Before I had my first baby, I had heard the word “doula” thrown around. I’ll be honest that I jumped to some assumptions, and decided without almost any knowledge that a doula wasn’t for me in particular. I knew I was going to have my baby by C-section, for reasons I won’t get into, and I really thought that doulas were basically birth coaches.
It’s only now that I’m immersed in the world of trying to be supportive to other new mothers that I’m kicking myself for not looking into getting help from a postpartum doula, just to have some female community and support for the craziness. So I asked my new friend Emily Skyrm to guest blog about why she loves being a postpartum doula. Emily is the co-founder of Baby Caravan, in NYC, and spends a lot of time supporting new mothers who are heading back to work. My kind of girl. So without further ado…here’s Emily!
As new mothers we come across so many people who consider themselves “experts.” The sleep experts, lactation experts, expert postpartum chefs…the list goes on and on. It’s gotten to a point now that there are so many “experts” in this field that woman are finding it harder and harder to actually trust themselves.
As a postpartum doula and back-to-work coach living in New York City, I step into the homes of some pretty incredible women. My job is to help them develop their own pathway into motherhood. But the true value I bring to a home is when I help a new mother realize that she has the inner knowledge and strength to be her own expert.
You guys all know I wrote a book that is coming out in September, because, well, I talk about it a lot. Sorry; I'm super excited. Anyway, this is relevant today because as part of that process, I submitted my book to the Axiom Business Book Awards. I had no idea if it was a big deal or if they would even consider a book about pumping breastmilk to be a "business book," but I figured, what the hell.
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by the folks at Axiom to tell me that Work. Pump. Repeat. had won the silver in the women's business books category. I was pretty excited, especially since this Axiom thing looks legit. Winners in other categories include Walter Isaacson (the guy who wrote the big Steve Jobs bio) and motivational speaker Tony Robbins. I didn't think much of it beyond that, though, probably because someone peed or spilled yogurt on me at that moment. And then...
...a big white package arrived in the mail. It included a certificate from Axiom (I am SURE I will remember where I put that thing...crap...) AND a huge silver medal on a blue ribbon. YOU GUYS, THE MEDAL HAS LATIN WORDS ON IT. It's kinda heavy. This is a LEGIT medal. Also, apparently "laurus lego erudito" means "success through knowledge."
I decided on the spot that it had been WAY too long since I'd had my own medal. Like, middle-school-too-long, and that was for making a scale model of a Medieval castle (I had a LOT of friends in middle school). So now my medal lives on my desk, and when I'm having a particularly crappy work day - or, alternately, when I'm having a great day and just did something awesome - I wear my medal.
Last year, I wrote a post about being kicked out of a so-called breastfeeding support group on Facebook for asking for advice on gently weaning my 13-month-old daughter. It was a sad experience - one that really depressed me about the state of the breastfeeding wars, and about how even our attempts to re-create the village of maternal support can go horribly wrong.
Well, fast-forward almost a year (my baby girl is turning TWO next month!). I discovered this weird spam-esque inbox on my personal facebook account. (If you're curious, go to your Facebook inbox and look for a tab called "Other". That's where messages from people who are not your FB friends end up.) It was a year-old message from a stranger, all about the Great Getting My Ass Kicked Out of a Breastfeeding Group on Facebook. And this message made me SO happy, I just had to share it. This total stranger came and found me on the internet to tell me she supported me and had my back and is part of my village. Oh my God, yes. THIS IS MOTHERHOOD. THIS IS SISTERHOOD. You have to read it.
Once you start thinking about your first day back at work, you're likely to have some burning questions about how on earth to store up enough milk to leave with your baby's caregiver. How to build up a stash is the question I get asked most often by new moms.
After you've learned how to pump, you have to get on a regular schedule of pumping and saving breast milk if you want to build up a stash. You have likely heard a lot about the supply and demand aspect of breastfeeding - that supposedly perfect cycle of your body making as much milk as your baby needs. This might make you wonder how you will ever get any additional milk to save for when you go back to work. But it is entirely possible, assuming you have a pretty normal milk supply. (If you have a low supply and/or are already supplementing with formula, you will have to work harder to store up milk, and you are likely looking at your caregiver supplementing during the day. And you are still an awesome mom.)
One of the toughest parts of working and breastfeeding is the dreaded Business Trip. I'll cover other aspects, like pumping in clients' offices or at conferences, and storing milk in hotel rooms, in forthcoming posts. For now, we're going to focus on what it is like to *magically fly through the air* with breast milk.
Warning: none of this is fun or exciting. It is mostly stressful, messy, cumbersome, and weird. Excited? Here we go!
Packing for the plane
Some women call their pump "medical equipment" and try to get around the one carry-on and one personal item thing. But it's a good idea to pack as if this were not an option, in case you encounter an ornery TSA agent (so much of traveling with milk comes down to the individual agent).
First, pack your purse into your suitcase and cram a makeup bag down one side of the pump bag, and your wallet, keys, and phone down the other side.
I've been around the block when it comes to working and breastfeeding - or, more accurately, working and pumping. I've interviewed hundreds of working moms for my upcoming book on the same topic (I'll take any title suggestions you've got - my best one so far is Pumping At Work Sucks), and I'm amazed at the hacks and workarounds we come up with to make this whole horrible thing a bit easier.
So here, I bring you my 10 Best Hacks for pumping at work.
10. If you forget a pump bottle, steam-sterilize a coffee cup to catch the milk in. Wash and rinse, then add 1 oz. of water. Cover with a saucer or plate, and microwave for 2 minutes.
When was the last time you talked to your boss about your breasts?
Breastfeeding and working is no longer an exception for new mothers. It is no longer a valiant few women, secretly locked in closets with breast pumps: it’s the new reality of an America where women are all at once breadwinners and, for the first few months to few years of a baby’s life, milk-makers.
American workplaces need to catch up with this reality. They need elements both hard (rules, policies, and infrastructure) and soft (culture, rigorously protected by HR and executives) to ensure that every working mother has the tools at her disposal to make this situation work. Today, even in companies with lactation-friendly policies, many women are at the mercy of their particular manager (or HR team). Support can make all the difference to a successful, productive return to work that empowers a woman to continue to feed her baby breast milk. Cultural and physical hurdles often mean a premature end to breastfeeding – which has implications on not just the baby’s health, but on the mother’s attitudes toward her employer.
In a recent post, I covered the six things you should do for pumping prep while you’re still on maternity leave.
Next up: analyzing your work situation and putting a plan in place.
While pumping might seem relatively straightforward in the comfort of your home and bathrobe, navigating a workplace – and the people in it – while using a machine to extract milk from your body is a whole different ballgame.
1. Understand your rights at work.
The U.S. federal system means that you have a mixture of federal and state laws to consider when figuring out whether you have any legal rights and protections to pump at work.
Before your maternity leave ends, prepare your body, your baby and yourself for becoming a working -- and pumping -- mom.
For many working women, ending maternity leave (if they get it) and leaving a new baby to go back to work is one of the hardest days of their working life (I would recommend waterproof eye makeup). This one day combines guilt, anxiety, sadness, exhaustion, and stress – all while trying to prove that we’re “back.”
Making it harder? For those of us who choose to (or attempt to) continue breastfeeding our babies while working, we have a third job: making milk for the baby during the work day. Planning for the time, space, awkwardness, and physical and mental effort of hooking up to a machine several times a day can be completely, paralyzingly daunting.
Work. pump. repeat.