And just like that it’s over. I’m officially done pumping breastmilk for Annalynn.
On Tuesday I left for work with only ONE bag for the first time since returning from maternity leave last December. It was such a bittersweet feeling knowing that part of our breastfeeding journey was over. I felt naked, like something was missing. I also felt free. I wore a real bra without hooks or special slits, and wore a non-pumping friendly dress – talk about liberating! Also, the extra hour added back to my day? A-ma-zing!
It’s been quite a journey. One full of crazy ups and downs, and one that I am so incredibly thankful I was able to see through to the end. This is just one chapter ending, as Annalynn is still nursing in the mornings and evenings. I had honestly planned to continue pumping a little longer, but due to a diminishing supply and in anticipation of starting a new job next week, I knew it was time to stop. Still, I’m proud of coming this far and look forward to continuing to nurse for as long as Annalynn wants to continue.
When I returned to work last December I was scared, nervous, and had no clue what to expect. Now that I’ve made it to the other side, I can tell you the nerves never seem to go away, but I have learned a ton in the process. Here’s my advice to any new mom about to start on their own journey:
1. Find a support system.
There’s no way around it, being a full time working mama is hard work. Period. (Being a stay-at-home mama is no easy task either, but I’m just focusing on the working mamas here. SAHM are a whole other inspirational ball game!) I lost track of how many times I cried after dropping Annalynn off at daycare or was running late to pick her up or was watching the minutes in a meeting tick by as my boobs felt like they were about to explode or having to leave on another trip that would take me away from my baby girl for a weekend I should be at home with her. I cried. A lot. And, quite frankly, it sucked. My only saving grace was talking to other mamas who were going through the same thing and knowing I was not alone.
I bonded with another mom at work who had just finished her own pumping journey. We commiserated on the bad stuff and celebrated the good stuff. She taught me the ropes the first few weeks and had my back when I needed to move things around to fit pump breaks in. She was my hero.
One of my best friends also returned to work the same time I did. We would spend our pump sessions texting each other back and forth sharing the real stuff that only great friends can share and making ourselves laugh so we wouldn’t cry. She would be the one that would understand when I was a few ounces short or when I swear my pump started talking to me.
Finally, the Facebook group “Working Moms Who Make Breastfeeding Work” was another support system for me. It was a great resource for knowing my rights as a working mom, as well as best practices when it came to traveling for work and getting everything I needed through TSA. Sure, the group can be a little overwhelming ( I mean, aren’t all Facebook groups like that?), but underneath it all it’s simply moms supporting other moms and I can get behind that.
2. Don’t define yourself by ounces.
This was a valuable piece of advice I took from the book “Work. Pump. Repeat.” (<- great book, by the way! 100% recommend). At the beginning I had a bit of an oversupply and pumped a bit more than Annalynn needed. I was pretty lucky to build a decent freezer stash and had hoped to donate some to a special mama. As the months wore on and various other factors came into play (traveling for work, a healthy appetite at daycare, my period returning, work stress, etc.), my supply gradually dropped. I went from having an oversupply to being a just-enougher, to not even making enough for one bottle. It was really a tough pill to swallow, not being able to pump enough milk for the next day’s daycare bottles.
In the end I wasn’t just dipping into my freezer stash, it became my kid’s sole source of milk. I can’t even begin to tell you how thankful I was for that freezer stash, and for all of the ounces of milk I flew back with from my travels. However, if that stash had not been there, I know we would have been okay, too. The same plan would have gone into effect. I would have continued pumping what I could provide and supplementing with formula. She would still be the same happy and healthy kid she is now and I would be damn proud of the milk I could give her.
3. Stick to your gut.
You do you, mama. You do you!
Not going to lie, some of the comments on my previous pumping posts stung a little. It’s never easy writing about sensitive subjects and apparently I’m terrible when it comes to writing about pumping. I wrote those posts because this blog is about my life and for the better part of a year my life revolved around attaching my breasts to a little machine (or person) every three hours. And, yes, for goodness sakes it was critical I stuck to that timeline. Apparently my kid loves to eat because at 11 months old she was still taking a bottle every 2 hours at daycare and finishing them with a smile. Plus, even with being a stickler to my pumping timeline, my supply still diminished so we can’t win them all.
I’m just writing all this to say that there will be people who will judge, offer “helpful” advice, and be super critical of your pumping journey. Listen, soak in any advice that is actually helpful, and then stick with your gut. It’s your body, your family, and your choices. Period. Do what works for you and leave it at that. Fight for your rights and then some. I’ve never been afraid to stand up for myself, and that has exploded 1000 times over since becoming a mom.
4. Make sure you’re happy.
If you’re not happy, then stop. We’re all told breastfeeding is this beautiful thing, and then we’re thrust into it and realize it’s not as beautiful or simple as we thought. It’s hard, really hard, and can really take a toll on your emotions and well-being.
I had a friend who hated breastfeeding. She worked full time, hated being a slave to the pump, and hated being her child’s sole source of nutrition. She was depressed and was not happy. When her child was 9 months old she knew she couldn’t go on with it anymore. She stopped pumping, stopped nursing, and gave her baby formula (something she had fought so hard against in the hospital hours after giving birth). And you know what happened? Nothing. The baby continued to thrive, the mom felt like she got her sanity back, and their relationship actually improved afterwards. She started her second baby on formula immediately after birth, and couldn’t be happier with her decision.
Don’t let your happiness be defined by your breastfeeding relationship. You have to know when it’s time to stop and when it’s time to continue. I can sit here and joke and curse the pump all day, but in the end I really do enjoy breastfeeding and nothing makes me happier than nursing my child. If that wasn’t the case, then I would have thrown the towel a while ago (and put damn proud of that decision).
5. It’s not a dirty secret.
Okay, I know this one is a little tricky depending on where you work and your personality, but my work environment has always been more on the casual side and, well, I’m an open book. My co-workers were all very aware that I pumped. They knew I needed breaks, they knew what my black bag was, and they knew what it meant when I disappeared into the closet with the “do no disturb” sign out front. They knew, they got it, and I think that made things 100x easier on my end.
This allowed me to be honest when needing to leave a meeting early or push something back. This was also helpful when I was traveling and needed someone to cover my duties while I stepped out. They took it seriously, but were also able to joke about the situation (as was I). Life is way too short and sometimes we just need to laugh.
I’m turning comments off on this post because I’m afraid I can’t handle anymore. I’m not sharing any of this to brag or discount anyone else’s experience (we’re all just doing best for ourselves and our families), but maybe some new mom out there will find this helpful. I hope so.