What do you do if you’re on a teacher’s regimented schedule and you just can't pump every 2-3 hours as recommended? This mom of four shares how she navigated these schedule limitations to pump for all of her children.
Name: Monica Nelson
Occupation: Music Teacher
Children: Sons - ages 7, 5, and 3, and a daughter – 5 months
Let’s start with the basics – how old are your kids and what do you do for work?
My oldest son just turned seven, then I have a five-year-old son, a three-year-old son, and a five-month-old daughter. I've been teaching music at elementary schools for the past 13 years.
Give us an overview of your pumping experiences:
My first son was born in April, and my maternity leave went right into the summer, so I was able to breastfeed him at home for quite a while. I breastfed, pumped, and supplemented with him because everything didn’t click perfectly with feeding. It wasn't until I had my second son that I pumped a lot, and my son was able to have breastmilk exclusively for at least the first seven months. Then with my third son it was a pretty similar experience. I nursed all of my boys for at least a year, and supplemented a bit because the pumping was so hard to do at work. Now with my daughter, the one nice part about being stuck at home during this Covid-19 pandemic is that I’m able to just breastfeed her and not worry about pumping very much.
What was it like pumping at school as a teacher?
It is definitely tricky to juggle pumping and work as a teacher because you don’t really have any schedule flexibility, so you have to fit pumping around your class schedule. We do have planning periods, so I could pump during that time, but most nursing moms need to pump every two to three hours, and it’s nearly impossible to do that on a teacher’s schedule.
I would typically try to do a pumping session at 6am before leaving for work, then three pumping sessions at work - one as soon as I got there, another at lunchtime, and then I'd pump after the school day ended. It was hard to keep up my supply on that schedule, so I had to do some supplementing. Sometimes I just had to carve out little chunks of time here and there for pumping, many times using my manual pump, because I couldn't sit down and pump for a solid 15 minutes. I would just do a quick five-minute pump here and there to relieve the pressure, and then I would do a longer pump during my planning period or lunch.
It is definitely tricky to juggle pumping and work as a teacher because you don’t really have any schedule flexibility, so you have to fit pumping around your class schedule.
With such short windows of time for pumping, where did do your pumping sessions?
I remember it was difficult to find a space to pump. I’m a music teacher, but I don't have a music classroom, so I typically teach on the stage, and I initially felt I needed a different space to pump. I think I initially pumped in a little closet, which was not nice at all, and in fact, I was very uncertain about the cleanliness of the area. It wasn't the ideal place to pump, but nevertheless I was able to pump in private. This year with my daughter I decided that I would just pump on the stage and close the curtains, and I would drape something around me in case someone came onto the stage. That allowed me to save some time and avoid carrying everything to another location, bringing it all back, then going elsewhere to wash pump parts. I literally set my own pumping stage on the stage and it was a lot easier.
Help us understand how teachers are expected to make pumping fit it into their tight schedules. Did you ask for special accommodation from your administration, or is it just up to you to make it all work?
That’s hard. The administration always says we should ask for help when we need it, but the schedule is set in place for the year for the whole school. And it’s not easy to change one part of that schedule for one teacher because it would affect everyone else. Most teachers plan their pumping around their daily planning time. It’s even harder for high school teachers where they have block scheduling and classes are 50 minutes long rather than our 30-minute classes, so you could have to wait through four 50-minute periods to be able to pump. The one thing you can count on is lunch. Everybody gets at least a 30-minute lunch break, so often you’re pumping and eating at the same time, and probably also doing any preparation needed for your next class. And you need to make sure not to get stopped in the hallway if you need to go wash your pumping parts or go to the bathroom before you pump, because you have only a short window of time! It’s been harder for me this year being at two different schools with two different schedules. I had to write out my pumping schedules to keep track, but then it became second nature.
As a teacher, you just have to pump during those planning times and lunch and make it work, and then be really efficient during those pumping sessions because you never have enough time. It also depends on what type of teacher you are. Classroom teachers and specialists have very different schedules. I imagine it’s hardest for classroom teachers because their planning time is for collaborative planning with their extended teaching teams, so I’m not even sure how they make it work. I think it’s easier for me as a specialist. And I think the name of the game is having a really supportive administration that understands.
As a teacher, you just have to pump during those planning times and lunch and make it work, and then be really efficient during those pumping sessions because you never have enough time.
How did you prepare for returning to work?
Well for my daughter, since this isn't my first rodeo, I basically had a plan in place in my mind already. I did let the administration know that I would be pumping, and I anticipated needing to pump on the stage at my desk because I just knew the hassles of previous years when there weren’t any good alternative spaces. In the past, other school employees had offered for me to use their spaces when they wouldn’t be there, but in a school you just know people are going to be coming in and out of spaces and it’s really hard to find any privacy, so I’d rather plan to use my own space where I know what to anticipate.
