Pumping at work was something I had never really thought about until I had my daughter, Ella. No one had explained the realities of trying to pump, and work as an elementary school teacher. The pressure of providing nourishment for your own child, while juggling classroom duties was overwhelming at times. I reminded myself often that my body was made to do this. That helped me feel empowered, and was the encouragement I needed to push through on those tough days. I want to share my experience because I’ve learned so much on the way. Before I share, I want to preface this by saying that a fed baby is best. Whether you choose to breastfeed, formula feed, a combination, exclusively pump, or another variation, you’re doing amazing!
Throughout my pregnancy, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed and knew that it could get tricky when I went back to school. I started researching breast pumps, and was looking for something that didn’t require me to be glued to the wall. After tons of research, I landed on the Spectra S1 Plus. It was portable, rechargeable, and would be perfect! This was an upgraded option with my insurance, so I paid about $150 out of pocket.
This pump was amazing but after some time using it at home, I knew that it wasn’t going to work for me at school. Most teachers have a to-do list a mile long, and sitting down to relax and pump was not going to be feasible for me. I needed my time at school to be productive. Drop off and pick up at the sitter meant I could no longer work outside of my contract hours. I loved that I could use this pump and move around, but it still required me to have tubing, flanges, and cups hanging out of a pumping bra. I knew that although I LOVED this pump, I would need something “wearable” for pumping at work.
I spent several weeks researching wearable pumps like the Willow, Elvie, Momcozy, and Baby Budha. From all the info I gathered, there were a couple of trends. One was that although they were super convenient, many felt that they didn’t empty you as well, because the suction was not as powerful as a regular pump. Another trend was that a lot of people LOVED their wearable pumps, but just as many people did not love their wearable pumps. Not to mention the price tags on some of them! It was around this same time that the Elvie Stride had come out. I was intrigued because it had hospital grade suction, was a lot cheaper than the regular Elvie, and could still be hidden under your clothes. I decided to purchase the Elvie Stride. I paid full price for the Stride. It wasn’t even an option from my insurance. I noticed that all of the wearable pumps were either an upgrade, or not covered at all. Ridiculous.
Although I think my pumping story has been a success, it doesn’t mean that it was easy. I was very motivated to continue breastfeeding and pumping, and my mindset was that it was my priority. I felt isolated, and anti-social at times, but I reminded myself that it was only temporary.
I want to share some things that I learned along the way, and a few tips that could help you be successful if you are in a similar stage of life.
- If you are able, get a wearable pump. It makes pumping on the go so much easier, and convenient. I doubt I’d still be pumping if I didn’t get a wearable pump.
- Get sized. I was using the wrong size flanges for several weeks, and had no idea. Most pumps come with 24mm or 28mm flanges, but only a small percent of women actually need those exact sizes. I purchased this nipple ruler, and was able to see what size I actually needed. Several websites recommended that you order inserts 1-2 mm larger. I followed this advice, and it made pumping so much more productive and comfortable. Just get the inserts. I used these willow inserts and they are so soft. I have three sets. They fit the Elvie Stride perfectly.
- If you can, start using your pump at home during the times that you’re going to be pumping at school. Your body is going to need time to adjust, and get used to your pump. I started pumping with my Elvie Stride about 9 weeks postpartum. I did my best to pump at the times that I knew I’d be pumping during the school day (8:15, 12:00, and 3:45). If I didn’t feel empty, I used my Spectra afterwards. This helped my body get used to the new type of pump. *If you’re going to need coverage, be sure to contact your admin as soon as possible to work out a plan.
- Get extra parts! I bought a second set of the collection cups, as well as extra valves and diaphragms. You will need to replace parts at some point, and it is so helpful to have the replacements on hand. If you suddenly get inconsistent output, it could be time to replace these. You’ll also want to get some nursing bras. I purchased a few nursing bras from Soma, and did not love them. It took me until summer to think about ordering another brand. I was hesitant to purchase the Kindred Bravely bras because I thought they were pricey, BUT they have been worth it. So comfortable! Here is my favorite everyday nursing bra. They also have sports bras, and here is my favorite. If you’re looking for hands-free pumping bras, they have those as well.
- You’ll want to consider how you’ll store your milk at school. I purchased a mini refrigerator for my classroom so that I didn’t have to leave my room. I also used the “fridge hack” between pumps, instead of washing all the parts at school. The fridge hack is a technique where you place the parts in the refrigerator (in a ziplock or sealed container) in between pump sessions. If you’re not comfortable with this technique, you could use the quick clean wipes, or wash all the parts. I also carried a small bag to school that held my pump, plastic storage bags, and pump wipes. A lot of people prefer to use one container to collect all of their milk throughout the day. I just used milk storage bags, and combined the milk when I got home.
- Determine where you’ll be pumping. I teach at a beautiful, new school that actually has two Mother’s Rooms!! However, I needed to be able to get things done while I was pumping. I chose to pump in my classroom when students were not present. I made a sign for my classroom door, and made sure it was locked when it was time to pump. It also helped to turn off the lights in my classroom. People still came to my door, even with the sign, and the lights off. This is another reason I was grateful to have a wearable pump where everything was covered. 🙂
- Make a plan for the times that you’ll be pumping. I pumped three times during the school day:
8:15 A.M. Before students arrived
12:00 P.M. During my lunch / planning
3:45 P.M. After students are dismissed and on the ride home
*I was consistent with this schedule every day. I also continued nursing, and pumping at home. I tried to “empty” when I woke up, and right before bed with my Spectra. I did not experience a drastic dip in supply. If I didn’t get my normal output, it was usually because I was dehydrated. I drank one Body Armor Lyte during the school day, and tried to keep up on my water the best that I could. I have found that I drink a lot more water when I use a straw, so I purchased these to use with my Yetis.
If you notice an oversupply or get clogged ducts, these heated massagers were helpful in getting the milk flowing.
- Be sure to talk to your administrator about meeting expectations. I just excused myself from staff meetings or didn’t go if something was scheduled when I needed to pump. I was also able to join some meetings virtually and pump during those times. If you’re not granted time, coverage, and a place to pump, (and you’ve already talked to your administrators) reach out to your union reps and fill them in on what is happening. I know that no one wants to do this, but it’s so important to advocate for yourself, and future teachers.
- Join a Facebook group for the pump or pumps you choose. I learned so much from the groups that I joined. It was a great place to go when I had questions. I also followed @karrie_locher and @bemybreastfriend on instagram. They are a wealth of knowledge and taught me so much.
- Remind yourself that feeding your child is your number one priority. Everything else can wait. Keeping this mindset helped me stay focused on what mattered most.
I hope you found this helpful! If you have any questions or additional tips, leave them in the comments! 🙂