave), I had no choice but to go to work, but that also meant figuring how how to get my infant daughter there as well.  Since many of the day care workers lived in the outer boroughs and it was taking them 2-3 hours to get home each night, one day they had to close the day care early.  Nothing was going on in our office (our patients couldn’t get to their appointments either) so I picked up my daughter early that day and brought her back to my office while I finished up for the day.  She quietly hung out in her car seat while I typed up some last few notes.  Next thing I knew, Veronica stormed into my cubicle screaming at me for once again assuming that the way I was choosing to use our shared space was okay with everyone else.  Suffice it to say, when I finally made it home that night, I cried for quite some time from all the stress this was causing.  I was totally baffled by her strong negative reaction to me and my baby.

My supervisor at the time tried to be as supportive as he could.  He was in a tough place because he was both mine and Veronica’s supervisor and although he knew that she was being unreasonable, he didn’t really know how to handle the situation.  As far as Veronica was concerned, I could use one of the exam rooms that were constantly in use for patient care and would never have provided any privacy.  The hospital knew that they were required to provide me a non bathroom space to pump in (although I did end up pumping in the bathroom at least once), but their solution was for me to make a 20 minute trek over to the NICU pumping room each time I needed to pump.  This would not have allowed me to do my job.  In the end, I was lucky enough to be able to move into a former supervisor’s private office where I could both work and pump for the remainder of my time at work.  Veronica and I never spoke again and the entire practice was divided among whose “side” they were on as a result of the entire situation.

In retrospect, I probably should have approached the situation differently.  Maybe I didn’t take into account how she would feel about it.  Honestly, at the time, I wasn’t really concerned with anyone else other than my baby and how I was going to provide food for her while being away from her for most of the day.  I certainly let my emotions get the best of me and probably seemed like this crazy breastfeeding woman to her, but I didn’t care.  I guess I still don’t.  I know that everyone has their own issues and some people, for whatever reason, are not entirely comfortable with breastfeeding.  As a nursing mom, pumping in order to feed my baby was a logical and natural choice for me.  However, for someone who had had very little exposure to breastfeeding, my decision must have made her feel awkward, uncomfortable, and imposed upon.

If you are returning to work and will be continuing to pump, my advice to you would be to seriously think about the environment you will be returning to and how you can make your very difficult job of pumping at work as easy as possible. In Illinois, your employer is required by law to provide you with a “non bathroom” space in which to pump.  Currently, 24 states have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.  Talk to your coworkers.  If they are a group of single 20 and 30 year olds who have not had any experience with breastfeeding moms, be prepared to educate them on all the hard work that moms do to provide the best food for their babies and share some of all the excellent benefits of breastfeeding (like how your baby will be healthier, resulting in you not taking days off to care for a sick child).  You may even make a difference in their decision to someday choose to breastfeed their own baby.

For a long time after this experience, I had this fantasy of sending Veronica a letter detailing to her how she had made my life a living hell for that six months.  I would have told her that I hoped that someday she would be lucky enough to find someone that would make her happy and they would be lucky enough to have a baby together.  I hoped that when she became a mother and experienced it as the total life change that it is, that she finally would understand why the way she treated me was so wrong, so hurtful, and so traumatizing.  I guess this blog post is that letter.

What no one tells you…

This post is dedicated to my good friend Melissa Dichter who is a first time mom, awesome friend, and all around incredible woman.  She is the new mom of an adorable 6 week old little boy and is really “in it,” and has been so helpful in relaying some of her thoughts on this challenging time because I too have a bit of Postpartum Amnesia (don’t worry, you’ll learn more about this as you read).  Thank you Melissa, for your valuable insights!

I sometimes think that the realities of the postpartum period (which I like to think of as the first year after you have your baby, not just the first 3 months) are one of the best kept secrets of parenthood.  I speak to new moms all the time who say that no one ever REALLY told them it was going to be like after they had a baby. What follows are some of the reason why being a new parent is so hard and why we are often unprepared for this abrupt change in your lifestyle.

