A Supportive Employer Makes a Difference for a Working, Pumping Mom
May 18 2021 – Kathryn Wepfer
Name: Jackie Loo
Occupation: Global Product Marketing Manager at Google
Children: Daughter – age 3, daughter – age 7 months
What you do for work outside the home?
I’m a global product marketing manager at Google, in our Nest organization. I help drive growth for our subscription business, which I love because it’s multi-faceted and very cross-functional. I’ve been at Google for almost ten years and am fortunate to have had quite a few roles spanning from sales development and ads marketing in the travel and retail industries to my current role at Nest.
How old are your children and how long did you breastfeed and pump for each of them?
My oldest daughter is three years old, and my youngest daughter is seven months. I breastfed my oldest for a year and a half, and I pumped for the first year of that as well. Although I struggled with supply with her, I wanted to make it to that year mark with the pumping. With my youngest, I started pumping right from the beginning to try to get my supply up, which helped. I recently went back to work, so am balancing breastfeeding and pumping during the day. I hope to make it to at least a year.
What was your overall breastfeeding experience like with your oldest?
We always had a good breastfeeding relationship, but the biggest challenge for me was supply. I think I didn't know enough about how to balance breastfeeding and pumping in order to get my supply up, and that's something that I really tried to change the second time around. I definitely feel more knowledgeable now - not just about breastfeeding, but about all things parenting-related.
I feel like you get a lot of mixed information about nursing as a first-time mom. You’re supposed to breastfeed on demand, and that’s supposed to be “enough,” but a lot of times it doesn’t feel like enough, or you’re not sure what the baby is really getting. I felt pressure to always preserve my milk for her, but I also wanted to pump to get my supply up and be able to measure what I was producing. It was tough for me to figure out how to fit pumping into the feeding schedule, on top of adjusting to being a new mom in general.
Nevertheless, early on I was doing a mix of breastfeeding, pumping, and supplementing with formula. Luckily, my daughter adapted well to going back and forth between feeding from both me and a bottle.
Who or what supported you through those early feeding challenges?
I feel lucky to have a really supportive husband and family who encouraged me to follow whatever path we felt was right with feeding. I never felt pressured to do one thing over the other; all the pressure I felt came from myself.
I also had outside help. A few weeks after we got home from the hospital, I had two different lactation consultants come to my house, and they observed how we were doing and gave me recommendations on how to increase my supply. Unfortunately, I had waited a few weeks to get help because I kept thinking that my supply would increase on its own through breastfeeding and pumping, and I may have missed the optimal window for really boosting my supply.
The decision to supplement with formula can be a tough choice to make, particularly for first-time moms. What was it like for you to make that determination?
In the beginning I really wanted to be able to feed her myself, and when it was clear that wasn't enough, the most important thing was for her to be healthy. I was generally fine with using formula when we had to, and I felt like it took the pressure off me. It was also great for my husband to give our daughter a bottle on a regular basis, which freed me up both mentally and physically. I didn’t have to worry about her not being fed if I wasn’t around and I could carve out time for myself as well.
In the beginning I really wanted to be able to feed her myself, and when it was clear that wasn't enough, the most important thing was for her to be healthy.
You work for a large tech company with very supportive maternity-related policies. What was it like for you to return from your first maternity leave?
I was fortunate to be able to stretch my leave to six months (a mix of pre-delivery time, maternity disability leave, baby bonding leave and a little bit of vacation at the end). I felt like six months was a nice length of time for me to feel good about getting the time that I needed with the baby and feel ready to return to work.
Google is a very supportive workplace, which helped a lot as well. There are many support groups for parents, including groups for moms to discuss similar experiences. There’s also some flexibility to do a ramp back when you return to work after leave. During this time, I was able to work at 50% of my weekly hours for two weeks at 100% pay. This was really helpful because I could set my own limited hours and get used to the new routine. It helped me get into the rhythm of getting myself out of the house, commuting, and figuring out how pumping would work in the mothers’ room. I ended up spending my mornings at work and my afternoons at home where I could check in on our daughter and our nanny. We tried to stagger our family transitions and started with our nanny a couple weeks before I returned to work, which was huge. Having a childcare routine well-established really helped me mentally with the transition back to work.
Since you had been pumping before you returned to work, was there a steep learning curve to pumping at work, or was it a pretty seamless process?
Pumping at work was pretty seamless, although due to my supply issues it was sad at times due to the high effort required to get such a small output. On a good day I was pumping probably three to four ounces at work in total, and that was it. It was so much work, but I definitely wanted to do it.
I felt really supported at work with pumping. In addition to my manager, there were many other moms around on my immediate and extended teams who helped with tips and one-off questions. I scheduled pumping blocks in my work calendar, and I was able to block off time to pump twice a day without any problems. I was pleasantly surprised by the mothers’ rooms in my office, which were well-equipped with a pump, comfortable seating, a refrigerator, and space to store my stuff during the day.
It’s great that pumping could be pretty seamlessly accommodated in your daily work life. What was it like for you to return to your professional world as a mom?
I was excited to go back to work, but I definitely felt the mental load of the extra attention required to pump. For instance, planning meetings around my pumping schedule, and making sure I had time to get from another building back to the mothers’ room – that added stress was something to get used to.
The biggest challenge for me was the mental transition of leaving my baby. Even when I was on maternity leave, I didn't realize how much I would miss her when I left the house even for a quick errand - let alone all day when I returned to work. It was hard to think about her doing all these cool things during the day that I would miss out on, but our nanny was great about sharing pictures and videos that I could review whenever I was in the mothers’ room or just needed a mental break.
