Expressing and Storing Breastmilk | A Working Mother’s Guide

Breastfeeding is a gift that follows the wonders of pregnancy. It provides an intense bond between a mother and her baby, nourishing the baby with benefits that cannot be duplicated. Nursing is one of the many joys of motherhood and the convenience can’t be beat. Breast milk is always sterile, at the right temperature and requires no preparation.

But, what if a nursing mother works outside the home and is unable to bring her baby with her? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that wherever a nursing mother goes, her milk supply will follow. With a little planning and the use of a breast pump, many nursing couples can successfully continue breastfeeding when mom returns to work.

Breast Pumps 101

There is quite a variety of breast pumps on the market with a range of prices to match. Choosing the perfect pump requires a determination of how much milk needs to be expressed and how quickly, as well as how much money can be invested into preserving a nursing relationship.

The least expensive pump available is a manual pump. A manual pump is also the least effective in expressing a high quantity of milk and is time consuming to operate. It may be a consideration for a mother with an older baby, or a mother on a tight budget who works part-time and doesn’t need to pump as much milk as a mother who works full-time and has a young baby. With this type of pump, the mother uses one hand to hold the pump, and the other to generate the pumping mechanism. However, the higher quality manual pumps are designed to be used with one hand. All are small and lightweight and can be carried in a purse or briefcase.

A battery-operated pump is a little more expensive than a manual pump and will pump a little faster. It allows the mother to pump with one hand and can be stored in a purse or briefcase.

An electric pump is an excellent choice for all working mothers, especially those who work full-time and are dedicated to providing their child care provider, partner or family member with an ample supply of breastmilk for the baby. Electric pumps can be rented or purchased and many come with a battery or car accessory adapter. Top-of-the-line models have several sucking speeds and motions similar to those of a nursing infant. They are often packaged in an attractive professional-looking carrying case and have the ability to express milk from both breasts at once. Being gentle, yet effective while retrieving high quantities of milk, this type of pump is certainly worth the extra expense. If purchasing or renting a high quality, effective breast pump means giving up bi-weekly manicures or Friday nights at the theater, it is a choice well made.

Suzie Calvin, an accredited La Leche League leader in Riverside, California recommends that nursing mothers invest in a high quality electric breast pump, whether via a purchase or rental arrangement. Pumping is a learned art and Suzie recommends pumping milk from one breast while baby nurses from the other in an effort to build up a supply of stored breast milk. This process should begin during the maternity leave, a few weeks before returning to work. However, Suzie warns that sometimes when moms have too much breast milk in storage, they tend to slack off on pumping at work, which later could deplete their milk supply. Keep this in mind to avoid that situation.

Finding a Good Pump

Breast pumps can be purchased at retail and specialty stores and through distributors. Some of the best pumps available can be purchased via the Internet. Some manufacturers have their own Web sites. It is important to do some research to ensure that the ideal pump is purchased for your situation.

Message boards and e-mail lists for nursing mothers who work outside the home are wonderful resources to gain input on which pumps work best. Is there a better way to get the details on a pump than from a person who has used one? Advice from a consumer often goes farther than a paid advertisement.

Pumps manufactured by formula companies are not a top choice. Formula companies may not provide nursing mothers with the encouragement and aid they need to pump successfully. They ultimately do not want nursing mothers to succeed with breastfeeding because they are their target market. They want to sell formula. Formula companies make far more money via formula sales than they ever would selling breast pumps.

Storage Tips and Guidelines

Here are the general guidelines for storing breastmilk:

  • Refrigerator (32-39 degrees): up to 8 days.
  • Freezer compartment inside a refrigerator: 2 weeks.
  • Freezer compartment with a separate door: 3 to 4 months.
  • Separate deep freeze at 0 degrees: 6 months or longer.

Breastmilk can also be stored temporarily at room temperature for 24 hours at 60 degrees, 10 hours at 66 to 72 degrees and 4 to 6 hours at 79 degrees. Breastmilk cannot be stored at room temperatures of 80 degrees or more.

Do not add freshly pumped milk to already frozen breastmilk. The new warm milk may thaw the top layer of frozen milk when they come in contact with each other. Small Ziploc freezer bags are ideal for storing breastmilk. Plastic or glass bottles can be used as well. Be sure not to fill a freezer bag or bottle to capacity, as the milk will expand when frozen. Also, never use a permanent marker to date milk as it can seep through the plastic and taint the milk. Instead, use a ball point pen on sticky labels.

Traveling cold storage carriers may be purchased by many breast pump manufacturers. Using a refrigerator at work is another option. Take advantage of the many discreet Tupperware-type containers to both hold baggies and deter curious refrigerator snoops.

Pumping at Work

Plan on taking your breast pump to work with you along with a supply of nursing pads and a spare blouse or dress. Let your boss know in advance that you will need to pump during your breaks. If you will need extra time away from your desk for pumping, work out a mutually agreeable arrangement with your boss.

There is no reason to feel uncomfortable discussing your need to use a breast pump at work with your boss, even if your boss is a male. Perhaps he has a wife who breastfed his children or his mother breastfed him. If not, remember that lactation is a natural occurrence after pregnancy. Be proud that you have chosen to feed your baby as no one else can.

Unfortunately, not all bosses are supportive of breastfeeding and pumping at work. Calvin supports the advice available on the La Leche League International Web site aimed at nursing mothers with unsupportive bosses:

“Many of these situations are resolved easily by educating the employer. Mothers need to keep their anger out of it, and approach the employer in a friendly, helpful way.”

Many states encourage employers to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers. A quiet, private room to use during breaks to express milk can enable a mother to provide mother’s milk to her child in her absence.

Wear clothes that will allow you to pump easily and quickly at work. Blouses and dresses with a print design will camouflage leaks, which can be hard to avoid.

Sweet Success

Johanne, a working mother from Kansas City, Missouri successfully breastfed her child for 10 months. She says, “It was exhausting — but it was worth it.”

Johanne was lucky enough to be a prolific pumper and was capable of expressing 10 ounces of milk in 10 minutes (including the time it took to clean and put away her electric breast pump)! Most nursing mothers cannot express that much milk in such a short time and should not be disappointed to see just a few ounces after 10 minutes. Keep in mind that stress and nervousness about pumping can affect the let-down reflex, making it difficult to get any milk at all. Relaxation techniques such as shoulder rolls, deep breaths, pictures of baby or a tape recording of baby suckling may help milk flow.

In addition to pumping at work, the nursing mother extraordinaire spent her lunch hour at her daycare provider’s home where she was able to nurse her son. Johanne says, “Books and articles shower us with medical reasons to breastfeed our babies, from immunities to intelligence. For myself, I found that the added effort to nurse my baby helped me to overcome my own separation anxiety from him that returning to work had brought about — not to mention the benefits that skin-to-skin offers both the baby and the mother. What a glorious break from the tedium of the business world to cuddle your baby, breathe deep the scent of him and to feel him melt into your arms.”

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