Pumping milk while you’re working – and even more so if you’re not working from home – can be a huge mental and logistical challenge. Did I bring all the right parts? Is the space I’m pumping clean and private? What meetings am I missing because I’m pumping? What if I don’t produce enough ounces of milk? Our minds can spin in a million anxiety-ridden directions with each pump session.
I know the pumping complexities well, having pumped myself over 1,000 times. Here’s the math! 2 babies, 40 weeks per baby, 5 days per week, 2-3 pumping sessions per day. My now not-so-little redheads are 9 and 11 years old, and I’ve long since retired my pumps. I remember quite vividly, however, the 26 months we spent practically attached at the…breast.
I breastfed both of my boys until each was around 13 months old. And I certainly felt like a slightly-insane milk machine both times. Every day, I’d lug a huge bag full of pump parts to work. Every night, I spent what seemed like hours washing them with bottle brushes, sterilizing them in microwavable sterilization bags, and re-packing for the next day.
I also had the added “fun” of having excess lipase in my milk, which made my milk turn sour after 4 hours, if I didn’t scald it at 160 degrees for 15 seconds. So added to my pumping equipment at work was a Munchkin bottle warmer and a candy thermometer, which I used to heat up my milk after I had pumped it. It looked like there was a science experiment going on under my desk after each pumping session.
It felt extremely rewarding to be creating this nourishment for my babies each day. The pumping process also helped me feel an important connection to my little ones, even when I couldn’t physically be with them. But it was also exhausting, logistically challenging, guilt-inducing, and maddening at times. In short, I discovered quite quickly an important truth: that pumping is hard work.
Let’s Counter Those Pumping “What If’s”
When a sentence starts with the word “what if,” you can be pretty sure anxiety is behind the question that’s about to follow. Just being able to spot these two little words, I find, can sometimes help me when I need to reconsider a thought that’s about to spiral out of control!
So how can you get your head in a better, calmer place around the struggles of pumping? Let’s tackle some “what if” reframes here:
When Your Brain Says: “What if I miss something important at work because I’m taking time out to pump? I’m so behind in my job, and I’ll never get this work done with all these pumping breaks. I feel so guilty!”
Offer Your Brain This Thought Instead: “Eating is a normal human thing to do. My baby needs to eat. And I am nourishing my baby by pumping. I made this decision to pump, because I believe in the value of breastmilk for my baby. Work will be there waiting for me after this pumping session. This is but one, short, season of my life and career.”
You might also like: Pumping Breast Milk — All You Need to Know
When Your Brain Says: “What if I can’t get a letdown? I can’t seem to relax, and the milk is never going to come out. My pumping time is going to be over before this milk even starts to flow. Aargh!!”
Offer Your Brain This Thought Instead: “Deep breaths, mama! You’ve got this. Yes, it can be hard to relax enough to pump in a work setting. That’s true. But I can pull out some photos of my baby, and imagine cuddling with them right now. I can also turn on one of the following pumping meditations, for some soothing instructions and music that will help me to calm my nervous system faster.”
- Meditation for Pumping Milk (Long Version, 15 minutes)
- Meditation for Pumping Milk (Short Version, 4:30 minutes)
When Your Brain Says: “What if I don’t produce enough milk for my baby? If I don’t have enough of a freezer reserve, my baby will starve. And it will be my fault, because I went back to work.”
Offer Your Brain This Thought Instead: “I will nourish my baby, and that’s a promise. That nourishment may come through breastmilk, yes, or formula, or a combination of the two. Nourishment of my baby also comes from cuddling with them, meeting their needs, and loving them unconditionally. I’m doing my very best, and my baby loves me.”
You Got This, Mama
I admit that 10 years later, there’s not much I miss about pumping. I do, however, have one regret. If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself to eek out every last ounce of milk at every pump session. It turns out my babies were going to turn out just fine, no matter what.
Your baby will too, mama. You’re doing an amazing job, and there’s a whole world of other working parents out there cheering you on. You got this, mama.
About the author:
Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, believes in empowering working parents. She is the founder and CEO of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and co-host of the Parents at Work Podcast. She is mama to two wonderful red-headed boys (ages 9 and 11) and is a health care lawyer in private practice. Her thought leadership has been featured in publications including Forbes, The Washington Post, New York Times Parenting, and Thrive Global.