Tools for the Breastfeeding-Working Mom

In honor of breastfeeding moms all over the world, I’m posting my breastfeeding tools and tips, which I don’t think I can’t do without as a working mom.

But first, I want to clarify that if you are with your baby for most of the day, then you don’t really need any tools. As breastfeeding is the best and cheapest (or as UNICEF terms it, the single most economical and effective intervention) opportunity to better nutrition that any mother can give (unless if you are one of the few mothers with medical conditions that won’t enable them to breastfeed), all you need are your breasts, your positive perspective on breastfeeding (to get you through the rough times), support from friends and family, and your baby. However, if you are a working mother and bent on making breastfeeding last for as long as possible, then here’s what I use to keep up the supply while at work:

1. Breast pump

I actually have 2 pumps: manual and electric (double). I first used the manual during the first 2 weeks when my baby and I were still trying to find the “perfect” latch that works for the both of us and feed the milk using a dropper into my baby’s mouth when latching was too painful for me to bear (the solution is to find a lactation counselor to help you find the latch! breastfeeding is natural but it’s not easy at first). I alternate this with my electric pump when needed.

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I bought my electric pump after 6 weeks and I tried to express milk to build supply before going back to work (I was able to get a 3 month maternity leave, which was 60 calendar days for mother who had NSD, as per Philippine laws, and extra leaves I had saved up).

I know there are issues between closed and open breast pumps, but there aren’t many options in the Philippines. In fact most breastfeeding moms don’t have any options at all because electric breast pumps are very expensive. For my pump, I shelled out around/almost US$ 300, which was half of my maternity benefit pay. But I figured, the initial cost of buying an expensive pump is worth the investment if I am to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. US$300 is equivalent to 2 months worth of formula milk! I am happy with this pump too because it is light and compact enough to be carried to and from the office.

I do have a band for hands-free expression. It helps a lot for multitasking moms who need to express milk while working!

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When I was exclusively breastfeeding, I had to pump 3-4 times while at work. To keep the flanges and bottles and small pump parts clean, I was able to wash the bottles and the flanges and the other pump parts with soapy hot water and dry them with a small towel. However, most of the time, washing the parts would take up a lot of the precious time during office breaks, so I put the bottles and flanges, etc in a slider storage (plastic) bag and place it in the fridge to inhibit bacterial growth (I got this tip from Dr. Sears).

2. Cooler

When I used to travel 1.5-2 hours per way to the office, a compact cooler is a good way to make sure that my milk stays as fresh as possible during commute. While at the office, I was allowed the use of the fridge to store my milk and the pump parts and my cooler in. I use extra blue ice packs during longer trips/commute.

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3. Storage Milk Bottles

Unfortunately, I was not one of the moms who are blessed with bountiful milk that they are able to store bags and bags of milk. I use baby food storage cups/containers to store milk in 3-4 oz (the amount of milk that my baby consumes in each feed.  This allowed me to keep track of the milk that my son consumes and I was able to rotate all the containers in a week. It’s value for money because I use these to store homemade baby food now that I am complementary feeding!

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4. Storage container for all the other stuff

This may not be necessary for other moms who cup feed or directly feed from the breast, but my baby does get his milk from the bottle. My milk that is. So I find that having this storage container really handy to organize all the bottles, etc. I am quite lucky though that my son knows the difference between my breast and the bottle and insists/ will not feed from the bottle whenever he knows that I am around.

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5. Nipple Cream

This is a life saver during the first 2 months of breastfeeding and now that my son have teeth. I like this brand because it works for me and it’s non-toxic.

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6. Galactagogues

I did buy a bottle of galactagogue supplements (as shown in the previous photo), and it did work to a certain extent when I was exclusively breastfeeding. But now that my supply is dwindling because my son is complementary feeding, I turn to fresher galactagogues. I drink a lot of soup, I eat oatmeal (despite the fact that I am not very fond of it), and I eat a lot of green leafy vegetables, like malunggay leaves, which is a superfood in the Philippines and a known galactagogue (see photo below for our very young malunggay tree).

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Note: I am not endorsing any products and these are photos of what I am using on a daily basis. Like all else, make informed choices! Here’s to a continuing and successful breastfeeding journey! 

How Has It Been?

Where have I been? Since my last post, I got a job offer to work for a public health non-profit foundation, just a tricycle ride away from our house. I guess, it’s ironic that my last post was about giving up my career for motherhood. But I guess, my career is not about to give up on me. Besides, after years of wanting to get into the public health sector, I have the opportunity to wedge my foot in. The job is backbreaking-ly demanding. But I won’t go into details. It is challenging enough to keep my interest whetted. Too challenging even, but hey, I’ve only been on the job for a month. I’m still getting used to things.

However, I don’t and I won’t sacrifice motherhood for any career. Thus, the distance between the office and our house is a refreshing relief. I can leave with enough time for my baby to wake up and smile at me during mornings, I can go home to see him during lunch, and my house is still near enough for me to run (or in this case, hop into a tricycle) in time for dinner after spending overtime at the office. Our office has a lactation room too, so I can still express milk while at the office.

