Breastfeeding after you return to work can be hard, so I want to start right off by saying I have no opinion on your choice. It’s great if you’ve decided to breastfeed, to formula feed, or to do some combination of the two. I am very much in the “Fed is best” camp. I breastfed and pumped at work and sent mostly breast milk for my girls at daycare with some supplementing when I couldn’t keep up. If your goal is to exclusively breastfeed and you are looking for tips and tricks and strategies to increase your pumping efficiency, there are a lot of resources out there for you. That’s not what I want to do here because there are so many better authorities on that subject. What I want to do is share some perspectives that I learned along the way that will hopefully be helpful if you are trying to maintain your breastfeeding journey with your little one while you are at work. No pressure or judgement here – just feed your baby!
For my first baby, I breastfed when we were together and pumped when we were apart so she would have bottles of breast milk at daycare (with solids introduced around 6 months). I didn’t have much trouble with nursing when we were together, but I had a lot of trouble pumping enough to keep up with what she ate while we were apart. I stressed about this. I tried to see if they could feed her less. I added extra pumping sessions and longer pumping sessions and tried different strategies to improve my efficiency. I cried. I counted how many ounces of milk I had in the freezer and calculated how long it would last. I tried the same strategies again. I replaced parts on my pump. I added extra pumping sessions in the middle of the night. I stressed some more. I cried some more. When she was about 11 months I ran out of my freezer stash and didn’t know what else to try. I felt defeated that I couldn’t match all of her bottles anymore. At that point, I switched one or two bottles that we sent to daycare each day to formula. (Spoiler alert – she was totally fine!!) After her first birthday, we introduce cow’s milk and changed the formula bottles to that. I also started to phase out pumping at work. I sent whatever breast milk I had and the rest of her bottles were cow’s milk. Eventually I stopped pumping and all of her bottles switched over to cow’s milk. We continued to nurse outside of work and daycare and she drank cow’s milk when we were apart. Phew! With my second baby, we followed almost the exact same pattern, but I switched to sending a bottle of formula around 6 months instead of 11 months and skipped all of the stress and all of the crying. Okay, most of it. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t still have an emotional reaction to not being able to keep up with her either. Guess what, though – she was totally fine too!
I was making myself crazy trying to pump enough to keep up with my first baby and it was all because I had it in my head that we were going to exclusively breastfeed for a year. That was my goal and that was what we were going to do. You might call this determined or dedicated or you might call this stubborn. (I’ve definitely been called both! Ha!) With some time and perspective, I’m pretty sure I was being stubborn, so I tried to be a little less stubborn the second time around. I’m still working on self-improvement here! 🙂
Anyway, between my first and second babies I came to the realization that breastfeeding does not have to be an all or nothing thing. Yes, you can do all or you can do nothing, but there is so much space in between the two. If you are able to do it all, that is great. If you prefer to do nothing or your circumstances dictate nothing, that is great too. If you are on this journey and struggling to do it all, though, I would encourage you to give yourself permission to occupy the space between all and nothing. Maybe poke around some of the tips and tricks that are out there to see if a small change could make a big difference. I felt like I was making big changes and seeing extremely small differences, though. If this is also true for you, I hope you might step back and decide to embrace what you are able to do. Just because you can’t do it all doesn’t mean you have to do nothing. What this looks like is probably different for all of us. Maybe you nurse when you are together and feed your baby formula when you are apart. Maybe you nurse when you are together and pump what you can when you are apart. You might send a combination of breast milk and formula bottles or introduce formula at some point along the way, like I did. I know this can be an emotional topic for a lot of people and can feel very stressful. In hindsight it’s easy to see that my babies were totally fine. It can be hard to see that when you’re in the midst of it, though. If you are in the midst of it, I want to send a big virtual hug and reassure you that your baby is totally fine. If your baby is getting fed, you are doing a great job! Way to go, Mama!