The biggest challenge for me was the mental transition of leaving my baby. Even when I was on maternity leave, I didn't realize how much I would miss her when I left the house even for a quick errand - let alone all day when I returned to work.
Your youngest is now seven months old. What has it been like to have a baby during the times of COVID?
Like everything during this pandemic, there have been a lot of challenges but also some silver linings. I feel very fortunate that we were able to deliver a happy and healthy baby in the midst of all this craziness.
It's certainly been harder not having friends and family around this time. Our nanny has really been the only person who has been able to help us transition from one kid to two kids. We’re very lucky to have her, but we miss having family to help out. My husband’s parents live close by, but we’ve only done socially distant things with them. My family in Hawaii would normally have been here with us from day one, but they obviously haven’t been able to visit so that’s really hard. At the same time, the pandemic takes pressure off of us to take the baby out and introduce her to people, so it allows us to be on more of our own schedule.
How has breastfeeding and pumping gone so far with number two?
It’s been good. I haven’t struggled with supply like I did the first time, which I think is because I was more aggressive about pumping from the beginning. I’ve been mostly breastfeeding, but I’ve kept up some pumping the whole time. The wrinkle I ran into is that right before my youngest turned two months, she stopped taking a bottle. We had introduced bottles a few weeks after her birth so my husband could share that feeding experience, but one day she just stopped taking it.
I stopped pumping at that point because I was scared that she wouldn't get enough milk if I was pumping and that milk wasn’t being consumed, and I also didn’t want to waste milk. It was hard to trust the process and nature after struggling with supply with my first, but we’ve managed okay.
How has your return to work been so far? Have you been pumping?
It’s been good. I built up a bit of a freezer stash before I started working again in January, which definitely helped. The baby is good with bottles again, and now I’m pumping during the day and our nanny uses frozen milk whenever she needs it. I have nursed the baby here and there, which is one of the perks of still working from home, but I try to default to our nanny for feedings during the hours that she's here. I would like to breastfeed for a year if I can.
What supplies were very helpful to you for breastfeeding or pumping, or even just for having a newborn?
Having a new pump this time has been really helpful - I used a Spectra with our first, and this time am using a Medela Freestyle Flex. Both are portable, but the Medela pump is so much smaller it’s basically handheld. I also heard about the Ceres Chill bottle from someone at work, which is a big chiller with lots of capacity that keeps milk cold for 20 hours. It’s especially great for travel, or even if you’re with your baby and pumping but can’t get to a refrigerator right away. We’ve gone on some nearby weekend trips during the pandemic, and this storage bottle has been really helpful for extra peace of mind.
What motivates you to be a mom working outside the home now that you have two beautiful kids at home?
I've considered not returning to work, and I recognize that even considering not working is such a privilege. For me I just feel like I have a lot of unfinished business at this point in my career. I moved to my current team at Nest shortly before I went out on maternity leave, and I had a lot of personal motivation to return because there were so many exciting projects going on and I wanted to be able to balance the different sides of my brain between childcare and professional growth. During my leave I listened to some podcasts about business and product marketing in general, which also gave me some inspiration. I may stop working at some point in the future, but right now I’m still very excited about what I’m doing and want to keep learning.
With you and your husband being very committed to your careers in the technology industry, how do you approach integrating your work and personal lives as a team?
We're both very supportive of each other and we try to keep a broader perspective on what we want in life as a family. My husband is a great partner and dad, from cooking to cleaning to waking up in the middle of the night when one of the girls needs something. Balancing our life at home makes it easier for us to openly discuss our career needs as well. Especially during the pandemic, when mental health is so important for each of us, we try to keep checking in with each other on how things are going and if we're both feeling good about our current situation and our longer-term plans.
Especially during the pandemic, when mental health is so important for each of us, we try to keep checking in with each other on how things are going and if we're both feeling good about our current situation and our longer-term plans.
What’s your perspective on the future of work culture and flexibility now that the pandemic has completely shifted our daily work practices?
I think it will depend on the company culture and your personal circumstances; in some ways the pandemic really accelerated some workplace trends that have been percolating for a while. My husband and I both really like going to an office for the opportunity to connect with people. I think a lot of Silicon Valley culture is rooted around human interaction, whether it’s face to face meetings with people you work with or the people that you just pass by in the hallway and the impromptu side conversations that can happen, so it’s hard to imagine giving that up entirely. With small kids, it's also nice to physically leave my house and feel like I’m making that shift to my work world – to go to work and feel like me again.
I hope that we can all find a happy medium for where and how we work. Some tech companies have already said that their employees can work remotely indefinitely, and others are thinking through hybrid home/office models. There’s also the business benefit to having more flexibility in locations, which is that companies can broaden and diversify their applicant pool for jobs. Bringing in more diversity in terms of qualities like background, education and experiences will help us all be more inclusive, build better products, and have a longer lasting positive impact. I have to imagine that more flexibility will be better for everyone in terms of work life balance, happiness and overall business success.
When you think of the future for your daughters, what are your hopes for them?
It’s very important for us to raise happy, independent, and curious daughters. We always try to expose them to different things and we want to make learning fun. I’ve learned that anything can be a teachable moment or memory, especially during the pandemic when we’ve had to get creative. I come from a family that’s very community-oriented and entrepreneurial, so besides finding their own passions, I hope that our daughters always contribute back to their community and feel good about having a lasting impact in whatever they want to focus on.