Let’s face it: the necessary task of breast pumping isn’t exactly fun for any woman in any profession. But most don’t understand the unique challenges that face teachers. When the workplace population is comprised of 90% children, adult needs can often be pushed to the back burner. Students want their teachers to be available ALL OF THE TIME and it’s not always (or ever?) appropriate to discuss what you’re doing behind that closed door. Believe me, I’m not one to shy away from telling the truth, but I really didn’t want to have a discussion with my 15-year-old male students involving the words “breasts” and “pump,” see what I mean? There is a line of professionalism and authority that each teacher must draw; crossing it is often a tough call. Add to this the idea of working on a set schedule, with class changes and extremely-short lunch breaks, planning periods that may or may not be available each day, field trips, and unplanned interruptions that are the nature of the job, and pumping can be quite a stressful feat! But with the correct preparation, YOU CAN DO IT.
I pumped for an entire school year and breastfed my son until he was 18 months old (he weaned himself at that time–too soon for me!). Here’s what worked for me (with a few tips from other teacher-mamas, too):
1)Time is limited; get a fridge for your classroom so you don’t have to spend time walking to another location. Plus, you can control the temperature and what’s happening with your precious milk! Keep it behind or under your desk so no students mess with it.
2) Get a blackout curtain and a sign for your door. Placing a small sign over the keyhole of my door prevented more walk-ins than a big sign. Mine said “Mama at work! Do not enter. ” I made sure that the appropriate staff knew what the sign meant.
3) The pumping schedule that ended up working best for me was to pump in the morning before students came in (I had common planning time). I would pump until they were literally knocking on my door, waiting for me to open it. Later on, I’d try and nurse before I left the house. In the afternoon, I’d pump at lunch and/or during my planning period, then fly home at the end of the day so I could nurse as soon as I got to the baby.
Jacqie Parsons, a teacher and owner of Jacqie Q Photography, had a similar experience: “I pumped right before the kids came in, at planning/lunch (sometimes twice in there if supply was dipping), and then sent my end-of-the-day students to another teacher at dismissal time so I could pump at the end of the day. The schedule was either [7:30, 10:00, 12:00 and 3:20] or [7:30, 12:00, 3:20.]”
4) Be up front and open with administrators and other teachers. Thankfully, I had a supportive staff, and at the beginning, teachers would cover me during their planning periods if I needed to leave class to pump (my planning period was every-other-day, not every day). Coworkers will be your biggest help. Be honest and don’t be embarrassed. You aren’t the first lactating woman in the world!
5) Keep it simple. I would pump into the same bottles all day, just transferring the milk to a bigger water bottle (like this one). That way, I could give the full bottle of milk to the caregiver and have only three bottles to wash at a time (the large one and the two pumping bottles).
During the day, keep the bottles and parts assembled in the mini-fridge in your classroom (but take off the part that touches your breast so it doesn’t get cold!). This sounds gross, but it’s perfectly fine to keep re-using the pump without washing in-between. Just be sure to wash everything when you get home! *LIFESAVER TIP* I had a second set of parts for my pump in case I was in a rush and hadn’t gotten time to clean the pump from the day before.
6) Be Prepared. Keep extra breast pads and burp cloths/prefolds in your bag. You never know when you’ll need them! Extra cloths are great for wiping off your pump parts and cleaning up minor spills. Also be sure to check out this list of essential pumping supplies & resources (I used all of these!) in Healthy Home Magazine.
7) It’s YOUR time. With a course load of material to cover and a stack of papers to grade, it may be tempting to use pumping time to get in a little extra work. DON’T DO IT. This is your time and your baby’s time. Pumping isn’t just a physical reaction, there is a mental connection, too. Think about your baby. Do something you enjoy, like read a gratuitously-cheesy novel, visit your friends via Facebook, play an online game, or listen to music. Give yourself something to look forward to!
8) Know Your Rights. Review recent federal legislature about break time for nursing mothers and review your state laws, as well.
9)Eat & Drink! This is the fun one, but, oh, so easy to forget! Bring a large water bottle with you every day and be sure to drink all of it! Something that helped my supply was to eat oatmeal for breakfast every day (sweet or savory) and keep my desk stocked with snacks like energy bars, nuts, and lactation cookies.
10) Relax, relax, relax! Just typing this list brought me back to the stress I felt heading into a new school year with a new baby. Keep in mind that so many women have been in your shoes and so many men understand the process of new parenthood, too. Abbie Walston, writer at Farmer’s Daughter, remembers: ” All the women in my department had nursed their babies, and some of them had pumped at work. Many of the dads had wives who nursed and pumped, so it was something we could all talk about together without embarrassment. That helped a lot!” (You can also read Abbie’s Top 5 Pumping Tips on the Bravado site.) Now is the time to get comfortable with your body and respect the amazing things it can (and will!) do!
Please add your experiences and tips in the comments!
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