What do breastfeeding mums struggle with when pumping at work?
Pumping at work
Just before my maternity leave was about to end, I remember feeling a little overwhelmed about going back to work. A part of me was dreading the fact that I was going to be away from my baby girl the entire day.
After spending a good 16 weeks with her at home, I knew that I would miss her terribly once I got back to work.
"Will she be ok with her grandparents at home?"
"Will she be good and take her feeds from the bottle without kicking up a fuss?"
"Will I pump enough breastmilk during the day to meet her usual daily feeds?"
These were just some of the questions that ran through my mind then.
Another part of me was feeling anxious over how I’d cope with being a breastfeeding mum who would be pumping at work.
"Will I be able to schedule my pump breaks so that it doesn’t interfere too much with my work schedule?"
"How will my colleagues and bosses feel about my need to take 2 pump breaks during office hours?"
The questions about pumping at work seemed endless at the time.
It all went well after all
I realised soon enough that all my worries were for nothing. Not only did my 4-hour pump breaks work out fine, everyone in the office turned out to be extremely understanding of my needs as a breastfeeding mum.
I was also able to utilise a nice, quiet spot in the office where I could pump my milk and wash up after doing so.
While I feel extremely thankful that I work in an office that supports breastfeeding, I’ve come to realise that there are other breastfeeding mums out there who really struggle with the challenges of pumping at work.
With these issues in mind, I got fellow breastfeeding mums to share their struggles of pumping at work.
I also consulted a lactation consultant, Jophia Bok, to get her advice on what we breastfeeding working mums can do to overcome these issues.
Click ‘Next’ to check out the typical struggles of breastfeeding and working mums, and what Jophia has to say about them.
No proper space
The challenge for a breastfeeding mum starts the minute she tries to find a suitable spot in the workplace where she can express her milk.
This is exactly what Jasmine Clare, a secondary school teacher and mum of a 15-month-old, has to face every day at work.
As there is no nursing room in the school, and with the meeting room being out of bounds, Jasmine uses the staff pantry (which doubles up as a sick bay for students) to pump her milk during the free period when she is not scheduled to teach.
Sadly, though, on some days Jasmine might have to skip her pump sessions, as the one and only space available to her gets occupied with sick students who need to rest.
To overcome this struggle, Jophia suggests that breastfeeding mums try to form a support group with their colleagues who are also breastfeeding.
"If possible, try to express together during your pump breaks or use the same room whenever either of you need to express. This may compel the management of one’s organisation to look into providing support for their breastfeeding employees by setting up appropriate facilities, such as a dedicated nursing room," she advises.
Lack of privacy
Apart from finding the perfect, quiet space, the fear of having someone walk in by accident while you’re pumping away is constantly on the minds of most breastfeeding mums who pump at work.
For Irene Lim, a mum of 2, she may have access to the meeting rooms in her office for her pump breaks, but most of these rooms come with a small glass window.
Worried that her bare top would be visible to people in the office who happen to walk by, Irene had no choice but to resort to pumping her milk in the common office toilet.
However, according to Jophia, pumping in the toilet is not ideal as there is a risk of contamination when one’s hands come in contact with the handles of the door, toilet seats, and when the toilet is being flushed.
Aware of the potential risk of pumping in a less-than-sterile environment, Irene tries (whenever possible) to schedule her pump breaks right after the toilet has been thoroughly cleaned.
If you find yourself in a similar situation as Irene though, you can opt to use a nursing cover or bib while pumping — some mums do this even in their own office cubicles or at their desks!
Where do I store my expressed breastmilk?
Gelene Lim is a flight stewardess who goes on short-haul flights with a renowned global carrier, so imagine what she goes through when it comes to pumping while on flight — and storing her expressed breastmilk later.
Gelene shares that she takes along her breast pump when she’s working on a flight that stretches beyond 5 hours, and goes for a quick 10-minute pump break in the airplane lavatory.
Once she's done, her bags of expressed milk go into a cooler bag and are then stored safely in the aircraft’s chiller.