The myth of the sleeping baby

Many people are under the impression that newborns sleep all the time because that is how they are seen out and about: asleep in the car seat/stroller, asleep in a carrier on their mom or dad.  Those of us who have survived this stage know that the reason for this is partly because the motion of the stroller or the coziness of the carrier is what is keeping the baby asleep and the other reason is because no one wants to take their screaming newborn out in public.  Much of the fussiness and crying takes place in our homes.  What ends up happening is that the myth of the sleeping baby is perpetuated and so new moms everywhere are blind-sided by the fact that newborns cry and they often cry a lot.  Babies cry.  This is normal but it can be difficult to get used to.  Also, babies do sleep but not the often in the ways we want them to.  It’s rare when I come across a new mom who tells me that her newborn always sleeps in his/her crib.  More often I hear that their baby only sleeps in the swing or the car seat or on them.  They are often thinking about the big “transition” to the crib.  I feel that there is nothing wrong with a baby, especially one that is in that 4th trimester when all they want is to be snuggled-in and cozy, to sleep wherever it is that they actually can stay asleep.  But that is probably just because I have survived this stage and am not longer in it.

We’ll get you through the birth but then you’re on your own

These days, there are many assorted professionals that help you give birth to your baby.  From the very beginning, if you are having fertility issues, you may even have a doctor that helps you get pregnant.  Then your doctor or midwife follows you throughout your prenatal care, checking in with you, asking how you are doing, how you are feeling.  Everyone is very focused on your physical and emotional well-being.  We spend much of our time and energy when we are pregnant concentrating on whatever discomforts we might have.  When you are pregnant with your first child, your time is your own so you can get yourself that prenatal massage or spend hours surfing pregnancy websites to figure out how to manage your indigestion and nausea.  You can take childbirth education classes to help you prepare for the birth of your child and even newborn care and breastfeeding classes to at least make you feel prepared for your baby’s arrival.  You can hire a doula to help you attain the birth experience you are hoping for. However, once your baby arrives, there is a dramatic shift from all that focus on the mom to the baby.  Now life revolves around meeting baby’s needs for comfort, nutrition, changing, sleeping… Now as the mom of a newborn, you grab quick opportunities to eat whatever’s handy (no cooking as you don’t know when your baby will summon you next), you wear the same spit-up stained pants from yesterday (you haven’t had a chance to shower anyway), and you have learned to pee and brush your teeth within the two minutes in which your baby will peacefully sit in the bouncy chair in the bathroom.  And sleep… what’s that?  Not to mention the fact that all those doctor’s visits that were focused on you with your OB or midwife are now focused on your baby at the pediatrician, a physician trained to be looking for all sorts of red flags with your child’s health but rarely looking at how the mother may be coping.  It’s no wonder that the postpartum depression rates are so high.  And let’s not forget about our own parents who are now so enamored with their new grandchild that they rarely even give you a “Hello” when they walk in the door.  It’s just straight to the baby, who you have probably just gotten to sleep.

Why no one tells you about this

I think there are a lot of reasons that no one tells you how hard it will really be or if they tell you, it doesn’t necessarily resonate that it will be that hard for you.

