Nicole Collins’ Story: What happens when a CHOP NICU nurse becomes a pumping mom herself?

— about a 6 minute read

Faces of Pumping and working Nicole Collins

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.

We all know the nurses that work in the NICU are superheroes. They take care of us and our babies when at our most vulnerable. THEY are the ones that teach the rest of us about pumping, breastfeeding and childcare. So what is it like when one of our superheroes becomes a pumping mom herself? Easy-peasy and 100% smooth sailing? Read on to hear about Nicole’s experience.

Nicole’s Circumstances permalink

I am a registered nurse working with babies and their parents in the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In many ways, my job prepared me to become a pumping mom; I knew the ins and outs of the pumping & working world based on my training and through the experiences of the breastfeeding parents I interacted with each day at CHOP. But, actually DOING it myself was a whole other ballgame! My gosh, it is HARD and exhausting work!!! I was most surprised about ALL of the time it took to prep/pump/clean and store the breast milk. This is definitely something you can learn and teach all you want to others, but it became SO much more real when I was doing it myself.

Pumping moms know, the difficulty level will always be there to an extent but having a supportive employer really is a game changer and I certainly had that. The physical space to pump and a very breastfeeding friendly work environment really supported my ability to reach my goals during the time I was pumping at work and beyond!

Nicole’s Goal permalink

My goal was to breastfeed for 1 year. When I started we had MANY challenges (tongue/lip tie, poor latch, PAINful/cracked nipples, very slow weight gain, reflux and colic); we pushed through and I realized I would do everything I could to let my little guy wean himself when he was ready.

I breastfed from birth exclusively, started pumping a few times at 4 weeks postpartum, and then breastfed and pumped when I returned to work (12 weeks postpartum) until my son was 1.5 years old. I then continued my breastfeeding journey and breastfed him before or after my shift for the last few months. I am proud that I achieved my goal and he self-weaned at 21 months on the dot!

Nicole’s Access to Space permalink

I was very fortunate that CHOP offered access to private rooms designated for pumping. Each room is equipped with a hospital-grade pump for use, bottles to pump milk into as well as a sink to wash everything and a comfy chair. There was also a microwave in the room which I used to warm up food /drinks; this was particularly helpful because I would mainly pump on meal breaks.

My other “lactation space” was my car; I did A LOT of car pumping which was interesting. I brought my pump and parts along, would hook the pump up to my car adapter, and wore a cover for privacy as I drove and pumped. I had an hour commute to and from work so it was definitely a productive use of my drive. It did get tricky trying to un-do everything without spilling while still driving, but I got the hang of it and my system really worked well.

A PRO-breastfeeding culture permalink

Being a nurse in a NICU, we are very PRO-breastfeeding and pumping. Part of my job is to educate moms on pumping and breastfeeding! CHOP was VERY accommodating to allow the time for me to pump throughout my 12 hour shift. My colleagues and friends who had been through the breastfeeding journey just "got it"! They were SO supportive and would encourage me to go pump throughout the shift.

Like most pumping moms, I headed to the lactation space a few times each shift, so it was definitely a lot of others "picking up the slack" while I was gone and tending to my patients if they needed anything. Because of the culture of support at CHOP, I always felt that I could be open, honest, and straightforward about my pumping schedule. I felt comfortable letting my colleagues know when I was leaving and about how long I'd be.

Nicole’s Biggest Pumping Challenge permalink

Finding a schedule was definitely tough and it changed frequently since my daily work flow changed depending on the type of patients I had. My usual routine was:

  • Pump#1 on my drive to work around 5:30a
  • Pump #2 between 9-11a
  • Pump #3 between 3-5p
  • Pump #4 on my drive home (or breastfeed my son when I got home if he was still awake)

It was necessary for me to keep this schedule flexible due to the nature of my job. There would be times when something would come up and my patient would need a few extra things, so my "time to go pump" that I had earmarked in my mind required shifting. Sometimes this shift was a few minutes but occasionally it was a few hours (ouch!). I would just keep trucking through, drinking my water, and mentally preparing myself for how my body might feel until I was able to step away to pump. .

Another big challenge was losing the social aspect of my lunches/breaks for that entire 1.5 years of pumping. Because I pumped during breaks I would often multitask by eating while pumping and would miss my quick 30 minute lunches with my friends/colleagues which had previously been a bright spot in a busy day.

Nicole is most PROUD of... permalink

Overall my proudest moment was being able to successfully breastfeed without any supplementation for as long as I did while working a full time, long shift, job as a nurse. I look back and think "WOW. that was amazing what my body was able to do". That said, I couldn’t have done it without the support of my coworkers when I was at work, my husband (thanks Joe for washing those dreaded pump parts each night!) and our families for understanding the whole pumping deal and learning the details of how to feed expressed milk. It truly takes a village and I have one of the best!

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