Back to Work and Pumping: How to Prepare and What to Get

I felt very torn about returning to work because of breastfeeding, as I had been basically exclusively breastfeeding (I say basically because M did have formula within the first few days of life due to weight loss and my milk not coming in until day 5) up to 10.5 months when I was scheduled to start a new position (hence going back a bit early). I’ll be honest – I had stressed for months for a few reasons:

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  1. Although I had been using the Haakaa and ideally could have created quite a good little freezer supply, my freezer is tiny and I don’t have a large deep freezer. It’s on our “to buy list” for future, but it wasn’t a priority when we moved into a new house not even 2 months before I gave birth.
  2. Although I did have an adequate supply going using all the space I could in my tiny freezer, it didn’t last long. We were occasionally using the milk for bottles (for dad and sometimes grandmas when restrictions were lifted) and in baby food recipes. Once M actually started daycare full time too, it went quick. Especially because at the beginning she was still drinking a lot of breast milk – it wasn’t until closer to ~11.5 months that she became less dependent and began eating full meals of solids.
  3. I had never used a pump. I know a lot of mamas do even when breastfeeding and being at home, but partly because of the pandemic I was basically never away from Maggie and it was just so much easier to breastfeed. I used the Haakaa early on for small bottles for dad to give, so I just never had need of it (even though I did get one a few weeks after I gave birth).
  4. I had no idea what it would be like to have to pump while working – firstly because I had never had to do it and secondly because it was a damn pandemic so it felt like there were now all these extra things to be concerned about re: sterility and cleanliness. The pandemic also made life unpredictable – not only was I starting a new position suddenly that I had not really expected, but I also wasn’t sure at the time whether I would be having to work a bit in an office setting, or work fully remotely – which made a huge different in regards to comfort, stress, and so on.

So, needless to say – I felt a bit lost with the whole idea. Was it sustainable? I knew it could be – many women before me and around me were doing it successfully. Many women also exclusively pump! But just because others were and had done it didn’t mean that my feelings of confusion and worry weren’t valid.

When I’m worried about something I usually turn to my husband – but of course, he had little guidance to offer me on this subject in particular (although he did offer support and encouragement). So, I turned to Twitter – as most of my close mom friends actually also didn’t pump, so I had to look to a bit of an extended audience for guidance (and there are so many amazing moms who I follow on Twitter – who are my friends!). What did I need? What did they do? Any recommendations? Words of wisdom?

I found lots of helpful answers through there, but in the end – each pumping experience (similar to each parenting experience, each breastfeeding experience, each formula feeding experience and so on and so forth…) is different, and recommendations are SO helpful, but you usually take what you can from them and use them in a way that works for you.

So, here is what I found helpful as a mom going from breastfeeding exclusively to pumping (I still breastfeed in the AM and PM when M is home and exclusively on weekends). Remember that not everything might work for you, might not interest you, etc. I just find that recommendations like this and shared experiences are helpful to guide us to what fits into our lifestyle:

P.S. I always make the text bigger on “take-away” points or important info in my posts! So if you’re scanning through just wondering “what pump did she use?!” or something like that, look for bigger text.

First thing is first: Get a (good) pump.

What feels like eons ago, I asked for pump recommendations (also from Twitter). I got a ton and through those suggestions I discovered that pump selection definitely has a lot to do with preference.

I found most people swore by electric pumps, especially dual pumps because it saves time. But some people also really loved manual pumps (while others did not like pumps at all and relied exclusively on milk savers and catchers like the Haakaa).

Overall, I saw the Spectra brand most recommended in my suggestions, and after reading through various reviews I decided to go with the Spectra S2.

Now, let me give a thorough and honest review of this pump, because I hate to recommend anything without honesty.

I ordered it from Amazon US and it was expensive but in comparison to other similar brands available more locally, such as Medela, I found it comparable (with more consistent reviews IMO). I found a package that included a pump bag, a cooler bag for milk, and all the bottles/pump parts required for function (I can’t find it right now or else I would link it).

I literally took it out of the box and then it sat in the bag (I didn’t even take the parts out of the plastic bags they came in) until 10.5 months when I was like – well if I’m going to pump, I should probably take a look at how this thing works! I cleaned the parts and plugged it in, and found that the settings are all very adjustable to whatever your comfort level is. There is a massage mode and a suction mode (I personally use massage for about 1.5-2 mins at the beginning until let down, then switch over to suction). The level you set it up takes some play and honestly, my comfort changes depending on the day. The good part it it has many levels and can always be changed as needed.