  1. Many parents who have survived the first year have amnesia.  Let’s face it.  If we remembered exactly how hard it really was, we might never have any more children.  I should lobby the American Psychiatric Association to add Postpartum Amnesia to the DSM IV as a real diagnosis.
  2. When you are in your state of pregnancy bliss, so to speak, is it really possible to hear that what comes next could be anything less than joyful?  Come on, you wanted this and this is going to be the greatest thing you ever did, right? And it will be, eventually.  But at first it is hard.  It is okay to ignore the pressure to be in love with your baby the instant he or she is born.  Many of us have the expectation of a “love at first sight” experience with this baby that we have just spent the last 9 months carrying and sustaining.  The fact is, however, that our newborn requires a lot of giving.  Giving of food, energy, sleep, etc.  Initially, in return, you don’t get very much back other than you will see your baby growing but this, in and of itself, doesn’t really provide instant gratification.  This will finally come when you baby begins to smile but this doesn’t happen until when you have worked nonstop for 6-8 weeks.  Years ago when my daughter was about 8 weeks old and I was on maternity leave, I went to visit my coworkers.  I ran into a doctor that I worked with and he asked how I was doing.  I told him that things were getting a bit better now that she was smiling.  His response was, “Yeah, right when you are about ready to drop kick them, they start to smile.”  So true.
  3. Whether you are a business executive running a Fortune 500 company or you work in retail, especially if you have waited a while to have children, you probably feel that, by this point in your life, you are fairly competent at what you do.  You have a pretty good grip on managing your day-to-day activities.  It can be hard to believe that one small baby can throw you for such a loop.  I always refer to having a first baby as “The Great Equalizer.”  No matter who you are, how many friends of yours have already had babies, or what skills you posses, having a first baby is very likely to be different from your preconceived expectation and will try you in ways your never knew were possible.  Still, when you are pregnant, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is what it will be like for you, someone who is generally an on the ball, functional, showered (ha!) individual.


Breastfeeding and returning to work

You have just spent anywhere from 2-6 months (maybe more) at home with your new baby.  If you are breastfeeding, you have likely spent much of this time trying to figure out the whole process of nursing.  Not an easy task for some.  Now you may be returning to work, and, as you may have already discovered, there is now a whole new learning curve as you figure out how you can continue breastfeeding while also being apart from your baby for several hours during the day.  This week’s post will hopefully provide some answers to one of the big questions asked throughout the sessions of The Chicago New Moms Group:  I’m going back to work and I want to continue breastfeeding. How do I do this?

A big thank you to Kathy Lipke, board certified lactation consultant of Lactation Partners for the following helpful information about planning your return to work. Another excellent resource for further information can be found on the Medela website.  Check it out!

Many women who return to work continue to breastfeed their baby when at home and pump and offer bottles when they’re at work. It will require a commitment to spend the time planning. This is how the planning might “look” for you:

  • Is your workplace “breastfeeding friendly”? (See IL Breastfeeding law.) Do they have a dedicated room where you can go to pump?
  • Have you talked to your boss about the breaks you’ll need to take in order to pump? (often a mid morning, lunch and mid afternoon session)
  •  Do you know someone else at work who is in the same situation? Ask them how they managed.
  •  Do you have a good quality electric pump? A double pump is often the fastest and easiest as you will be able to pump both breasts at the same time.
  • A second set of pump parts is helpful if you don’t have a good place to go to clean your parts after pumping or your time is limited.
  • You’ll need some dish soap, a bottle brush, paper towels for drying and a refrigerator to store the pumped milk (a cooler will also work). There are lots of other supplies you can purchase to help with the cleaning and storage.
  • Try to be consistent with pumping time and frequency; always pump into clean breast shields and bottles.
  • Breastfeed the baby when you’re home, before work, after work, at bedtime and on weekends. This will help both of you to continue to maintain the closeness you’ve spent so much time developing over the previous weeks.

There are many questions and concerns that come with new parenthood. Take everything in slowly, be realistic, rest often, take care of yourself physically and emotionally, connect with family and friends and enjoy every minute of this new and exciting journey!

Kathy Lipke is a registered nurse and board certified lactation consultant. She has been practicing as a consultant for 24 years providing in-home lactation and new family support. She and her husband Bob are the proud parents of two wonderful daughters, both of whom she breastfed. Her practice covers most of the city of Chicago and the northern suburbs. Her commitment is to support new families as they transition into parenthood.


My breastfed baby won’t take a bottle!