My son is now 9 months and he is learning the concept of me leaving him during the day with a baby sitter so I can go to work. We have our periodic panic moments when he’s teething. Just last week, we had to take him to see his pediatrician because he was running a high fever for 3 days already. Living in the tropics makes mothers like me deathly afraid of dengue, so I don’t want to take any chances in not taking my son to the doctor. Fortunately, it was just that, teeth. And now he’s biting me because his front tooth is growing. Now he’s back to learning how to walk, climbing over pillows, crawling, grabbing, playing, laughing, looking at books, and growing into himself, my dear adorable little boy.

Around 2 AM

…Or whatever time it is, my sleeping hours have mostly been off schedule these past months since the baby came. No, make that, since I was 5 months pregnant and could discern the little kicks in my belly. Ticking off the months, it’s been almost a year, make that 8 months and counting since I last had my 8-9 hour sleep. Come to think of it, the last time I had my 8-9 hour sleep was when I was single and sleeping on my back is now a luxury ever since I got married and became a mother.

It’s funny how we take our sleeping positions for granted until we start having kids. When I was pregnant, all pregnancy-related websites, resource persons, and my OB-GYN recommended me to start sleeping on my left side, as sleeping on the back is supposedly not good for the fetus. Having been a “back sleeper that sleeps for 8-9 hours” most of my entire life, it was a difficult adjustment. My shoulders hurt, my legs cramp full blast in the middle of the night, my arms felt like I’ve run them over a boulder, my neck stiff…and I woke up in the morning feeling lousy and wishing for a minute, almost every morning, that weeks will pass by quickly until I am due to give birth so I can start sleeping on my back. And my 8-9 hour sleeping habits are slowly turning into 3-4 hour sleep with pee breaks. Then I realized, maybe the pregnancy advice is right after all, I don’t think I can manage getting up every 3-4 hours with my pregnant belly if I sleep on my back.

My sleeping hours did not improve after the baby was born, with all the breastfeeding and cuddling the baby to sleep. Though I did manage to find a way to sleep on my back. I remember the first time I stretched out on the bed in my back, happily delirious, and exhaling “FINALLY!” It was bliss, it was everything I imagined, it was the ultimate dream after months of sleepless nights and mornings waking up on the wrong side of the bed…until the little guy beside me cried while trying to find me, his clenched hands waving in the air with his eyes closed. And with a sigh, I turned on my side, curled up next to the little bundle of fuzzy little cuteness and knew that I will be giving that all up again for his sake…until maybe when he turns 2. He looks like he’s a back sleeper too.

When crying over spilled milk becomes a reality…

As a new full-time working mother, I am still juggling with work and “mothering duties”. Aside from being a full-time working mother, I am also trying to exclusively breastfeed/ express breast milk for my son at the same time. Maybe because these are all new to me, and I don’t want to sugarcoat the bittersweet bliss of motherhood, it’s honestly so difficult.

My son, who is turning 4 months in 2 weeks, is growing well, if I am to base it on his weight and height gain (or length since he is not standing yet). I give myself small pats in the back from time to time as a way to boost my self-esteem that I am doing something right in trying so hard to exclusively feed him my milk. Of course, I do not know what happens when I leave him at home with his caregiver. But because I do not have any formula or sterilized water lying around the house for the caregiver’s convenience, I assure myself that the caregiver respects my intentions on breastfeeding and only feeds him with the containers of milk I leave behind every morning.

Committing to exclusive breastfeeding is difficult because not everyone does it. They don’t do it because it is such an effort to express milk. Just imagine how shocked I was when I found out from my grandmother that she did not breastfeed my father because she had “no milk” and gave him Darigold condensed milk as a baby. I was not exclusively breastfed as well because I was born with a low birth weight and had to be kept in an incubator for a week or two, and this being the 80s, formula milk was in vogue and as my mother said, breast pumps were objects of torture then. Partly because of the numerous allergies that plagued me as a child (and continues to do so until now), I was bent on exclusively breastfeeding my baby (and all babies that will come) and even had to argue with my grandmothers, my mother, and to some extent my husband when a mere suggestion of giving my son formula milk arises.

Breast milk is the best for babies after all. It is the gold standard and it has all these numerous benefits, economic, psychological, physiological, etc., that I don’t need to be convinced. Months before giving birth I was neck deep with readings on breastfeeding and getting my self ready for it.

But as with motherhood, one can never be ready for it. It is difficult. My baby and I had latch issues, and I was crying for the first 3 weeks because it was painful and I wondered how could other mothers say that nursing is the most satisfying feeling in the world, when all I felt was soreness, tiredness, sleepiness? The first 3 days were the worst when I wasn’t sure if I had milk or if I had enough milk. But my baby and my husband and I persevered and soldiered on and finally we all found our rhythm and milk came and indeed nursing is the most satisfying feeling in the entire world. I eat healthy and live healthy so my milk will be of quality as well (I stopped drinking coffee, caffeinated drinks, as well as those with high sugar content, but my body adapted and I am not even sleepy at work. I just drink loads of water).

