So, you had a baby. You (maybe reluctantly, possibly excitedly) are going back to work. If you’re still breastfeeding and want to continue, there are a few things you can do to make this transition a bit easier. So, time to get real and talk about the logistics of making it work.
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If you can, figure out a plan of when you’ll be able to pump while you’re at work. It may be during your prep, recess, or your lunch. Depending on your supply and how much milk you’re producing when you come back (and how much you’ll want to continue producing) and how long your teaching day is, you’ll be pumping anywhere between 2-5 times while you’re at work. Considering it’s difficult for most teachers to even pee during their break, you’ll need to have a plan of attack for this if you want to make it work. You’ll also need to make sure you have a pump and some accessories. For me, I was able to pump during my 15 minute recess break and arranged for another teacher to bring my class inside so I had a few extra minutes to make sure I was completely done and if I finished early, wash accessories for next time.
I kept this bottle brush (it’s not as stiff as the other ones I’ve tried) and a small bottle of dish soap in my classroom next to the sink. I washed my storage bottles and pump parts once a day and set them to dry for the next pumping session. On days I was in a hurry (or when I was pumping more than once), I just threw my parts into a gallon size Ziploc bag and into the fridge until I used them next (fair warning…brrr!).
And if it’s at all possible, keep your pump at school so you don’t have to lug it back and forth every day. This is the breastpump I had (it comes with a little cooler case as well–perfect if you don’t have a mini fridge!). Check it out here.
And if you’re using an electric pump like I did, you either want spare parts (in case your pump or accessories fail/you forgot something at home), you can even buy a cheap spare pump. Speaking from experience, you don’t want to wait an entire day to relieve the pressure (especially while teaching). I used this one when I traveled alone last summer for 3 days and it worked great! You can check it out here.
We all wish we had a calming little nursery right at school to pump in, right? Well, you probably don’t. You might have to pump in a closet. Or behind your desk. Luckily, the laws have changed and you don’t have to pump in the bathroom. I didn’t feel comfortable pumping in my own classroom during recess as I knew that was a time people tried to seek one another out and have conversations, or students needed to come back and get their mitten, ball, etc. So, if you feel the same way and can, scope out your school and talk to your admin to find out if a room is available when you’re planning on pumping. I was very fortunate and had access to a little room that was only used a few times during the day, so it worked well for pumping. It doesn’t hurt to ask, so don’t be afraid to!
You likely teach with a bunch of other women, right? And maybe some of them also need to pump at the same time as you. Or someone else was thinking about using the area you’re planning on pumping to get some paperwork done. Whatever the case, as soon as you get the okay from your admin or whoever is in charge of that kind of stuff at your school, it doesn’t hurt to let others know that room will be reserved during those times. I’ve found that most people (not all of course) are more than happy to accommodate a pumping mama that needs that room 😉
There will be times when something is going on that isn’t a part of your routine. You may have an event where parents are in your classroom right when you normally would be pumping. Or you’re in an RTI meeting. Or a conference is running late. Any or all of those situations will happen. People don’t know you need to go (or you need them to go) unless you say something. You obviously don’t have to tell them what you’re doing, but you can stand up, start walking to the door and say, “Excuse me, I’m sorry to have to rush out, but I need to take a short break to take care of some personal matters.” Or something along those lines. You don’t need to feel guilty about it. It’s normal and you’re a professional. Treat yourself like one and take care of your needs.
If people know what you’re doing when you’re locked in a room or hiding behind your desk or whatever situation you’re in, you are less likely to have visitors. And, if you want to multitask and truly don’t want to talk about planning the next field trip, I recommend hanging a sign. It’s not always fool proof, but 99% of the time it should work if you also remember to lock the door (and if the person with the key pays attention). I made a “Do NOT disturb” sign for myself to use when I was pumping. I laminated it & stuck velcro on the both the door and the sign to slap it on/take it off easier (and use the other one at home with a magnet clip for the front door when baby is napping). You can grab it by clicking here.
If you’re still worried you’ll be walked in on, or you want to pump with coworkers around and just cover up, I recommend this nursing cover (it is multipurpose so you can use it for other things as well).
If you are in a situation where your admin are either clueless or don’t care, you won’t get far unless you advocate for yourself. Most people will go out of their way to support you, but some will not have an ounce of empathy or understanding and could care less about how important breastfeeding is to you (or they don’t understand how imperative it is to your supply that you worked your butt off to get). Educate yourself and read up on what your rights are here. Educate others. And if you are feeling unsupported, you can always call HR and see what they say about how to handle things in your building.
Once you return to work, you’ll need to figure out how you want to bring home your supply and how often. Daily? Do you store it in the freezer at work and bring home weekly? If you’re bringing bottles to work to pump into, how will you remember to bring them? How many will you bring? Don’t laugh at me, but I used to put them in my shoes the night before if I brought them home (I have a terrible memory and lose my cell phone daily) and I’d put them next to my car keys in my classroom so I wouldn’t forget to bring them home (my mom also would take the morning recess bottle when she left when she came during lunch). A little cheat sheet with info about storing breastmilk is VERY handy to keep until you have it memorized (which, as you can guess, I never did). Grab this one here.
I highly recommend 2 things: an electric pump and a handsfree bra or nursing tank. Unless you’re in a fantasy teaching school I’ve never heard of, you use your own break to catch up on work. I used the time to email parents and coworkers, print resources, enter DIBELS scores, cut lamination, basically anything I could do with 2 hands while sitting.
I bought 2 of these nursing tanks (a grey and a black) and LOVED them. They’re pretty spendy for tank tops, but I think they were well worth the money (and I was able to resell both of them in a maternity resell Facebook group so it wasn’t too bad!). They come with little slits and you just put the shields in and you’re good to go. I used a handsfree bra after my first son was born, but for my second I found these and tell everyone that has had a baby and is going back to work about them. I wore my nursing tank every day (washing one every other day and rotating) and loved how quick it made everything. Lift shirt, pop shields in, turn pump on, done. You can find them here.
There are 2 reasons I think it’s a good idea to start working on your stored supply before you go back to work. 1.) You’ll be better off if you familiarize yourself with how to use your pump and how long it takes you (you can time yourself) from the time you are ready to pump to the time you have everything put away. And 2.) you can prepare for the unknown. By that I mean milk occasionally gets spilled (and it’s okay to cry about spilled milk in this case–especially if you have a low supply and it’s more than a drop!). It’s a good idea to have a backup supply. BUT, and this is a big one, if you’re planning on freezing your milk, I HIGHLY recommend freezing a bag, thawing and testing it on baby to make sure they’ll even drink it. I didn’t know I had a lipase issue (my milk goes bad after it’s frozen) and should have been scalding it before freezing. Lots of tears. Looking back now I can muster up a little laugh, but at the time….I had 3 separate gallon bags filled with the pump bags. So, don’t make the same mistake I did. Check a thawed sample before proceeding with your freezer supply. So, for my second baby, I knew I wouldn’t be freezing bags and just used these tubes in the fridge. They also screw on to the pump so you can pump directly into them, which again, makes things faster. Just remember to keep an eye on them if you’re filling them up (or you’ll end up with a lap full of milk when they slowly drip and overfill–really, it can happen). You can stock up on breastmilk bags here and the storage cylinders here.
So that’s it. I’m sure I’m missing something and there are tons of things I am forgetting. But as you probably know, I have 2 little muppets of my own running around and a bad “remembory” as my toddler says. Feel free to comment with other ideas or suggestions you think others would benefit from!
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