By Lindsay Whitman Drewes, Mom of 2 and Former Teacher
At 8 weeks old, I left my first son to return to school. Luckily there was only one week until summer break began. Then at 18 weeks old, I left my son again to start a new school year.
I planned on breastfeeding but wasn’t sure how it would go with a busy school schedule.
Luckily, there was a teacher in my building who had a baby the previous year. She really paved the way for me. She protected her planning time for pumping, stepped out of meetings to pump, and stood up for her rights as a new mother.
Without her example, I’m not sure how I would have navigated breastfeeding as a teacher. By the time I returned to work as a new mom, everyone knew the drill.
Surprisingly, in a profession that is dominated by women, teachers often have a hard time with breastfeeding in the work place.
If you’re returning to work with your new pump, I hope someone in your building has paved the way for you. If you’re the pioneer-pumping-teacher, be brave. You’ll be paving the way for someone else who’ll be so glad you did.
Here are 6 tips to make your journey a little easier. Make sure to continue to the bottom of the post where actual teacher-moms give you their best advice.
#1: Know The Law
Federal law, known as the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law helps moms wishing to return to work and continue breastfeeding. This law says that employers must provide a private place (not a bathroom) and reasonable break time for breastfeeding moms to pump. Unfortunately, this federal law only applies to hourly employees. Since most teachers are salaried employees, they are left out.
28 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico have passed additional legislation to provide rights for breastfeeding moms who aren’t hourly employees.
Those states include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming
You can check with your state’s breastfeeding coalition to get the specific details for your state.
#2: Be Upfront With Your Principal and Team
When you make the choice to breastfeed, be clear with your principal and team about your intentions. Let them know that you will need a private place to pump and 1-2 times during the day to do so.
Your planning time will probably work just fine for a pumping time and you won’t need additional time. This does mean, though, that you won’t be able to have team meetings, parent meetings, or administration meetings during this time. If the occasional meeting can’t be avoided, then you’ll need another time during the day that you can pump.
Sometimes it can be difficult, but it’s important to be an advocate for your own needs. You’re doing this to nourish your baby. If you miss a pumping time it can lead to plugged ducts, mastitis, not enough supply for your baby and you being super uncomfortable (maybe even with a wet shirt!).
#3: Build Up A Freezer Stash
If you can, try to build up as much of a freezer stash as you can. You can begin pumping after you feed the baby at about 4 weeks.
The pumping after feeding will tell your body to produce more milk. Slowly, your milk production will increase.
Sometimes it will feel like you are pumping or nursing all the time. That’s because you are. While it takes determination to keep it up, it will pay off in the long run when you don’t have to be so concerned about pumping enough at school.
When I was teaching and nursing, I had a really hard time with this. I wasn’t very dedicated to doing it all the time and didn’t feel very successful pumping.
Not too long after returning to school, my freezer stash was depleted. I had to pump enough each day for my son to use the next day. It made it more difficult but I was still able to keep him on breast milk for the entire school year.
#4: Know How Much Your Baby Actually Needs
I didn’t have a freezer stash and I didn’t produce very much from pumping. When I was preparing to return to school, I was very concerned that I’d never be able to make it work.
Then I talked to the lactation consultant from my local hospital. She said that this is a common worry for mothers returning to work. She pointed out that moms often think babies need much more breast milk than they actually do.
Since breast milk is so packed full of fat and nutrients, babies need far less than if they were formula fed.
To help you determine how many ounces your baby actually needs, check out this breast milk calculator from KellyMom.com.
My husband kept our son while I was at school. I talked with him about how much the baby needed. We discussed that the baby has a strong need to suck but might not always need more milk. He was really supportive and tried very hard to soothe the baby with a pacifier after the bottle. This worked great and my son was always healthy and gaining enough weight.
#5: Know How To Manually Express
Pumping breast milk takes a ton of supplies. Pump parts, storage containers, pump and so on. Even the most organized mom might find herself missing just one piece. Often times, that one piece makes it impossible to pump.
To make sure you’re not leaking through your shirt the rest of the day, it’s important to know how to manually express milk.
Breastfeeding USA explains how to hand express breast milk. Stanford School of Medicine also has a very informative video on how to manually express breast milk.
#6: Love Yourself
Leaving your baby, returning to school and diligently pumping your planning time away can be challenging.
You should applaud yourself for even being up for the challenge.
Through this journey, make sure to love yourself along the way. You are doing an amazing service to your baby and your family by sacrificing your time and your body.
Pumping at school takes extra planning and packing (teacher are like pack-mules anyway…then add another bag for pumping supplies and a cooler for the milk).
It’s so important to be good to yourself as you take on this adventure. It won’t work without you, so don’t burden yourself with guilt.
Advice From Other Pumping/Breastfeeding Teachers
Amanda, Mom of 3 says:
The #1 tip for sure is not pumping in your classroom. Have a dedicated spot. With my first, I pumped in my classroom and I was constantly distracted by what I should be doing, emails, phone calls, planning, etc.
Work with your boss beforehand to have a private place that you can relax and feel comfortable. Don’t be embarrassed about bringing it up because by law they have to give you a time and place!
Drink lots of water and don’t be afraid to eat. I notice a big difference when I’ve tried to “diet” in the past.
I make a lactation smoothie in the mornings for breakfast when I notice a difference in supply. It has brewer’s yeast and ground glad seed. I made it 15 months with my second until she self-weaned and I’d like to be able to do the same with my third baby.
Also, don’t put too much pressure on yourself because stress definitely had a negative effect on me. Do what you can and enjoy the baby!!
Emily, Mom of 3 says:
Try to get an emergency supply ready at home in your freezer before you go back to work so you won’t worry about the babysitter running out.
Talk to your employer, have a place with a door that locks to pump. Pump at the same time every day. When my first was little, I pumped at 7:15 at school and during lunch. Eventually, I just pumped at lunch.
When you start, take several deep, relaxing breaths and think about your baby latching. This always helped my milk let down. Drink enough water throughout the day, leave right after school to go feed your baby.
Put pumping before anything else so your milk ducts won’t get plugged.
Alyssa, Mom of 3 says:
One of the best things I did this time around (baby # 3) was to ensure that I had a large supply of milk stored in the freezer. I did this by pumping right after nursing, and sometimes in between nursing.
It took a lot of time, I felt like I was either nursing or pumping, but when I went back to work, my supply dropped from only having one opportunity to pump at work.
I do not do anything work related while pumping. I focus on the task at hand, and that helps to keep me relaxed and pumping seems to go better.
I have had to supplement with formula since my third baby was 6 months old, but I still pump at work and nurse him at home. He’s 9 months old now. This is the longest I have ever been able to nurse.
I guess another piece of advice would be to be upfront with your principal. Discuss with them your intentions and let them know that this is a priority.
My principal still forgets occasionally and plans meetings with me during my planning period, but I simply remind him and all is well :).