How to pump and stay mentally well

It’s not just pumping that’s changed

It’s important to acknowledge that preparing for pumping at work is just one of a set of changes that often happen at the same time. You might be also sending your baby off to childcare for the first time, or you might be transitioning them from milk to solids, or you may be adjusting to a new role at work (with less time to do it). We’re focusing on pumping here, to try to simplify that for you, and allow you to deal with the other challenges.

Find support

Hopefully, you’re not the first woman to pump at your workplace. If you aren’t, then try to find other women who can help you with setup and tips, and even normalise pumping at work. There’s usually a bit of a sisterhood in workplaces of women with kids, that you might not have noticed before you had them. Build that solidarity – you’re going to need it, and want to offer it to women coming after you. 

  • How to make pumping feel good at work
  • Validating the emotional side (being away from baby)
  • Adjusting to change
  • Self love/care tactics
  • Sometimes the workmates haven’t realised that you’ve changed. Maybe you haven’t changed. Parental leave / shared workload

Know how to hand-express

  • “It’s a good idea to know how to hand express – if you get really stuck without your pump and full breasts you will be able to hand express into a clean container for comfort.”

Lose the guilt

If you’re pumping three times a day at work, even if you’re hyper-efficient (30 minutes from setup to cleanup), you will need 1.5 hours each day to pump. If you have any control or influence over your workload, remember to include this time in your planning. Try not to succumb to the feelings of guilt for “missing” those hours of work. Chances are you’ve worked your guts out to this point, this is just a brief phase in your working life, and your employer should be supporting you through it.

If it helps, you’re not alone in this feeling. One of the common themes from that study we mentioned earlier, was that women felt guilty about taking time out to feed. Here’s some quotes from two women in their study.

“I actually used to take my computer into the room and work at the same time, because I had a hands-free pump and would literally do my emails and things at that same time. It turned out, I ended up doing that same habit [using pump while working] here and I couldn't produce enough milk. My milk supply slowed up and I couldn't feed anymore for that lunchtime feed that I was doing. It was difficult, but I think it's just one of those things.”

“Even though they say that you can have a lactation break, the work load doesn't reduce and you're expected to answer the phone or be on emails . . . I would stay back to finish a task or something or work from home to finish off what I needed to do. Because if you don't give it 110% like everybody else. . . you're letting the team down”

Common problems

Sometimes you encounter off-the-cuff comments or even friction with co-workers, clients, customers or stakeholders about your pumping, feeding and change in how you work. While you can’t control their actions, you can control your response.

Here are some tips that might help if you find yourself in a situation that is frustrating or uncomfortable. 

  • Remember that you don’t have to explain yourself. Australian law supports you to pump at work.
  • Remember that squeaky wheels don’t represent the opinion of everyone at work. There will be people who are quieter who support you and what you are doing.
  • Remember that we still are not in a society where women are fully and equally supported to work, and that what you are doing is making a small change for the women who come after you.
  • Remember that everybody was a baby once, and somebody looked after them. Even the person or organisation giving you grief.
  • Remember that how you feel is valid. You’re not being sensitive or silly, and that gaslighting is a real thing.

Sometimes, if you have the mental energy for it, you can engage and educate those folks who you’re struggling with.

Ask them why they made a particular comment, try to delve into what they know and don’t know about pumping or caring for babies. Often, they have no idea what they have said or done has affected you and are deeply upset and embarrassed at making you feel frustrated or uncomfortable.

This is a very high-road approach, and it may not be the right one for you, the people you’re working with or the organisation you’re working in.