Congratulations!  You have been successful at getting nursing established with your baby.  This is no easy task.  I tell women all the time that even though nursing is the most natural and healthy way to feed your baby, it is not necessarily the easiest.  Now that your baby is nursing well and your supply is well established, you have begun to realize that unless you baby learns to take a bottle, you are essentially tied to him or her for every feeding until you or your child decide to end your nursing relationship.  Some babies switch between the bottle and the boob with ease.  Others, my son included, at some point decide that they would prefer the warm, snuggly nursing experience for all their feedings.  Can you blame them, really?  This often happens when a baby’s parents have introduced a bottle early on (around one or two weeks old) but haven’t been really consistently bottle feeding at least once a day on a daily basis.  With my daughter, we were very diligent about this because we knew she would be going to daycare when I returned to work at 3 months and would need to be able to take a bottle.  With my son, we were more lackadaisical about the bottle, and my husband wasn’t around at feeding times as much as he had been with my daughter.  Then at about 3 months old, my son went on a bottle strike. He would rather cry and scream for hours than take a bottle. I went into panic mode.  What was I going to do?  I needed to be away from my baby for various commitments, not to mention the possibility of  someday enjoying a night out for dinner with my husband or the girls.  I then emailed everyone I knew who had breastfed their babies.  What did I learn?  That this was very common.  Many of my friends and acquaintances told me that their baby had always refused the bottle.  This was not an acceptable answer for me.  I called my pediatrician (which I rarely do unless my child has had a fever for days on end).  Her response was “Babies can be VERY stubborn.”  We proceeded to stage an “intervention” of sorts.  The following is my advice to you on how to get your baby to take a bottle.  This worked for us, and it has worked for many others that I have advised on this matter.

My best advice is to start giving your baby a bottle when he/she is about 3-4 weeks old just to start getting everyone used to the process. Once your milk supply is well established and any of the early nursing challenges have worked themselves out, you should attempt to give one bottle every day to every other day so that your baby doesn’t get “out of the habit.”  Ideally, the person who gives the bottle should not be the nursing mom but if this is not possible, its better if mom gives the bottle than then baby does not get one at all for several days in a row. If you have fallen behind on this “schedule” as we did (because let’s face it, it’s not like when you have a newborn, you have nothing else to be doing during the day other than pumping) and your baby goes on a bottle strike, you can try these steps below.  I have found this to be successful around 3-4 months old.  I can’t say whether or not it will work later than that.  It’s worth a shot though.

  • Find someone other than yourself (the nursing mom) who can be around consistently for at least a day, maybe two and who can be the one to bottle feed the baby.  Ideally, this should be a very patient person, someone who is not going to take it personally when the baby refuses a bottle from them.  Sometimes this can be the baby’s father, sometimes he gets too frustrated.  I find that grandparents who are happy to spend time with their grandchild, no matter how cranky the baby may be, make excellent candidates.
  • Make yourself scarce and pump.  Starting from the first feeding in the morning, your designated bottle feeder should be the first person to go in to your baby in the morning and should try giving the bottle.
  • Your baby may fight it.  The bottle feeder should try giving the bottle for about 5 minutes or so.  If it is not working, take a short break and try again in about 10 minutes.
  • The bottle feeder should not sit where you normally nurse the baby.  This is a NURSING spot and your baby may become very angry that he/she is not nursing there.
  • The bottle feeder should use a shirt of yours that you wore the day before as a sort of blanket/burp cloth (let’s face it, most of our clothing doubles as a burp cloth when we are nursing anyway, right?).  Having this near the baby will be comforting and help him/her recognize your scent when its time to eat.
  • Do your very best not to give in and nurse.  In fact, go shopping.  Do something for yourself.  Just don’t forget to bring your pump.  Your baby will likely give up their boycott when they realize how hungry he/she is and decide that a bottle with your milk in it is better than no milk at all.
  • Continue this for a day or two if you have the time and assistance.
  • If you are successful at getting your baby to take bottles after this intervention, don’t lose the skill!  I recommend that someone continue to give your baby a bottle daily for at least a couple of months.  Although it is not ideal for the mom to give a bottle (and it really is twice as much work since you have to pump and feed rather than just feeding), if no one else is going to be available that day, you will have to do it yourself.
Good Luck!