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Finding the balance: Breastfeeding & the Workplace

I had all the hopes in the world that I would be able to continue breastfeeding my first child well after I returned to work. My goal had been one  year, my reality was four and a half months.  I returned to work nine weeks after my daughter was born and had to learn quickly how to squeeze in pumping sessions between conference calls, how to rearrange my schedule to come home and nurse my daughter on my lunch break, and worst of all, how to lug a breast pump, cooler, and ice packs through airports and hotels in far away cities.

As determined as I was to breastfeed my daughter, she started refusing to nurse once she begun to prefer the bottles she drank from when I was away at work. Eventually, I began to resent how isolated exclusively pumping made me feel and struggled with how difficult it often was when I was on the road. More that anything, I  mourned for the bonding time I had with my daughter when she nursed. I began to hate pumping and although I exclusively pumped for several weeks, I eventually gave up and we moved on to formula.

I am so hopeful that I’ll be able to breastfeed my son for much longer. My biggest challenge is the amount of travel required in my role – there are months where I don’t travel at all, and others where I’m on the road for several days for multiple weeks at a time. The first time around, I learned to hand pump in the restrooms of convention centers. I memorized the private family restrooms in all of the major airports I flew through and tried to time my layovers so that I’d have enough time to pump between flights. I also made sure every hotel I stayed would be able to provide a mini fridge in my room – and let me tell you, all of it was exhausting and frustrating. Other times, despite my best efforts , pumping wasn’t an option and I’d have to deal with painful engorgement and a fluctuating milk supply.

I keep thinking of how I can set myself up for success when I return from maternity leave in August. I want so much to nurse Arlo until he is at least 6 months old (and would love to go longer than that!) – but how? I know that law requires my company to provide me with space and accomodations to breastfeed in the office – but what about when I travel? And even when I am in the office, I never want it to appear as if I am not pulling my fair share of the weight – but if I’m off pumping, washing pumping parts, labeling and freezing milk two or three times every work day, that’s an extra hour or more that I’m not working. How does that appear to my colleagues? How does that effect my ability to advance in my company? I want to be a dedicated mother and a dedicated employee but I don’t know how to achieve the balance between the two. Obviously, what’s best for my son comes first but as the breadwinner in our family, my career and paycheck is crucial to our family’s wellbeing.

I’ve got 8 weeks left to figure out how to set myself up success this time. Surely one of your super moms out there has figured out the trick to balancing it all? If so, this mama desperately hopes you’ll share your secret.

~Melissa

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