Welcome to the latest edition of “The Faces of Pumping & Working” where we learn about the triumphs and challenges of the increasing number of women working to provide breast milk for their own child(ren) while contributing their unique skills to the paid workforce. Today’s post is about Kristi Perrone’s experience integrating pumping and working after the birth of her two children. An exclusive pumper and overproducer, she was the ultimate multi-tasker as she creatively reached for her goals in two non ideal pumping environments.
I, Kristi Perrone, pumped breastmilk to feed my own babies while helping children with differing abilities with their development of skills or recovery after accidents or illness.
Did you set any breastfeeding goals for yourself before returning to work?
I wanted to make sure to have a stash in the freezer before I went back to work so that my child could have breast milk each day without me being present with them.
Can you give us an idea of what your physical workspace was like?
In my first journey, I was working in a hospital setting. When I returned to work after the birth of my second child, my workspace was each of my patient's homes and my car as I drove from one appointment to the next through the day.
How did you identify private & secure space for pumping in these two very different work environments?
When I worked in a hospital setting, there was a pumping room but it was the only designated pumping space for all employees at the hospital (a staff of primarily women) and was rarely reliably available. That led to the need to seek out alternate spaces to pump on a regular basis. The staff in my department sat in a large open style office together without privacy so that wasn’t a realistic option. Each time I needed to pump through the day, I was faced with the task of finding a small room within the department that was not in use at the time to pump in. Luckily my peers were very supportive of pumping, and would help to make sure a room was open, and that I got my pumps completed for the day to keep my supply up as well.
Second time around, I was pretty much on my own to find a space. I ended up pumping in my car, at times while driving, which I wouldn’t recommend. I was an overproducer, so driving and overproducing presented an extra challenge because each bottle can only hold a certain amount of milk. To avoid overflowing, I switched out the bottles while waiting at stop lights! I did find it helpful that the families I was working with often had younger children and were very understanding. If I had the time, I would sometimes pump in my car while in their driveways; some even offered rooms in their houses for privacy.
How did your employer communicate expectations around pumping? If not, how did you self manage your pumping and professional needs?
At the hospital, there was no true policy provided, and no time allotted to be set aside for pumping. I needed to pump and also keep up my productivity standards. Most of my pumping was done while I was also writing notes from my sessions for the day and/or eating lunch.
For my in-home job, my company had no written policies regarding breaks of any kind that I was provided. I had control over my own schedule, which was helpful. Although, when I was pumping and trying to work and had a baby waiting at home, I tended to end up trying to consolidate as much as I could so that I could get home to my family.
Tell us about the most challenging moments that stick in your mind when you think about the experience of integrating breastfeeding with work during these times.
Creating a schedule to get enough pumps in while also keeping up with productivity was very challenging in both settings. Knowing that my supply was dependent on me getting the pumps in was very anxiety producing. At one point I remember being “in” a meeting and pumping at the same time. The meeting was in a large open area, and I was pumping in a small room off of that area. I had to continue to pump and open the door with my head out the door to hear what was happening and give input as well. And in the case of the hospital setting, being in competition with other moms in the department and through the hospital for pumping space was also a challenge. A colleague and I in my department had our first children a month apart from each other, and needed to be mindful of creating space for each other and making sure all of our equipment and milk was well marked also.
How was the actual experience of integrating breastfeeding with work different from what you anticipated?
I really wanted to breastfeed when my kids were born. It was important to me that I tried my best to make sure that they got breast milk as long as possible. When my first (my son) was born, breastfeeding was hard for us. We ended up at the doctor many many times in the first 2 weeks of his life because he wasn't gaining enough weight. It made me feel like a failure. Pumping with him was rewarding because it took this problem away. He gained weight, he was happier, the doctor was pleased, and so was I.
With my second (my daughter), it was SO HARD. My son was 3.5 years old when she was born, and was potty trained at the time. It was easy for me to decide to exclusively pump again, because it was what I knew. When she didn't latch directly and immediately in the first few days after birth, I made the decision to just do it again. But at home, on maternity leave, I would hook up to pump, my son would then decide to go to the bathroom and need his butt wiped or be begging for me to play with him, and my daughter who had been quiet would start crying. I wanted to pull my hair out. Pumping while working in my profession was pretty much what I expected. Productivity is always king; work/life balance never seemed to be a big focus for my employers in the healthcare industry.
What type of support could your employer/colleagues/manager have provided that would have improved your breastfeeding and working experience?
In a department that was 100% women, it would have been nice if my manager and department director recognized the needs of the mothers in the department. Dedicated space and time and some flexibility would have gone a long way for us.
Did you ever feel that you had to choose between breastfeeding/pumping and work responsibilities?
Absolutely. When I was working in the hospital, I had a split position of treating inpatients and outpatients. When a child who is in the hospital is ready to be seen for therapy, you need to see them. There were plenty of times I would have to put off pumping to get the session done with them instead. I had planned to pump at least twice a day if not three when I first went back to work (I worked longer days than 8 hours), but at times I would end up pumping twice instead of three times, or once instead of twice when that was my frequency.
Did you feel comfortable being 100% open and honest with coworkers about your breastfeeding/pumping needs?
I was very lucky to have great coworkers. Being an all female group, we were very open with each other. I felt very comfortable discussing pumping with them. Unfortunately, I was not able to formally block off time in my schedule to pump so informal communication with my colleagues about when I was pumping was helpful.
What do you wish someone would have taught you about integrating breastfeeding & working before you started?
That you would have to do it so much! And also that direct breastfeeding is not as automatically natural as it seems. It would have helped me feel like less of a failure had I known. I also didn't know that I would be pumping around the clock including setting alarms to wake and pump even if the baby didn't wake me. It's truly a lot of work.
Did you end up hitting the goal you had set for yourself prior to returning to work?
Yes, I sought help with my first when we were struggling, and got tips about storing small portions of what I was pumping each day to create a bit of a stash for the days I would not be there.
What was your proudest pumping & working moment?
My manager came by the room I was pumping in one day as I was cleaning up and gathering my things. I had 2 full 5 oz bottles sitting there waiting to go into the fridge. She specifically stopped and noted that I should be very proud of my pumping. She also complimented my commitment to stay with the process and get it done for my son. It was a very rewarding conversation for me.
I’m also proud that I pumped enough milk through both of my journeys to donate several thousands of ounces to feed other babies and to feed my own kids breast milk until well past their first birthdays.
Is there a tip you would want to pass on to a new mom just starting the pumping & working journey?
There are a lot of ways to make your pumping sessions more efficient. For example, a lot of women don’t wash all of the parts between pumping sessions. I used a combination of a quick clean with specific wipes and then stored everything in the fridge in a sealed container until the next session. Also, do what you can to stick to your pumping schedule through the workday; I think that really helped me keep my supply up.