I have no complaints about the pump or parts – they are easy to clean and I’ve had no issues. I like the little light on the pump because depending on when you are pumping and also where you’re sitting it can be hard to see the screen. My only retrospective regret is getting the S2 instead of the S1 and this is only because with the S2 you are stuck sitting near an outlet as it has to be plugged in. The S1 can function cordlessly and is therefore more portable.

The only reason this doesn’t bother me a ton is because I work remotely – so I’m actually always near a plug for my laptop and second monitor anyways. However, if I were returning to work in an office I would have preferred the S1 just for the portability (because you don’t know where you’re going to be set up for pumping and whether or not there will be an outlet in a comfortable location). Other than that one function, I think the pump works great – both are dual pumps which *personally* I find much faster/easier to use. For me, I like to try and get pumping done quickly and before I got a good bra I did do one breast at a time, but I much prefer to just hook it up and have it be done the first time, y’know?

Pumps can certainly take a bit of trial and error – you may not know what you like until you try one. I was lucky I guess that I like mine so much and that it works for me, but this isn’t always the case. Many hospitals do offer rental units – so this may be something to look into to try and pinpoint what you might like, but it’s also nice to hear from other women as well. Don’t forget to also check if your insurance will cover the costs of the pump – some do, some don’t (mine did not). Worth looking into though as an electric pump is certainly expensive!

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, manual pumps work for many women too (and like I said, some prefer them). I can’t personally offer any suggestions, but many of the big brands make them – and there are many available on Amazon for easy purchase & delivery during a pandemic. Difference with manual is of course the time it takes & effort – but this doesn’t bother everyone so once again it is a preference based decision.

Many people are also really into the whole hands-free, cord-free, fits-in-your-bra pump right now. I know Elvie makes one that has mixed reviews – some people really like it! I haven’t got a chance to try it yet, but I would love to just to see how it is when you’re more on the go. I know that the output and suction often is not comparable to a heavy duty electric pump though, from reviews I’ve heard from others. It’s what works for you though!

Make sure you have a good pumping bra (it doesn’t have to be 1 million dollars to be good).

I feel like the biggest investment for pumping is usually the pump itself. Everything else you can spend a lot of money on, but it’s not necessarily a requirement. There are lots of good quality smaller items for less money.

A pumping bra may be one of those things – but if you’re a woman, you already know that normal bras are already such a preference-based purchase. We all like different styles, different fits, different clasps, and so on. Even sizing is difficult and specific – many of us wear the wrong size, or wear two different sizes in different brands. It’s complicated and I wish they’d just make women’s clothing easier to use.

Anyways, I personally got my pumping bra on Amazon based on (again) some recommendations from Twitter. This is the exact one I got. It had good reviews and ratings so I decided I’d try it out and return it if it wasn’t comfortable. Personally I find it works well for the purpose which I got it for which is of course – pumping. It holds everything in place and helps to maintain the suction. It’s really easy to take on and off and adjust because it has a velcro back and a zipper in the front which is amazing.

I haven’t tried any other ones, so I have nothing to compare it to, but for the price I found it was great and I haven’t found anything to complain about yet. There is a comparable Medela version available too – looks exactly the same, and also has a good ratings. Go with your gut and peruse ratings re: sizing. I like that Amazon has the option of sorting out clothing reviews based on the size the person purchased. It makes it easier to determine fit. You may want a specific style too depending on what you usually wear and your breast size/support needs.

If you’re pumping one breast at a time, I still recommend a bra because the position you have to stay in to pump (whether one or two breasts) is not ideal for good posture and we already do enough to our bodies as pregnant and postpartum women taking care of (or growing) a baby! So any way we can find to be kind to our bodies is good – plus you want to be comfortable while you’re pumping. However, it is once again a totally preference based decision – this is just what has worked for me.

If you are pumping one breast at a time, get a Haakaa to catch let-down on the opposite side.

I also suggest just getting a Haakaa in general – however I do realize that not everyone ends up liking them and that for whatever reason, they don’t work for some people that well.

