Coming back to work after having a baby is a big adjustment. It might be more difficult to work the hours that you used to because you need (and want) to get home to your baby. You’ll need to find and manage a relationship with a child care provider. And you need to make a plan for when your baby or child care provider is sick.
If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll also need to figure out how you’re going to pump at work. Juggling breastfeeding and a career isn’t easy, especially if you work in a male-dominated environment where pumping breaks aren’t the norm. Here’s how to make sure your pumping schedule doesn’t negatively impact your career. (Click here to tweet.)
1. Present your plan for pumping to your manager as a solution, not a problem
When you talk to your manager about pumping at work, don’t present your needs as a list of demands. Don’t say, “I need a private room with a lock to pump breast milk three times a day for 15 minutes. I’ll also need a sink and microwave to wash and sterilize my pump parts.”
It’s not that all of that isn’t true — that’s probably exactly what you need. However, when you say that, you’re giving your manager a problem to solve, which — let’s face it — no one appreciates. Instead, say, “I talked to HR, and there is a lactation room that I’m planning on using. If it’s OK with you, I’d like to pump three times a day for about 15 minutes. I’ll be able to bring my laptop with me and work during this time, so it shouldn’t impact my productivity. You’ll be able to reach me using instant messenger at that time. Does that work for you?”
Of course, if you DO have a problem that you need solved — let’s say that your company has no lactation room and the only place that you have to pump is in the ladies’ restroom — then it’s fine to ask your manager for help. The key is to try to work out any issues that you have on your own first. This goes for any workplace concerns that you have, but it’s especially important in this situation, as you could be pumping for a year or longer and your manager’s perception of how you handle this could linger.
2. Don’t (overly) call attention to your pumping schedule
While there’s no need to keep the fact that you’re pumping for your baby a secret, it’s also not something that you need to broadcast on a regular basis.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking pumping breaks at work, but you can’t control what your coworkers think of it. They might think that you’re getting preferential treatment or that they’re getting extra work so that you can pump, even if that’s not true.
The goal is to take the focus off of your need to pump, and put the focus on the fact that you’re going to get the job done. Instead of saying, “I can’t go to the meeting because I have to go pump,” say “I’ll need to leave the meeting 15 minutes early, so I’ll catch up with you afterward to see what I missed and go over the next steps.”
3. Stick to a schedule, but be flexible
It’s a good practice to schedule pumping sessions in your calendar — that way you can make sure you don’t get scheduled for back-to-back meetings and end up without any time to pump. It also helps ensure that you don’t forget to pump.
Sometimes, though, something will come up — a meeting will run long or a coworker will want to pull you into a last-minute conversation when you’re scheduled to be in the lactation room. If you can’t make it there when you’re scheduled to, get there as soon as you can and pump for longer than you normally would. As long as this doesn’t happen every day, it should be fine.
4. Get the most milk that you can out of every pumping session
A lot of women who pump at work deal with stress about not pumping enough milk for their baby for the following day. This issue can have a negative impact on your career if you’re thinking about your breast milk supply instead of working or if you’re waking up in the middle of the night to get extra pumping sessions in.
What can you do about this? If you need to increase your supply, one easy thing that you can try is eating oatmeal for breakfast, as many women have noticed that their supply is slightly higher when they do this. Also, make sure that you get the most milk that you can out of every pumping session — do breast compressions, pump long enough to get a second let-down, and relax — don’t keep looking at the bottles to see how much you’ve pumped.
At the end of the day, if you’re just not pumping enough, consider supplementing with formula. Your baby is still getting your breast milk, and your sanity is important, too.
The most important thing is to get your pumping in — and get the most milk you can — while making sure the focus is on getting your work done.
Amanda Glenn is a technology architect, has two kids, and has spent 27 months of her life hooking herself up to breast pumps at work. She writes a blog about exclusively pumping breast milk, and you can find her on Facebook and Pinterest.