Then my maternity leave ended. And I became a full-time working mom trying to exclusively feed my baby with my breast milk. So we start all over again, learning skills that I never thought I could even adapt. I go to work bringing my double electric breast pump, my manual breast pump (because sometimes at work one does not have time to set up the electric breast pump), my mini cooler (for milk storage), 2 hard plastic milk containers and 2 milk bottles for storage (I store milk in 3-4 oz containers), pump support band, hand towels, and a number of resealable ziplocks. And yes, a good quality breast pump and all other accessories is an investment worth 2 months of formula milk. I think I am more than reaping in the returns of investment with all the savings and nutritional benefits, with almost 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding and a month of pumping at work.

My not ideal expressing  milk + daily work schedule is as follows:

  • 5:00 – Alarm clock goes off, but I snooze back to sleep.
  • 5:30 – Second alarm goes off, but I snooze back to sleep again.

(Ideally I should be awake by 5-5:30, but you’ll understand later why I can’t seem to hear the alarm.)

  • 6:00 – 6:30 – I sleepily grope for my manual breast pump and pump milk for 15-30 minutes. Or breastfeed a waking baby (his schedule is changing now).
  • 7:00 – 7:30 – I run around crazy panicking getting ready for work
  • 7:30 – 8:00 – Breakfast and still running around like crazy panicking while getting ready for work
  • 8:00 – Start my morning commute, but breastfeed at last minute for 15 minutes (late, late, late, late)
  • 8:00 – 9:30 – Get stuck in traffic, pray pray pray that my boss won’t notice that I’m late. I usually arrive by 9:30.
  • 9:00 – 11:30 – Work, facebook, twitter, work, facebook, twitter, drink water
  • 11:30 – 12:30 – Lunch and catch up on the chismis with fellow slaves
  • 12:30 – 13:00 – Struggle with expressing breastmilk using the electric pump (usual output 6 oz. But when stressed, usually Wednesday to Thursday, output goes down to 4 oz. Oh no.)
  • 13:00 – 17:30 – Work, facebook, twitter, work, facebook, twitter, drink water
  • 17:30 – Last minute pumping (usual output 5 oz. But when stressed, usually Wednesday to Thursday, output goes down to 3 oz. Oh no.)
  • 18:00 – 19:30 – Get stuck in traffic and pray that I get home ASAP
  • 19:30 – 11:00 Eat dinner, wash up, breastfeed baby, play with baby, household chores, talk to Husband
  • 11:30 – 12:00 Express milk before going to bed (usual output 1 oz because baby is most effective in extracting milk).
  • 12:00 – Sleep
  • 12:30 – 1:30 –  Wake up to a demanding baby who wants to be played/ cuddled/ breastfeed
  • 1:30 – 3:30 – Sleep
  • 3:30-4:00 – Wake up to a demanding baby who wants to breastfeed
  • 4:00 – 5:30/6:30 – Sleep

Currently my breast milk output is at 8-11 oz (ideally 12 oz) on a workday, excluding the 3 oz I express upon waking up. My son consumes around 12-16 oz of milk everyday when I am away. I try to store at least 30 oz. of breast milk by the start of the work week. And that rotates very well, with a container of milk being stored for at the most 2 days. That is if I follow the ideal schedule.

But then the problem lies with me trying to find the time to express milk at work. I cannot articulate how difficult it is, that despite the Breastfeeding Law, our office does not have lactation facilities or local policies supportive of breastfeeding working mothers. I can’t get up from my desk once I sit down to work. But then, how many mothers in our office express milk? I don’t know anybody else who does. Every mother who breast feeds and expresses milk at some point in their lives know that every drop counts (because it is not easy) and that when you get to spill some amount of milk while trying to multitask (as mothers always do), you literally cry in frustration.

My breast milk output sometimes get compromised because I am not able to pump ideally during mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon…not to mention the stress and the lack of sleep. Sometimes I get so worried to not being able to store as much milk for the days when I am out working. My husband once suggested to supplement with formula in case of emergency, if there is not enough milk left when I’m out. But every time he makes the suggestion, I cry. I can’t explain it, maybe I cry because I try so hard to exclusively breastfeed that I just can’t give up. I know he is worried and hates to see our son hungry, but I always tell him to give this a chance because I know I can do it.

Breastfeeding is a commitment, because it simply isn’t easy. With the amount of support that breastfeeding and full-time working mothers get, it is a commitment that one has to defend every day. It’s easy to get discouraged and give up, especially when the baby seems to demand more than you can supply.  But because breast milk production follows the law of demand and supply, if there is no demand, there is no supply, and vice versa. The trick is in balancing it. That is why it is so difficult. But seeing healthy and happy breastfed babies is worth the every effort.

If I can exclusively breastfeed until my son turns 6 months, I will be a very happy (even if tired) mom. Even more so, if I can breast feed and express my milk for more than a year. Wish me luck, and don’t forget to encourage me (and other breastfeeding mothers as well).