You might think you’re too young to think about this, but if you’re a career woman hoping to have kids, you’ll likely confront it in the near future.
As a working woman, it’s already incredibly difficult to balance work and motherhood. Is it really possible to breastfeed, too? Yes… but it’s not easy.
Now, you might think you’re too young to deal with this right now, but if you’re a career woman planning on having kids in the future—or you might marry a working woman—this could be an issue you’ll confront a few short years down the road.
You can prepare yourself now by becoming indispensable and incredibly talented at your job. If your company doesn’t want to lose you, they’ll be more likely to want to work with you. But what else can you do to protect your ability to have it all?
By law, workplaces with over 50 employees are required to provide working moms with break time and a private spot (besides the restroom) to pump breast milk—but that doesn’t mean they’ll be happy about it. While your job may be protected, your career certainly isn’t.
So here are a few tips for juggling successfully:
Talk with management.
If you want to convince your boss that breastfeeding won’t interfere with your ability to perform your job well—or your ability to take on that promotion you’re vying for—you need to sit down and discuss your plans about pumping.
Make your boss aware that you believe it’s ultimately what’s best for you, your baby and the company. Why? Because women who breastfeed miss less work time since their babies get sick less often and recover more quickly.
Also, you can let your boss know how you plan to make up the time you spend breastfeeding (typically 15 minutes three times a day). But you might not even have to make it up if you’re smart about how you pump.
Invest in a hands-free pump.
Women in many positions can spend the majority of pumping time still working. How?
You can use your smartphone to check email or make phone calls or your laptop to work on presentations and other work tasks. Many mothers use part of their lunch hour to pump. You can either cut your lunch short or tack on an extra 30 minutes at the end of the day.
Letting your employer know you’ve thought these things shows that you plan on continuing to make your job a priority once the baby arrives.
Take all of your maternity leave.
And some vacation or sick days, too, if you have some to spare. Don’t look at your email. Don’t call to check in at the office. Don’t even think about work. Just focus on the baby and you.
This may seem like counter-intuitive advice. Many moms expect to rush back to work after the baby’s born—and after all, doesn’t that show your employer you’re dedicated to the job? Sure, but here’s the problem: you need time to master the art of breastfeeding—and dealing with a newborn, for that matter.
And it will take probably longer than you think. Rushing back to work and then under-performing or needing to take sporadic time off to cope with new challenges won’t send the right message to your employer about your ability to juggle work and motherhood.
By taking the time initially to master the new skills you need as a mom, you’ll be more efficient during those pumping breaks, feel less stressed about handling it all and ultimately be able to perform your job better.
Make that private place your second office.
As mentioned earlier, your employer is legally required to provide you with an area to pump. Hopefully that’s an office or conference room where you can lay claim to part of the space. If you can, stock it with the supplies you need to do your job from there—as well as something to drink and whatever else you need to feel comfortable so you can get the most out of that time.
Although there’s nothing to be ashamed of, many women are uncomfortable with letting others know they’re pumping. You can keep the equipment hidden by using an attractive bag to carry it around if needed. (And you’ll also want a lunch box or other container to hide the bottles of milk when they’re in the work fridge.)
The added benefit of being discrete about pumping is that the more seamless and unnoticeable it is, the more quickly management and your co-workers will forget any concerns they might have over it.
A few more tips to help you master the art of balancing work and pump:
- When you’re with the baby, nurse—don’t bottle feed. Your baby is more effective at stimulating your milk supply than a pump.
- Always, always have an extra shirt ready. You never know when you might spring a leak…and you don’t want it to be right before an important meeting.
- Try a Skype setup if you’re in a position where meetings are so frequent that it’s difficult to schedule pumping sessions around them. With the web cam angled carefully, there’s no reason anyone should know you’re multitasking.
- Talk with a lactation consultant. If you’re nearing the end of maternity leave and any part of the process is a little bumpy, get help. And if the advice from the first consultant isn’t working, try another. Everyone has different strategies, and you need to find the person whose advice works for you.
- Consider working from home or bringing the baby to work. If either of these is a viable option, it can help you focus better on both of your competing priorities.
Does all this sound hard? Well, that’s because it is. There will be days when you want to give up. After all, plenty of babies do just fine on formula, right? But remind yourself of all the health benefits of breastfeeding, and that will help you power through.
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is a breastfeeding mother and freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She’s also a contributor to Resume Builder Online and a professional resume editor.