I’ve been breastfeeding my daughter without milk supplements for 17 months. For someone whose initial aim was to attempt to last for 6 months, I’ve surprised even myself. Suffice to say it has not been easy! Thankfully, I managed to gather quite a fair bit of support along the way – this helped to prolong the experience. Breast-pumping for me has had its own set of challenges, but here are some useful tips that I’ve gathered along the way for those who wish to breastfeed as a full-time working mum (FTWM).
Pre-pumping prep (PPP)
Preparing for your future breast-pumping activities ideally needs to be done before your baby arrives. This is because you’ll have more time than you’ll ever remember – you may regret not maximising it! Invest in a functional, durable pump that suits you. That’s easier said than done, but there are some establishments in the Klang Valley that actually allow you to test the pump before committing to purchase.
You’ll also need to get a small initial supply of breastmilk storage bags or storage bottles. Decide whether you want to have a dedicated drying rack for your pump parts & bottles, or if you want to invest in a steriliser with a dryer. Of course, Internet searches and asking mum friends are good ways to get some tips. I’d highly advise joining some of those specialty groups on social media. You will find fellow mothers (and even some supportive fathers) sharing their experiences, feedback and tips.
Establishing supply for the voracious demand
One of the most common tips I hear about establishing a ‘successful’ breastfeeding journey is to do a lot of direct-feeding on demand. This is as soon as possible after delivery. Another is to lay off the pump until you and your baby get into some sort of unsaid agreement about the quantity he/she needs and how frequently he/she needs it. Perhaps this only applies to ‘angel’ babies though, as it was unpredictable in my case the whole way!
I’d recommend getting some help from a lactation consultant if you can to ensure a good latch, advice on feeding positions and general encouragement.
Note: There are of course mothers who no matter what cannot get their babies to latch. This just means either reaching for the pump earlier (As soon as possible!) if providing breastmilk is a priority, or giving the baby formula. There’s no wrong choice, so do what’s best for you and your sanity.
Keep calm and build up a stock
After establishing a rhythm, perhaps a month or so in, you can begin to start pumping in order to build a stock of expressed milk for your impending return to work. For the average mother, it could potentially be a depressing effort at the start when you look at the quantity that comes out after each pump. This is often coupled with anxiety about whether you are feeding your baby enough. Don’t worry, it’s enough, most of the time!
Worrying and stress have an almost proven negative effect on your overall yield, so do try to be positive. Happy thoughts about your baby often lead to increased let-down (that tingly effect when milk is let out). Don’t get too far into the zone of counting the ounces that you collect. Instead, look at whether your baby’s growth is on track.
Burning the Midnight Oil
Starting slowly, I found the best time to pump was after a midnight feed, or after whatever middle of the night feed you give your baby. By golly there are many in those early days! Apparently, that is when the milk-producing hormones are at their highest. Arm yourself with snacks like nuts, because you will be hungry.
It is bittersweet, but I have just recently gotten rid of the stock I built during those lonely late night pump sessions. It appears my daughter didn’t quite fancy the taste of frozen breastmilk as her tastebuds grew more acute. While I would like to say it was a waste, I think it helped to build up my supply and lose much of the pregnancy weight I’d gained. So Yay me! Okay, I have since put some of it back on, but let’s not get into that!
An Empty Vessel Makes the Most milk?
I personally limited myself to pumping once a day during my maternity leave for stock-building because I started stocking early. However, some mothers recommend pumping after every feed, in order to empty the breasts. It is the best way to increase supply further. Not everyone is able to do this because you may be too busy tending to your newborn or the feeding gap is way too short. But this could be applied later once you get into the groove of things.
A word of warning however. If you pump too much – more than your baby’s demand while you are still direct-feeding – you run into danger of over-supply. This has its own set of issues, such as engorgement, blocked ducts or – the horror – mastitis.
We’re all in this together
If applicable, get your partner to help with washing and sterilising the pumps, and storing the milk away. Not only will you get some respite from the monotony of it all, they’ll also learn a thing or two about the whole process. Similarly, while you’re chained to the pump, they can soothe or entertain the baby if needed.
Back to the grind
Once your maternity leave is over (and if you’re lucky like me), your company should have dedicated lactation rooms. Or they may have a space, at least, where you can privately pump, clean your equipment and store milk. Where this isn’t the case, it’s worth talking to your management and human resources about your intention. See what they can accommodate. You never know, you could actually persuade them to set one up. Companies nowadays are lauded for their support of breastfeeding efforts in this form, so it’s quite a good thing!
Hyper Organisation and Multi-tasking
As you are likely only 2 – 3 months in (unless you’re one of those lucky few whose maternity leave is 6 months and beyond), you will still need to pump often if you want to try to exclusively breastfeed. This is when true planning and resilience is needed.
There are work commitments, and you can’t let that slip. However, you can try to plan your day before to fit in your pump times the best you can. It isn’t recommended to stretch your pump gap. You are encouraged to try to pump as often as you’d feed your baby at home. Personally, however, since I had been feeding every two hours, this was already quite impossible to fulfil when I first started working.
Fairly quickly, after struggling to fulfil even a three hour gap, I resigned myself to pumping three times at work instead. Whenever I could find the time. You quickly get adept at the mental calculation of the time needed for pump breaks or worse comes to worst, pumping during con-calls, meetings and most definitely lunch breaks.
As you can imagine, you develop practices that revolve around pumping, such as pumping while driving (with a hands-free bra). You also purposely set meet-ups in places you know have excellent lactation facilities, or find somewhere to pump in places that do not have dedicated nursing rooms. This can often mean pumping subtly under a cover in a dark corner of a restaurant or back in your car in the carpark.
Your shopping list
There’s a whole host of items that you may need to stock up on to make things easier. I’ve never bought so many triple A batteries in such a short span in my life! This was to sustain my pump during those times where a plug point wasn’t readily available. Antibacterial wipes are useful when you don’t have anywhere to wash your hands. A good pump bag with a long-lasting keep-cool compartment and some ice blocks will come in handy when you’re on the go. Then you can keep your pump parts (kept either in a ziplock bag or an airtight container) cool without washing them for the next pump. Wrap tops and dresses, low V necks, kimonos and actual nursing wear are your best friends when it comes to accessibility on the move.
My breastfeeding ‘journey’ hasn’t ended yet. Pumping has become second nature to me, even though I have a secret disdain for it. You have to find a way to manage it around your work routine. The determination to continue comes from seeing the benefits back home with baby.
I believe patience is what every mother needs to figure out what works for her. If you can try to get your partner, parents, friends and colleagues on the same page as you, you ‘ll have the best support system for your breastfeeding and pumping journey. Good luck, mamas!
By Azlina Megat
Azlina Megat is a film industry “suit” (not quite Entourage-style), having dabbled in various fields within a media conglomerate for nearly a decade. Prior to motherhood, she was terrified of children. Now they only intimidate her a little.