Diary of an Extended Breastfeeding Mom: Month 14

Medela's own Kate takes us first-hand through the challenges & successes of her extended breastfeeding journey. See her post on making it to Month 14.

Call it “extended breastfeeding,” “full-term breastfeeding,” or “natural-term breastfeeding,” nursing beyond one year is the norm throughout the world and recommended by experts to maximize the amazing benefits of breast milk. In this series, third-time, working and breastfeeding mom, Kate, shares her experiences with nursing after 12 months in her own words. Kate is part of Medela’s marketing team as the senior manager of communications and public relations. She is happy to share her journey with you all – including her challenges and flaws, as a real glimpse into the perfectly imperfect experience of breastfeeding. If you missed the previous posts in the series, here’s the first post and the second post to get you caught up.

Goodbye, Breast Pump - Month 14

Mom and baby laughling

You know that scene from the movie Office Space, where they take out the office printer? This is approximately where I am in my pumping journey: the “I want to take this thing outside and beat it with a bat” stage.

Now, I’m a writer not a math-er, but I estimate that I’ve had at least 450 dates with this sucker (pun intended) over the past 14 months. That’s about 9,000 minutes of one-on-one time with a machine that has seen me through this “working while breastfeeding” experience. It’s been quite the journey this time around – and I wouldn’t change it for anything, but the pumping journey for me is over. Today, she is eating mostly solid foods, not taking as many bottles, and is nursing for comfort when we’re together.

It’s the right time for both of us to transition to the next stage. So, in the spirit of moving forward, I am saying, “adios” to breast pumping at work. And, to make it cathartic for myself, I’m sharing my top 4 reasons I’m happy to have made it this far…

My Top 4 Reasons I Hate Pumping at Work

1 - Meeting Calendars

I’ve taken many a call during my work pump sessions — even found myself recorded on a sales call once. Whoops. Though I have a calendar set, meetings still come through over my scheduled time. I know I’m supposed to “make my needs known,” but after a time, it’s exhausting to have to explain my unavailability or constantly ask for the in-person meeting to have a conference number so I can dial in.

I mean, it is 2019, and #timesup and #normalizebreastfeeding and all that. Should I make my pump schedule part of my email signature? What about adding it to my LinkedIn as part of my “skills” section? As a classic INFJ, loudly proclaiming my personal needs in the workplace is a very real nightmare. Happy to do it for someone else - hands down, will march on the front line for motherhood. But for myself? Not a chance. I’m exhausted, and I have more important things to deal with (like the distractions below, specifically.)

2 - Cleaning parts.

Washing breast pump parts is a breeze, but it’s the mind rant that comes with cleaning parts while tired that gets to me. At work, I choose to pump in a mother’s nursing room that gets less traffic. This room is less popular with the other office moms because it doesn’t have a sink. There is one nearby in the office break room, so it’s not a big deal to me to step out when I’m finished to clean up. However, in addition to the time it takes to get this tedious task over with, I also fixate on an internal social dilemma that goes something like this:

Internal monologue:

“Oh, there’s Blah Blah from Yada Yada Department.

What could That Look mean?

Are they giving me That Look because I’m washing parts that touched my breast milk in the shared break room sink; the same sink used to wash their coffee mug?

Is it because they think I must not be busy that I get to lackadaisically clean these parts over and over again?

Or am I getting This Look because I put on my blouse inside out again?

Oh no, did I button up!?”

*Checks self. Sighs with relief.*

This is what I mentally go through every time I clean my parts in the office. For me, this stress alone is reason enough to quit pumping altogether.

3 - Individual pumping rooms.

Currently, I have access to private pumping rooms at work. They’re beautiful and full of great stuff, like a comfy chair, microwave for cleaning, and a dedicated storage refrigerator. These spaces are great to house everything a pumping mom needs to be comfortable. But if the room is in use, and your milk is inside, understandably, you cannot get to it. There’s been many a night where I’ve had to leave my hard-earned milk stash at work because the room was in use. Had I only remembered to run into the room beforehand! (facepalm) When you’re on the clock to pick up the kids, this is very stressful. Especially when baby’s milk menu for tomorrow is locked in an occupied pumping room. For a long time, this exact moment would trigger my milk to letdown and I would bolt for my car, driving like a madwoman to get to my baby. Today, I just leave my milk for tomorrow and go home. My baby is a big girl and I’ve realized she is fine to use what I have in the freezer.

4 - Supply demands.

Baby in a swing at the park

Within my first month back at work, my supply dipped. Dramatically. Based on the above, the reason why may be obvious. On average, I was pumping two times a day, with a lofty goal of three (a third session I could never make happen.) As I was working hard to catch up on projects, reengage with my team and colleagues, “lean in” on everything, I was also coming home to a baby that had a vocalized need for an all-night food party with mama. (Not to mention two other littles and a husband, none of whom could – or would – handle dinners.)

As I searched for answers on how to make this better, I reached out to an IBCLC for guidance. I was told that to increase my supply, I would need to pump four times during my work day; for me, that’s two hours every day. This defeating reality just made me hunker down on what I could do: I would pump less. I decided to remove the guilt and focus on having one 30-minute pump session each day at work. I would also continue to reverse cycle/nurse on demand whenever I was with baby. To sustain this commitment, I added a conversation with my boss about no overnight work travel until baby was one year old. Luckily, this was possible for me, and this month I am going on my first overnight work trip since Baby 3 arrived.

The best part about breast milk feeding at this stage this (third) time, is how confident and comfortable I am (now) with this routine. At the beginning, I remember the panic, the worry, the cold sweat anxiety about basically everything. Breastfeeding now is easy — and it’s certainly less messy than mealtime with a toddler. What’s not easy, however, is pumping. It never has been for me. I mean, it’s easier than, say, jogging or the latest Peloton routine. But, as a mom who also has a full-time job, pumping at work isn’t roses, and I’m thrilled to say goodbye to this part of our story.

Baby sitting up

All this to say, this is my extended breastfeeding journey and this Top 4 is personal to my experience. It’s time to move forward, and I’m grateful (however sarcastic) to have a had a breast pump (and an employer!) help me make it to month 14 for the third time! This may sound a little like your story, or not at all. No matter where you land, it’s important to share your struggles and wins with other moms, because there are many ways to make it work at work. None better than another, just personal. We know our babies - and ourselves - best. But to make it this far along with exclusive breast milk feeding while also working, we need to share our stories, vent when necessary, and listen to each other to troubleshoot our own experiences. It’s the community of support that is essential to helping us reach the point in our breast milk feeding journey where we can finally say with satisfaction, peace of mind, and confidence, “hasta la vista, breast pump.”