I’ve been the primary (and often sole) earner in my family for the last 5 years, so when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I would join the ranks of so many mothers who try to juggle breastfeeding while working outside the home. I was committed to breastfeeding my son exclusively for 6 months, and at least until he was 1 year old. One REALLY big challenge for me that most working mother’s don’t face – I work for a consulting company and frequent travel is customary.
I had hoped that my employer would find a Dallas based project for me when I returned to work full time, but unfortunately, that didn’t work out. About 7 months after my son was born, I was asked to support a client based out of Los Angeles. 1 week later, I started traveling 4 days a week, EVERY week.
While I was pregnant, I had purchased a Medela Pump in Style Advanced, before I knew that health insurance would cover a breastpump. I reached out to a few other mothers in my local office to see if anyone had any tips or tricks on how to travel and pump. Breastmilk was still the primary source of nutrition for my son, so I had to figure out quickly how I was going to make this work! Thankfully, some of my colleagues had traveled while breastfeeding and had many great suggestions. I talked to lactation consultants. I called friends. I read every website out there on exclusive pumping.
I won’t lie, the first few weeks were REALLY difficult. Since my son was so young, and my flight was over 3 hours, plus the commute time to the airport from my house and from the airport to my client site, I often had to pump in the airport and on the plane while in the air. Pumping on the plane was miserable. I generally just pumped about 10 minutes on each side to keep my milk production up. I pumped in my seat because I decided that was less gross than pumping in the airplane bathroom. I was lucky that I’d built up a bit of a freezer stash anticipating my eventual return to work, but I still wanted to keep every ounce of that liquid gold!
It was REALLY frustrating to me that neither DFW nor LAX airports had mothers rooms for pumping. DFW has since opened ONE mother’s room in the A terminal, and California passed a law requiring nursing rooms in all airport terminals before January 2016. Worse than the lack of pumping space in the airport was the inconsistent way TSA dealt with me and my breastmilk. Each week would be a different agent with a different idea of what the appropriate screening protocols would be. LAX was the worst. The very first week, I had over 120oz of breastmilk (packaged in 2-3oz bags) and they pulled every single one out of my cooler bag to inspect it. It took FOREVER and it was so awkward.
The first 2 months I pumped every 2-3 hours religiously, even waking up in the middle of the night to pump. I pumped in cars in parking lots, while stuck in traffic on LA freeways, in corners of the airport, in empty offices, in empty conference rooms. I was lucky that my client in Los Angeles, and my subsequent client here in Seattle both were companies that supported breastfeeding mothers. Both client sites had relatively comfortable mother’s rooms with fridges, etc. The only challenge was sometimes there was a line to pump LOL.
Thankfully, after 9 weeks I was transferred to another client in Seattle and the airport there has a lovely nursing room and TSA was a lot less of a challenge. This reduced my stress quite a bit. By then, my son was 9 months old and eating a lot more solids. I was able to scale back a bit on how often I needed to pump.
There were many weeks I was so frustrated with the added stress of worrying about keeping my milk supply up, healing raw nipples, keeping the milk cold, getting through airport security, leaving the office early to pump, etc that I would want to throw in the towel. I am so grateful that my husband supported me wholeheartedly through this process. He would take the bag of breastmilk when I walked in the door, and pack it in containers to put in the freezer. He would put the baby in our bed for me to nurse or bring him out into the living room if he knew my breasts were full, so I wouldn’t have to pump one more time that week. He washed and sanitized my breastpump parts.
It seemed like every week I would tell myself that this was the last week. It was too much. My husband told me that if I wanted to stop, he fully supported that decision. He listened while I cried on the phone. And then each Monday I would pack my breastpump tote bag with all my supplies and talk myself into pumping for “just one more week”.
Finally, when my son was 2 weeks shy of 1 year old, we ran out of breastmilk before I got home. I freaked out and hopped on the first flight home. In the meantime… my husband calmly went to the grocery store and bought a gallon of whole milk… and my kid drank it without complaint. After that, I decided that I wouldn’t kill myself pumping. I also started trying to think about pumping sessions as being “breaks” from work. I wouldn’t try to multitask any more – I started catching up on TV shows on Hulu or Netflix on my phone! That helped me relax a lot which of course, helps the milk flow. (One time, I laughed out loud watching Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt and there were 2 other moms pumping in the room. They probably thought I was crazy).
My son finished weaning about 2 weeks ago at 19 months. So I pumped exclusively 4 days a week while living out of a suitcase 1600 miles from home and hauled that breastmilk back to TX for a YEAR! That was a MAJOR accomplishment!
Of course, just 2 weeks after I stopped pumping, my company rolled out some new benefits for breastfeeding moms – they now offer hospital grade rental pumps and will ship your breastmilk for you when you are required to travel. HA.
In all honesty, there is no way I would have succeeded at my breastfeeding goals without having an amazing support network of other moms, lactation consultants, my spouse, and an employer that supported working moms.
If you need someone to cheer you through breastfeeding and working outside the home, I’d be honored to be that person for you. It can’t get much harder than what I went through! Feel free to email me. We belong to each other, mamas!
Guest Post by Nichole Heilbron