Like a lot of mothers, I never really set out to breastfed for a particular length of time. I just thought of it as one of those “good things” and then started my journey of discovery. So at six months I found myself suddenly confronting issues I’d never considered – how do you leave a breastfed baby in a day nursery that you can’t get to during your working hours?
The issue of how much [milk] to leave is terrifying. Everyone compares it with formula and if you see your expressed breastmilk (ebm) in the fridge next to formula it looks so little. It helps to remember it is totally different and much more special to your own baby’s needs. Even comparing ebm isn’t helpful as some of my friends could produce pints. I barely managed more than 1oz at a time until I actually left Rebecca. I struggled to build up small quantities at a time for the freezer stock because I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to express sufficiently at work and would have to rely on my stored milk. With hindsight this was a shame, as it marred my last few weeks on maternity leave. I didn’t really need to bank as much breastmilk as I did so I spent an unnecessary part of each day with the pump instead of with my baby.
Having said that, knowing you have a back up of small amounts, such as 2oz, frozen is reassuring for all concerned and means the first day’s feeds are ready for the first day of expressing away from the baby. It really eases the pressure of needing to produce on command! A couple of orientation visits to the childminder’s or nursery means a mum can express at home while her baby is having these visits. That makes it easier to practice the reality of expressing a missed feed without the stress of being at work too.
When I returned to work my baby was six months old, still feeding frequently with virtually no pattern to her feeding at all. I expressed three times a day for the first week and nearly wore myself out running up and down the place, so moved it down to twice with no reaction at all from Rebecca. She was at nursery 8am till at least 5pm and they just divided the time evenly.
The volume pumped at around the time of missed feeds equated to what my Rebecca would have taken. I worked this out based on the fact that she never left any of the expressed feeds but never looked for more. We threw out a whole stack of frozen ebm they’d never used! In my case I never got more than 4oz at each of two sessions during the day but if I pumped after a parents’ evening, thus missing her bedtime feed I always got exactly 6oz. When I began to find it hard to make two feeds in a day she started almost simultaneously leaving some of each feed at nursery, so the quantity produced matched that taken almost exactly, as if even at that distance she was triggering the supply to match her needs during the day.
Night waking increased at the beginning of each new school term and though it settled down to just once most nights I suspect she did use the nighttime to catch up. Rebecca seemed perfectly capable of adapting to a “routine” at nursery and baby led feeding at home – so evening and weekends were quite busy! I liked this though, as by Friday I found it got harder to encourage the letdown when expressing but by Monday it was easy again after a weekend of frequent breastfeeding.
I used two pumps simultaneously – a hand held on one side and an electric one on the other. This seemed to be the most efficient method for me, as the hand pumping had a stimulating effect whilst the electric pump seemed very good once I’d got the flow started. I became extremely good at juggling and by switching breasts and looking at photos of Rebecca I became quite efficient, usually taking no more than twenty minutes for the whole process. I have to confess that being privileged enough to have my own office made me feel a lot more secure and undoubtedly helped.
As with everything in life, hindsight about expressing has been wonderful. I wish I’d known I didn’t need to freeze Friday’s milk for Monday – I now give all my friends one of the handy fridge magnets from the Australian Breastfeeding Association about storage. I also wish I’d found out sooner how hot nurseries heat formula and that it harms ebm to treat it the same way. It took a while to get them to stop overheating it and then re-cooling the precious stuff! I would like to think that given this time again I would have chosen to cup feed ebm but I doubt I would have really felt confident in entrusting a constantly varying selection of nursery nurses with my precious milk in anything less secure than a bottle. Had we been able to find a good local childminder I am sure this would have been a possibility.
Ironically, it was expressing that both saved my sanity about leaving my baby to go back to a very stressful post and also one of the factors that made me decide to take a career break and care for her myself at home. The machine became both a lifeline to maintain our precious bond and a symbol of the mechanisation of the most wonderful aspect of mothering. The day I left work my husband and I carried out the sterilising routine in an almost reverent fashion, before gleefully stowing both pumps firmly out of sight in the attic.