from the blog.

Breastfeeding and the Workplace: the Exclusive Pumper’s Perspective

Let’s get right down to it: breastfeeding didn’t work out for me.

From the day my son was born, we could never figure out that whole latching thing. With his weight at birth well over 10lbs, my little man needed food—a lot of it. The nursing staff had me set up with a hospital-grade pump that same day, and I pumped constantly to try and work out what little colostrum I was making. The amount increased daily—hourly, even—and, according to the staff, quickly. I would attempt to latch every few hours, and when that didn’t work, we would feed him the colostrum with a little syringe (as opposed to a bottle, which could introduce nipple confusion). I was soon producing so much that the syringe was not enough. The nurse who was on-call the night I pumped 30mL in one session told us to use a bottle. We insisted the syringe would be fine.

Of course, it took us forty minutes to feed him. We didn’t make that mistake again; moving forward, we used the small bottles and nipples supplied by the hospital.

bottle feeding
© Rainbows & Unicorns

I kept producing plenty of colostrum, and it was a relief. Latching was still not happening.

Every day, I had a lactation consultant (LC) in my room. Every day, she got my son to latch without issue. And every day, I struggled whenever I was on my own. Never got the hold right. Never got the position right. He got frustrated and cried. I got frustrated and cried. I would hand him to my husband, who would feed him refrigerated colostrum, while I once again hooked myself up to the pump to make more.

My poor little boy lost over 11% of his birth weight before we even had the chance to leave the hospital—my C-section was Friday, and we were discharged the following Tuesday—and was forced on a formula supplement by the hospital. This lasted a week. One private post-discharge consultation with one of the hospital LCs was all it took to bulk my supply. “Pump every 2-3 hours, every time your baby is hungry,” she said, telling me I had to be rigorous with pumping until my son and I got on the same page with breastfeeding. So pump every 2-3 hours I did. For weeks on end, every time he was hungry, I was pumping. Side by side, my husband and I would sit on the couch in the living room—he, with our son in his arms, feeding him by bottle, and me, with Medela flanges in my hands, pumping what would be the next day’s stash.

I saw the LCs at the hospital four more times. Every time, my baby would latch without issue and feed for 10 minutes or more. And every day, I would go home and try on my own and fail.

Football hold. Cradle hold. On the couch. In the glider. In bed. Without the nipple shield. With the nipple shield.

Nothing worked.

So I committed to what’s called “exclusively pumping.” Thanks to that first LC appointment, I had trained my body to produce astounding amounts of milk without issue, all day. I had even cut back to every 3-4 hours by the time I went back to work. Between the formula in the hospital, the bottle-fed breastmilk in between failed attempts at nursing, and the obvious reality that being a full-time working mom would mean he would get more bottle than breast, I decided to continue my love-hate relationship with my pump.

Shortly after I returned to work, I cut back the time again. Instead of pumping 6-8 times a day, I was pumping 5-6 times a day. Twice during my workday I would trundle on up to the Human Resources’ “Quiet Room” to do my business. I found it relaxing; I found it easy to work into my schedule.

But after about a month, there was a shift. The honeymoon period of returning to work faded, and my workload increased. Twice-daily trips to the Quiet Room became once-daily trips. My 5-6 times a day became 4 times a day…but still, I maintained my hard-earned 45-50oz of pumped milk a day.

The last month has been hard. The once-daily trips aren’t cutting it because my son and I are struggling in the evenings. I’m alone, as my husband works second shift. My baby is teething, finishing a developmental leap, and just coming off a growth spurt. The neediness and clinginess is at an all-time high, and doing anything but hold him constantly is near-impossible. Pumping right after I get home as he naps is a rarity. More often than not, I am pumping for the fourth (sometimes only third) time shortly before midnight, with a time gap of 6 hours or more between that and the last session.

I’m almost 100% certain my supply has dropped, and I’m worried I won’t be able to get it back. I’m averaging 40-43oz per day now, which is about 10oz less than what I was doing before.

Unlike nursing working moms, I’m at a disadvantage. Sure, they need to pump to keep up their supply—but I’ve also found that they commonly feed more often at night than exclusive pumping moms do. With twelve to fourteen hours during the morning, evening, and overnight, they have the opportunity to somewhat maintain their supply with nursing directly.

I don’t.

I’ve long left behind my middle-of-the-night pumps, as it’s an additional 20-30mins I have to spend awake. When I pump, I’m not just pumping to maintain a while-I’m-at-work supply. I’m also pumping to maintain his morning feeds. His evenings feeds. His dream feeds. His middle-of-the-night feeds. Whereas a nursing mom can just put her baby on the breast if he’s fussy and not think any more about it, I have to bottle-feed my fussy baby and then hopefully get him down to sleep and then I can pump.