The purpose of a Haakaa is not to replace a pump – though for some people, it certainly can (if you’re not looking to pump out high volumes at one time or if you build a supply slowly over time). It’s just not the same action as a pump nor a baby nursing, so when you only get a little let-down, just a reminder to not be disappointed or dismayed, because that’s actually normal. Even with a pump – breast output will vary based on things like time of day and where you are in your menstrual cycle. Here is some good information on milk volume and the facts that affect it.

I think the Haakaa is a good tool in general, as I was saying, but it’s also especially useful if you are pumping one side at a time. Let-down is usually bilateral, although not every woman can feel the sensation. This means that you might be missing out on some milk output if you don’t catch on the other side – so if you’re looking to top up your supply a bit, it might be a good option.

I don’t use it for that purpose, but I would if I were pumping one side at a time (and have in the situations where I have pumped one side at a time). I actually used the Haakaa most when I was breastfeeding exclusively to catch the opposite sides let-down, but I still use it now occasionally – for example, when I was adjusting to M sleeping through the night (which actually coincided with the time she started daycare pretty much), I used it in the mornings for engorgement. Eventually this went down as my body got used to her sleeping through, but it was helpful in those moments.

Good thing about the Haakaa is it is wicked cheap on Amazon (only 18.99$ CAD) so try it and if you don’t end up liking it, at least you weren’t making a crazy investment!

Note: there are similar products by other companies. I also used the Nature Bond but I preferred the suction on the Haakaa. I always found I caught more with the Haakaa than the Nature Bond. However, this can certainly be different for everyone so you won’t know until you try! I did like the stopper from the NB better than the ones the Haakaa offers though.

Milk storage bags are good for you know – storing milk!

Once you have milk, you need somewhere to put it! If you’re using it right away it’s one thing, but if you need to store it and/or build a freezer stash, milk bags are key.

There are many different types to choose from and surprise, surprise – this will come down to preference. I’ve seen reviews of different bags by different people – some love one and hate another; and vice versa.

I can tell you that I personally have liked the Lansinoh storage bags the best – yet I’ve heard from others they’ve had leaks (I have only had 1 single leaking incident with these bags and it was not because of the bag but because my husband put something heavy on top of all my bags…). I also think they’re a good size for storing (I keep them in a container, laid flat – some people like storing them differently though).

I recently switched over to Dr Brown’s storage bags because of the price difference – for a 100-count box, it’s several dollars cheaper than the Lansinoh box. However – I’ve only used a few so far and I’m not 100% sure if I prefer them yet. I like that the bags feel more “heavy duty” (thicker) than the Lansinoh bags, but I did a “leak test” by sealing them bag and turning it upside down and I noticed a bit of milk seeped out. I’m not sure if it was just because I didn’t seal the bag entirely – so the verdict about these ones are still up in the air for me – I’ll share my conclusion on Twitter in a few weeks when I have more time using them.

Again – this is an item that may need trial and error, but I think most bags are comparable. The reviews are so mixed it is hard to say one is better than the other (because Medela and other brands also make them)! Most are available on Amazon for a good price and easy delivery.

A sterilizer bag is also super helpful (and cheaper than a sterilizer)

You can also do it the cheapest way which is boiling water and sterilizing old school.

I found sterilizer bags super helpful with pumping and having to constantly clean pump parts! Good part about them is if you aren’t working from home, they just go into the microwave and ta-da! Sterilized. It takes some of the anxiety away too (I would imagine) with the pandemic going on and having to pump somewhere that isn’t your home. Well, at least my pump parts are sterile!

I use the Medela sterilizer bags which are – you guessed it – available on Amazon. I have no complaints – they have limited use (20x per bag) but there is a few in a box.

A couple other tips… Make sure:

  • Your flanges fit right – a good fit is indicated by the nipple having space around it in the flange tunnel and not a ton of areola being sucked in during pumping. If too much areola is entering the tunnel or there isn’t enough space around the nipple then you need to adjust your flange fit which sometimes is as easy as adjusting the way you’ve put it on but may also require you to get a different size. Different brands offer different sizing and measurement tools on their websites. If you’re struggling, it is also a good option to consult an IBCLC (lactation consultant)
  • You know how long milk is good for, how to store, etc – I found Kellymom the most useful for this, and it is what I generally followed.
  • You contact HR re having a dedicated space to pump and having somewhere to store milk etc (if you’re returning to work out of the home) – make sure you have this stuff organized before you go back if you can! It will give you peace of mind!

3 thoughts on “Back to Work and Pumping: How to Prepare and What to Get

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