When I first returned to work after my elder daughter was born, I was overwhelmed and anxious about continuing to pump and nurse. The thought of maintaining a pumping schedule in the face of client deadlines and other professional responsibilities was intimidating. However, having a plan—and even role playing and mentally rehearsing situations ahead of time—helped me to feel secure as I transitioned to daily life back at work. In addition, I had great support from my husband, my colleagues and clients—both male and female—and the benefit of a great lactation consultant (LC). The cliché holds true, it really does take a village.
As a mom and a professional, I have to be flexible; however, that doesn’t mean that I’m a pushover, or that I sacrifice my health and wellbeing or that of my babies. At the outset, I learned that I needed to make it clear that missing a pumping session isn’t an option—not only is it uncomfortable, but it can be unhealthy as well. Skipping a pumping session may not only mean my own pain and discomfort, but also the possibility that there may not be enough milk now or—if my supply was impacted by missing sessions—in the future.
Long meetings, whether with colleagues or clients, have been a particular challenge. Depending on the nature of the meeting and whether or not it tracks with the formal agenda, breaks may be difficult to plan up front. Here are some techniques that have helped me cope.
Plan ahead. Communication is critical. Ahead of the meeting alert the leader—or if you are the leader connect with a key participant—and communicate your need to pump. Be specific about the schedule and the length of time you will be absent from the meeting room. Be sure that you have reserved a place to pump—whether it is a Mother’s Room at the office or an appropriate location at a client site. In some instances, due to a lack of a mother’s room or substitute facility at a client location, I have pumped in the car. Know where you will need to go and how long it will take you to get there.
If you are working at a client site, connect with your team leader or primary point of contact to identify the most appropriate person to ask about a Mother’s Room. Generally, I ask for a private room with a door that locks. Nearly every time I have asked, people have accommodated me.
To stay connected to the meeting if I have to step out while the conversation is still going, I ask to dial in from where I am pumping. I’ve taken a lot of calls from various Mother’s Rooms and with headphones plugged into a cell phone and the pump on the floor, the background noise is minimal—never doubt the power of the mute button either.
Project confidence. Feeling secure in your choices impacts how you communicate them to others. When I first returned to work, I felt embarrassed having to explain my need to excuse myself from a meeting to pump. I was afraid that people would view me as less engaged or not dedicated. By projecting timidity and hesitation, I was not only giving the impression that I felt I was doing something wrong or something about which I shouldn’t be proud, but I was being a terrible role model for other pumping moms. I transformed my demeanor and the positive results nearly were instantaneous. There is a certain degree of “fake it until you make it” involved, but the approach works. I have had so many fellow pumping moms thank me for being open and honest about my schedule and the support that I need to be successful.
Make an appointment. Just like any other important event, my pumping times are blocked out on my work calendar. If someone asks to meet at a time that conflicts with pumping, I simply state that I need to pump at that time and offer flexible alternatives—a call, a discussion via instant message or email, or a simply a different time to meet.
Set respectful boundaries. Sometimes, as a pumping mom, you just have to say no. However, instead of being seen as not dedicated, I have found that my colleagues and clients respect my discipline in making the choices necessary for my health and that of my children. Also, I’ve found that my efficiency at work has increased because I’m more focused on keeping to my schedule and have gotten better at avoiding distractions and time wasters.
Being a pumping mom has also forced me to challenge some of my own assumptions and preconceptions about people. Some of the most understanding, supportive, and accommodating people have been men—both colleagues and clients—with and without children of their own. Most people are empathetic and want to be helpful. Give them the chance. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
More than anything, my worst enemy in making the transition back to work was myself. I had to get over the negative self-talk, feeling inadequate, and believing that I wasn’t doing enough. I had to learn to give myself a break and be gentle with myself. I do my best and it is more than good enough.