It’s hard. Being a breastfeeding mom, whether nursing directly or breastmilking-by-bottle, is difficult to maintain when you return to work. Even if you have accommodating bosses and an all-female HR department, as I do, sacrificing time out of your workday with deadlines looming to pump in-between meetings isn’t a decision you make lightly. In fact, it’s been nearly three months since I returned to work and not once has my manager, or anyone else for that matter, said boo about me disappearing to pump at least once a day. But that’s not the problem, is it? The problem is my own. Can I really spare 30-40 minutes, twice, to go upstairs and pump? My employer doesn’t make me punch out for my sessions, or make me use my unpaid lunch. Can I afford to take a lunch now? Can I go outside and get some sunshine and fresh air while I eat, or should I stay at my desk and keep working? Do I sacrifice time at home with my baby to stay late to make up for the time I spend pumping and/or going on a lunch?

Now doesn’t that seem backwards to you?

If the United States valued the importance of being home with your baby for at least six months, then maybe the struggles for breastfeeding moms wouldn’t be as rampant (the AAP now recommends 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding for those who are able to provide it). That time would be available to learn how to nurse your baby—or, if not, at least to put in the time and effort to make sure your baby still gets what he or she needs. I’m an exclusive pumper. Like other breastfeeding moms, my connection to the pump is my breast milk lifeline. In the same way a nursing mom needs to pump through her workday to keep her body acknowledging the fact that she has a baby at home waiting to be nursed, I need to pump through my workday to make sure my baby has any breast milk at all. Being home with him for the first six months would have been incredibly beneficial, even if I hadn’t ever been able to latch him. The pressure of working and maintaining a supply wouldn’t exist.

Since the week after my son was born…

…I have pumped 712 times…
…for the equivalent of 11 days, 23 hours, and 56 minutes…
…for an amount of 6,065 ounces…
…which is converted to 47.4 gallons of milk.

Looking at those numbers, you would think that’s enough…but it’s not. The truth is, my son is still two weeks shy of six months, and it’s not as if he’s moving straight to solid foods right away. The expectation is that weaning takes until the baby is at least one year, if not older. I have an incredible stash of frozen breast milk, but that would only get me so far. In fact, without even counting exactly how much I have in there, I can probably pretty accurately guesstimate that it would only last me two months, three at best.

I’m facing a busy end of the year at work, through Christmas, and the anxiety over whether I’ll be able to pump on a firm enough schedule to maintain my supply is a dark cloud over my head. Whether or not I make it to my son’s first birthday without feeding him formula remains to be seen. I can only look to the future knowing I’ve committed 100% to doing the best I can for my baby. Whatever happens, happens—and that just has to be enough.

We are sharing stories this week about our triumphs and travails with breastfeeding in honor of World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2015, coordinated by WABA).*

“This World Breastfeeding Week, WABA calls for concerted global action to support women to combine breastfeeding and work. Whether a woman is working in the formal, non-formal or home setting, it is necessary that she is empowered in claiming her and her baby’s right to breastfeed.”

For more information please visit

*Disclaimer: Rainbows & Unicorns does not discriminate against how any parent chooses to feed their child. We honor that families always choose the best thing that works for them, whether that is formula feeding, breastfeeding, exclusively pumping, or a mixture of any of these. 

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  1. Dude, I’m so unbelievably proud of you for sticking to it. I’ve told you multiple times I don’t know that I could exclusively pump. Your dedication and determination are nothing short of awe-inspiring!! You rock!!

  2. I LOVE YOU. Seriously. I suppose one silver lining to the misery of exclusively pumping is that it made us instant friends. So glad I’ve got you as a friend and Pumping Extraordinaire.

  3. I’m on my second time around EPing. I tried so hard to breastfeed but neither of would latch correctly. I pumped with my son for just over a year and I’m 5 months in woth my little girl. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I’m also a teacher and like you, have trouble finding time during the day to pump. I also have an over supply and know the pain of engorged boobies when there isn’t time to pump. I wanted to share my pumping schedule with you, in hopes that it might help your journey. I pump at 430 am before my baby gets up in the morning. I then shower and get ready for the day. I’m out the door by 645. Before I pull out of my driveway, I hook up to my pump. I pump while driving the whole way to work (30 min). I then take a break during my planning period around 11am and pump for 20-30 min. I don’t get a chance to pump again until 4ish, which I do in the car, on my way to pick up my kids from daycare. If I have after school meetings, I don’t get to pump until I get home at 530. I give my 3 year old a snack and turn on the tv while my 5 month old sits in her highchair, playing with toys.. I then pump at the table while feeding her. After about 20-30 min, I unhook and start dinner . I also pump before bed,around 9 or 930. My baby doesn’t sleep through the night so when she gets up around 1, my husband feeds her a bottle of expressed milk while I pump (mostly for comfort). Sometimes if it’s close to my 430 wake up time, I’ll skip that pump and either feed Baby her bottle or my husband will tell me to go back to sleep. Pumping is damn hard work but so worth it! Keep up the good work Momma!

  4. I’m all teary reading your post. I’m pumping, breastfeeding & supplementing with formula once or twice a day with my twins. I took a medical leave without pay to stay with them until they’re 6 months. Nobody gets the exhaustion that I feel and the guilt of not producing enough for both. I’m stressing about going back to work, I’ll take my medela like you, hoping for the best. They’re 5 months old now. Sending all my love and respect xx

  5. I’m so impressed at your determination and sacrifice. I’m not sure I would have lasted as long as you have. Well done, mama!

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