However, for days when this mum of 1’s schedule involves stopovers at a few different destinations before heading back to Singapore, she peruses the dry ice available on board and uses it to ensure that her milk is kept chilled.
Once she checks in to the hotel where she's set to stay, she puts the milk in the mini fridge.
To help breastfeeding mums like Gelene rest easier when it comes to storing their expressed breastmilk while travelling, Jophia suggests the ‘Fridge-To-Go’ cooler bag. It helps to keep expressed breastmilk cold for at least 6 hours.
However, mums should should be wary about keeping the ‘Fridge-To-Go’ in places that are too warm.
Meeting is in progress... and oh no, I’m leaking!!!
Back in the early days when my milk supply was plentiful, leaky boobs and milk-soaked t-shirts were to be expected.
However, I often wondered what I'd do if these 'milky disasters' were to happen once I got back to work — especially in the middle of a meeting!
According to Jophia, some mums may experience a let-down whenever they think about their baby, hear other babies crying or when they are simply relaxing. She advises breastfeeding mums to be mindful about how their bodies usually respond to these triggers.
"If you know that your body can have a let-down easily, always put on a breast pad to prevent embarrassing leaks. And for days when you have a long meeting scheduled, do have a pump before and immediately after that meeting.
Thankfully, I managed to escape those situations by pumping regularly at work around my meeting times — and putting on double layers of breast pads for extra protection.
I think it's safe to say that I am not the only breastfeeding mum who is concerned about such incidents.
Low Mei Foong, a mum of 2, shares that while she is thankful that the people in her workplace are extremely supportive of her needs as a breastfeeding mum, the one and only area that is beyond her control is the duration of meetings.
"I feel bad leaving a meeting halfway in order to pump — but if I don’t, I may [just] burst [from engorgement]!" she shares.
My colleagues and bosses don’t understand me
Some of the mums I spoke to in the past told me that when a breastfeeding mum works in a pro-breastfeeding office environment, it may be a tad easier for her to prolong her efforts to breastfeed her child for as long as possible.
After all, it’s comforting to know that the people you work with and see every day understand your needs to pump at work, and respect your persistence in giving the best nutrition to your child.
Sadly though, there are a few among us who have to deal with colleagues and bosses who do not understand why we’d even bother going through all this hassle at work.
Zhuo Mei Yan — who has 2 kids — is one such mum. She shared that she had to deal with her male colleagues poking fun at her after every pumping session.
She initially felt embarrassed and frustrated over the behaviour of her colleagues, and had felt like bringing her breastfeeding and pumping journey to a halt because of it.
Jophia advises mums who feel strongly about breastfeeding their kids to toughen up when insensitive comments are thrown their way.
"A gentle smile and kind words to people who think of breastfeeding differently is enough. In time, they will get the message that you don't buy their suggestions or opinions."
Over time, Mei Yan learnt to take things in stride by cracking jokes with her colleagues.
To date, her favourite one-liner to them is, "Would you like some ‘fresh milk’ to go with your tea?"
Taking time out of work to pump
Following our previous discussion on fellow colleagues who do not understand the needs of a breastfeeding mum at work, one of the issues raised usually relates to the ‘unfairness’ of the situation — because breastfeeding mums get to ‘take a break’ during working hours to pump.
Although Rebecca Ang, a mum of 1, is glad that her supervisor and most of her colleagues understand her need to pump at work, there are others who have voiced their displeasure about her taking a pump break during working hours.
However, this strong-willed mum chose not to let this unpleasantness affect her. Instead, she tried to find a solution to overcome this situation.
Rebecca’s solution came in the form of the ‘Freemie’ — a hands-free, concealable breast pump collection system which allowed her to pump milk and enjoy her lunch at the same time.
Now, that’s amazing proof that us breastfeeding mums are great at multitasking!
As Jophia affirms, "It really takes guts and creativity to create a private space at work to express your milk."
Breastfeeding Mums Share the Struggles of Pumping at Work in Singapore
Milking in progress - enter at your own risk!
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