How to Successfully Nurse, Pump, & Work Full-Time

Can your nursing relationship survive while working full-time?

Yes, it is possible!  I breastfed for a total of 4 years, which includes 12 months of pumping, while serving full-time in the United States Air Force.  After some reflection, I realized a lot of  lessons about being successful in the military can be applied to being a successful mom.  For example: Pumping.  It’s a lot like going through basic training.  (I’m serious!)  In order to successfully make it through basic training, you need to be mentally prepared.  You need willpower.  When the going gets tough, you need to tell yourself over and over, “It’s only temporary.  It’s only temporary.”  And most of all, you remember it’s an investment, and sacrifice that’s worth it.  See?  Just like pumping!

How to successfully nurse and pump... and work full time

Pumping requires planning and an established Course of Action or “COA. ”  But first – I feel the need to caveat by saying that I am NOT super mom with meals planned out for the whole month or identical baskets in the pantry with cardstock labels written in calligraphy.  (But on pinterest I am!) And no, I didn’t write out my “COA” before I started pumping!  Most of the time I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, pizza-for-dinner, I’ll-clean-that-later type of mom, but I knew nursing and pumping was something I wanted to commit to, and this is what helped me make it work.

TRAIN LIKE YOU FIGHT – Us military folk do a whole lot of training.  Our skills need to become “muscle memory” – meaning, in an emergency, you don’t even have to think about what you’re doing; it comes naturally.  Like a reflex.  So what I’m saying is… please don’t try to figure your pump out when you actually need to use it.  Train for pumping.  When the baby is asleep (because come on, we all know you’re not sleeping when the baby is), whip that pump out.  Read the manual.  If you can, get your spouse involved in putting it together.  Do a dry run.  Get to know your pump.  (Be careful – I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and felt like a science experiment!)  To build up your supply, you can also pump after the baby is done nursing, because it tells your body you need to make more.  (I used an Ameda Purely Yours.)

IDENTIFY YOUR ALLIES – Don’t just assume that breastfeeding is so natural that it will come naturally for you.  (Which is, of course, what I WRONGLY assumed.)  If it does, great!  But for a lot of moms, breastfeeding and pumping for the first time is really intimidating.  Before you leave the hospital, get the Lactation Consultant’s phone number.  I had mine on speed dial – no joke!  She had decades of experience and most times knew how to help me more than our pediatrician.

Another AMAZING resource is KellyMom. It was recommended to me by the Lactation Consultant, and it has answers to just about any breastfeeding question you might have, including a special section all about pumping and working.

But wait!  Your allies don’t stop there.  You might feel embarrassed about announcing your situation at work, but I found that the more open I was about what I needed to do, the more support I got.  If I had a business trip or training course, I let the boss or instructor know about my pumping schedule.  To my surprise, they were ALL extremely supportive, and even shared their experiences.

And last, but definitely not least, don’t forget about LA LECHE LEAGUE.  They have chapters all over the world, and ladies who you can call in your area for help.

KNOW YOUR AOR (AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY) – In order to successfully pump, you’re going to need a location!  And I consider myself a modern woman, but I think can I safely assume you’re not planning to pump at your desk in front of everyone. Try to scope out the nursing  mother’s room before your baby is born, if you can.  See what they already have, and take note of what they don’t have.  Is there a kitchen type area with a sink to wash your pump parts?  Is there a separate mini fridge?  Is there a microwave so you can use sanitizing steam bags?  If they don’t have a nursing mothers room, see if there is an office or room that can be locked that you can borrow two to three times a day.  And if they don’t have any of those things, maybe you need to talk to your boss!  (Check out this article from ACMB about breastfeeding law.)

SEMPER GUMBY – Taken from the Marine Corps “Semper Fi” or “Always Faithful,” some of us corny service members say “Semper Gumby.”  (Usually a response to someone disgruntled about an upcoming change.)  In other words – we need to always be flexible.  I knew an old Technical Sergeant who always said “Flexibility is the key to Air Power!”  I finally realized that flexibility is the key to just about ANY power.  Including pumping!  (It IS a super power, amiright?!)  I was always ready to pump just about anytime or anywhere.  I had a car charger for my pump and even got to the point where I could “hook up” and pump on the way to wherever I was going!  (I dressed in layers and no one ever knew!  …Although I did always fear getting in a car wreck and the emergency responders finding my unconscious body with breasts exposed and the car completely covered in milk… but I digress.)

Another way you can be flexible is by doing what’s called reverse cycling.  As your baby gets older, they may drink as little milk as possible so they can make up for it by nursing later.  You end up pumping less during the day, and nursing more when you’re home with baby.

And finally…

DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF – We are usually capable of so much more than for which we give ourselves credit.  That being said, I felt like putting a timeframe on how long I wanted to pump set me up for guilt.  (And I already have PLENTY of working-mom guilt.)  I never said I would nurse or pump for X amount of time.  I just went with it.  I did it until I was done.  I only really had to pump for 6 months each time – until my sons were around 9 months.  They started eating solid foods, and I had built up a milk stash in my freezer to last a while, so we used that and did a little bit of reverse cycling.  I nursed my oldest until he was three, and my youngest until he was two.  But by the time they’re toddlers, it was really only for comfort and once or twice a day.

Nursing is a beautiful experience, but let’s face it, sometimes, pumping is just plain annoying.  I did have my share of supply issues and mastitis that I had to work through.  But with the great support from my husband, friends, and lactation consultant, I was able to exclusively breastfeed and pump.   It wasn’t always easy, but I do feel like the sacrifice I made was worth it.  And remember – some of the best nursing advice I’ve read is to continue nursing as long as baby and MOTHER both ENJOY it.  MOM – Don’t forget, you’re important too!!

What helped you nurse, pump, and work full-time?  Is there anything you wish someone would have told you?

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