Work. Pump. Repeat. with Jessica Shortall

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week 2015, we are sharing inspirational stories from breastfeeding/working moms.  Today’s story is a special interview with author, Jessica Shortall.  Jessica is an entrepreneurial mother of two, with a career dedicated to the intersection of business and doing good. She's been a Peace Corps Volunteer, a non-profit co-founder, the first Director of Giving for TOMS Shoes, and an LGBT advocate. She's the author of Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom's Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work.

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Jessica, what inspired you to write this book?

When I had my first baby, I was the first woman at the start-up where I worked to have a baby on the job. And my first business trip was a week in rural Nepal when my son was 5 months old. I was totally panicked about how to manage pumping and working, especially with such extreme travel, but I assumed that, as with everything on parenting, there was a book that would tell me exactly how to do it. I couldn't find what I needed: an intensely practical, non-judgmental, and approachable resource. I realized that if I wanted that to exist, I'd have to write it myself. So I set myself on what would become a five-year journey (my baby just turned five!!) of interviewing hundreds of working, breastfeeding moms and sharing their stories, their hacks, their triumphs, and their struggles.

What was your pumping situation like at work?  You traveled for your job, as well, right?

I worked from home (at the time, in Austin TX), which made things really easy on a daily basis - I did a lot of pretending I couldn't hear "that weird noise" everyone else seemed to hear on conference calls. But I traveled a LOT - often twice a month - both to my company HQ in Los Angeles, and extended trips all over the world. So I had a bit of everything - at home and not worried about privacy; in the HQ office and commandeering a storage closet, since the company was too small and too young to even know what a lactation room is; and literally on planes, trains, and automobiles, often in rural locations.

What are your Top Tips for becoming friends with your pump?

First off, rip off the Band-Aid and learn how to pump early in your maternity leave. Invite an experienced friend over to take you to "pumping school" - as long as you're comfortable with her seeing your boobs, she can show you the ropes and get you set up on a daily routine of pumping after the morning feeding session to start to build a freezer stash for when you're back at work.

Second - and I am in no way paid to say this - buy Pumpin Pal flanges. They are compatible with most pumps, they are WAY less messy than the flanges that come with your pump, they are designed to be more comfortable, and they can even help some women get more milk per pumping session.

Third - know how to maintain your pump. Check regularly for the state of those flimsy white membranes that come on Medela and other pumps. They are essential to the thing actually working. If your output drops, take the pump in to a maternity store and ask them to test it. Try snipping an inch off the ends of the tubes to see if you can get a snugger fit.

Finally - don't expect to love the thing. I'd say "frenemy" is more accurate than "friend." It's going to help you feed your baby, but it's going to literally suck, too. Many women I interviewed for this book reported imagining their pump saying a specific phrase over and over: "red hot panini" was my favorite. Many women fantasize about going Office Space on their pumps when they're done breastfeeding. It's ok to have a love/hate relationship with the thing.

What strategies can you recommend for moms who feel like they don't have enough time to pump at work?

My top strategy is to be kind to yourself. Mixing work and breastfeeding is really, really difficult, and it's not always possible to pump as frequently or for as long as you'd want or need. That's just a reality of being a working mom. It doesn't make you a bad mom in any way. If work pressures build up and you find you just can't keep up, remember that breastfeeding does not have to be all or nothing - you can nurse when you're with your baby, pump when you can, and supplement the rest, and we fellow working moms will still be amazed by what you're able to accomplish.

It's also a good idea to buy a single, manual pump. Sometimes all you can sneak in is a few minutes in a bathroom stall. This at least relieves engorgement, provides some "demand" for your milk, and gets some supply out.

Some women with a commute also discover the beauty of Pumping While Driving (PWD). You have to do this very, very safely, which means setting up before you get moving, and pulling over to disassemble everything if you're still driving when you're done pumping. But with a good nursing cover and some careful setup, car time feels like bonus time and can help you fit in the pumping sessions you need.

What is the best clothing to wear for pumping at work?

Anything that is good for nursing is good for pumping, too, but obviously you need it to be work-appropriate. There is a lot of "normal" clothing that can work for pumping. Button-down shirts and dresses are great, as are crossover/wrap tops and dresses, cowl-necks, and camisole/shirt combos. Don't wear a dress that you'd have to pull up around your neck or down around your waist - even if you have a private space to pump, you're going to feel really exposed.

What are your Top Tips for keeping up milk supply when back at work?

Stay hydrated and try to protect your pumping time as best you can. Block it off in your calendar if you're in an office environment. Even if you're not confident about protecting that time, like with a simple "I have to duck out for a few minutes - I'll be back" - fake that you are until you believe it yourself.

What are your Top Tips for maintaining sanity as a working/pumping mom?

 

As I've said above, being kind to yourself is #1. You are trying to do THREE jobs: new mom, worker, and milk-maker, all at once, while you're at a very physically vulnerable time. And you're probably trying to do those jobs in an environment that is SO not set up to make it easy.

My sanity-saving mantra is "your worth as a mother is not measured in ounces." It is 100% true. Yes, breastmilk is great. Yes, women who can pull it off should be proud. But breastmilk, or lack thereof, does not define your worth as a mother. You are not a failure if it doesn't work, or if you have ups and downs. To the contrary, you're a working mother, which is amazing in and of itself.


Check out Jessica’s amazing new book, Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom's Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work., set to be released on Amazon on September 8, 2015!