After the birth of my first daughter, I was working full time as a PhD student in a biology lab. This meant that once I was back to work I was pumping breastmilk 2-3 times a day so that she would have milk for daycare. I was extremely lucky to have a dedicated lactation room in the building I worked in, and as a graduate student I set my own working hours so I was able to schedule in pumping breaks as needed. I pumped for 10 months (until she was a year old) and during that time I ran into many interesting situations, and chances to educate my colleagues about breastfeeding and pumping. Here are 5 unique situations that never expected to happen until I became a pumping mom.
1. That time when I had to share the lactation room because it was over scheduled. In my first few months back at work there were 5 moms using the lactation room at once and we all created a google document and calendar to block out times when we could each use the room alone (and we’d sign off on our emails to each other with the tagline “Happy pumping!”). However due to the number of women using the room and the fact that some of us needed to pump 3 times a day meant that sometimes we had to share. Let me say that nothing brings you closer than sitting half naked with a colleague talking about your babies while pumping milk for them.
2. That time I had to schedule meetings around my pumping schedule. My lab group met weekly and my availability always looked something like this: “I’m free from 9-11am and then from 11:30am-2pm, and then from 2:45pm-4pm”. I used to put the times I was pumping in my calendar so I made sure not to routinely schedule things during that time.
3. Those times I had to explain where I was going as I passed my co-worker’s office. Luckily the office that I had to pass to go to the lactation room belonged to a male friend with a daughter of his own, but it did become a bit of an awkward daily ritual; walking by, saying hello and exchanging tidbits about what our daughters were doing, me going in and pumping, and then finally leaving with my little black cooler of breastmilk while waving goodbye only to repeat the whole thing in 3 hours.
4. That time I had to explain to my male college-aged assistant that the black cooler in the fridge was my breastmilk. Being completely honest, college aged men might be the demographic that is least exposed to breastfeeding. I like to think that I did my assistant a great service by showing him that a working mom can feed her baby breastmilk (he had just assumed that all babies got formula when mom was away) and that pumping milk was totally normal.
5. That time I had to explain that those things I was washing were not lab glassware for some neat experiment. Ok so this one is pretty unique to my situation working in a lab, but one day a younger female colleague caught me washing my pump flanges in the lab sink and was asking what “those cool plastic funnels were for”. I nearly lost it in a fit of laughter and watched her turn red in embarrassment as I explained how I breastfed and the mechanics of pumping (she was pretty fascinated at how milk is actually expressed).
Overall, I had a successful pumping experience. I’ve yet to meet someone who truly loves pumping, and I was happy to be finished when my daughter was a year old, but it was as enjoyable as it could be. I liked taking quiet time during the day to think about my daughter, or just relax for 15-20 minutes. I definitely cried when I occasionally spilled milk, or left the milk out overnight, but those times (although devastating) were rare.
The biggest thing that I didn’t expect about pumping was the lack of knowledge out there about breastmilk and working moms. I’m glad that I was able to educate some of my coworkers about breastfeeding and pumping. I was able to show them that with the proper support, it is possible to provide breastmilk for your baby while working full time.