I did tell my principal this year that I would pump at the end of the day, and I would give him advance notice for any activities or meetings I couldn’t attend or would be late for because I’d be pumping, and he’s been fine with that arrangement. My administrations have always been accommodating that way if I needed a few minutes or needed to show up somewhere late because I needed to pump.
Since schools are typically female-dominated environments, I wonder if there’s ever any camaraderie and support within that school environment if there are multiple pumping moms around.
There are those occasional moments when you pass someone in the hall and you’re both carrying that little bottle of liquid gold and you feel like she knows the struggle and is facing it too, but it’s not like everyone is ever together in a group pumping room. Because the school schedule is so regimented and everyone has their own daily schedule, we often just pass in the hallway and support each other from afar.
It’s impressive that you've chosen to pump for four kids despite having experienced all the challenges associated with pumping. I imagine it could be easy to decide it’s not worth the hassle after doing it for your oldest children.
My mom breastfed me and my three sisters, and I don't think it would have made such an impression on me except that my youngest sister breastfed for a long time, and I can remember that experience. I think it was something that I really wanted to do because of the bonding and the cognitive and feeding benefits for children. I just really wanted to continue through the difficulties so that when I did return home from work, I was able to maintain the emotional bond and intimacy with all of my children.
I just really wanted to continue through the difficulties so that when I did return home from work, I was able to maintain the emotional bond and intimacy with all of my children.
It sounds like you had a fairly consistent breastfeeding and pumping experience from child to child, which doesn’t happen for many women.
Yes, there were no significant differences. I will say for my first child, I had a horrible, horrible pump. It just did not work well, and I would spend so much time trying to get enough milk, and I ended up supplementing quite a bit. I didn’t enjoy that pumping experience the first time, but then when I found better pumps I felt that the experience wasn’t so bad. Having a good pump has a lot to do with a successful pumping experience.
Have there been any pieces of pumping equipment or supplies that you’ve found to be really helpful?
I’ve learned to make sure that I always have my pumping bag fully stocked with extra bottles with lids (don’t forget the lids!) and pump flanges and all those little things that, with trial and error, you find out are essential to have extras of on hand. Also, I always, always, always bring my manual pump because it really does come in handy for those times when you're rushing and something happens and you just need to get in a quick pump on the go. You can pump anywhere with a manual pump. And then I always have some kind of scarf or nursing cover available as well. Those are my pumping essentials that enable me to have a successful pumping session no matter where I am.
I always, always, always bring my manual pump because it really does come in handy for those times when you're rushing and something happens and you just need to get in a quick pump on the go. You can pump anywhere with a manual pump.
What resources and support systems have helped you through your postpartum experiences?
Thankfully I have friends with kids who are around the same age as my kids, and we share experiences and helpful tips all the time. I also use websites like The Bump, which I’ve found to be particularly helpful for pumping tips. I can’t really ask my mom about pumping because she didn't pump. Luckily, she was able to stay at home with us, and the pumps back then are so different from the pumps today, so that advice really has to come from current pumping moms. I have three sisters and they’re always a great support to me with parenting tips, even though they nursed at home and didn’t do much pumping.
How do you take care of yourself as a busy working mom?
For a while I had a monthly massage membership, and it was great. After a while, I found it was hard to get away every month and decided to cancel the membership, but I still try to get a massage when I need one. I frequently go for walks by myself, and I’ve started to take regular bubble baths. I’ll add in some essential oils, light candles, and play spa music, and just enjoy some quiet time.
One time I tried to take my bath after the kids’ bedtime when I thought the boys were asleep, and all of a sudden they came running into the bathroom so excited to see the bubbles! Most of the time it works out and I get my relaxing time, so I try to do that once a month. Before the pandemic I was also trying to get my hair done regularly. I loved that time being able to talk to my stylist, and that whole experience left me feeling so uplifted. It was the “me” time I craved.
What’s it like having a daughter after having three sons?
My husband and I thought we were done after three kids, and when we found out we were pregnant again we were surprised. I went to a women’s college, and I have three sisters, and I love the mother-daughter bond and the sisterhood bond, and having a girl was always in the back of my mind. I had a feeling that it was a girl, and when we found out that it was a girl we were so excited. Her brothers are already taking care of her and making her smile and laugh, so it's really been a great journey. My husband sings to her and plays with her, and it’s been so nice to see. We have a big family. We’ve always loved big families, and we both come from big families. It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of work, but it's also a lot of fun, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
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