Up All Night at the Breast Milk Buffet: A Working Mom’s Guide to Survival

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It’s 3:00 a.m. I’m up nursing my baby for the second (or is it the third?) time. Lucky for me this is happening the night before I have to give a presentation at work, which I’m thinking will go over well because I’ll be simultaneously exhausted and schizophrenically wired on coffee and hormones.

Then this tiny little person pauses for a moment, looks up and gives me a wide, gummy smile before diving back into my chest, making happy baby glug-glug-glug sounds.

Being a working mom is tough. It’s hard to think when you haven’t slept, and preparing bottles, diapers, wipes, etc. can be a challenge. Adjusting to your new body and your new schedule can present obstacles as well, and it’s impossible not to forget something.

But the baby chuckles and the gummy smiles make it all worth it. I promise. To help make your journey as a new mom less bumpy, here are a few survival tips I’ve come across that may help for the days when you’d just rather just stay in bed.

Skinny Jeans (or if you’re a working mom, skinny suits)

I’m not saying throw them out. I’m just saying you might want to put your skinny jeans in the back of the closet for a few months. After my first daughter was born, I was under the delusion that my body would easily snap back into its previous shape, give or take a few pounds. Imagine my surprise when I found that a month after giving birth I still looked six months pregnant.

What I learned (in what may or may not have been a hysterical phone call to my physician) is that it wasn’t the additional weight that I gained during pregnancy that was causing the bulk of the problem (no pun intended), but instead the fact that my uterus had stretched roughly to the size of a watermelon. The truth is, it takes your body nine months to bring your little bundle of cuteness into the world, and it’s likely to take at least half that time to get back into your pre-pregnancy form. However, you can get there a little faster if you choose to breastfeed (see White Gold).

Are there exceptions? Sure. (I’m looking at you sister-in-law who gave birth to twins and fit right back into her skinny jeans two weeks later.) But don’t beat yourself up if you need to make your maternity wear put in a few more miles than you’d originally anticipated. You may also want to consider investing in a couple of inexpensive pieces in larger sizes for work. I know it's smart to buy pants outside of your “size comfort zone,” but trust me, you’ll feel better wearing pants that don’t include a large swath of elastic spanning your entire midsection.

White Gold

Whether you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding, infant food is a high commodity. Purchasing formula week in and week out can take a real toll on your finances. If you’re nursing, the good news is food is free! However, you’ll need to invest a significant amount of time to pump. Many women are able to pump just enough to prepare bottles for the next day, so spilling an ounce of breast milk can send even the best rested mom down the rabbit hole.

You may also notice that there are A LOT of opinions on the subject, and you’ll probably hear far more about it than you ever hoped to. It’s my opinion that not every new mom can or wants to breastfeed, and there is no shame in that. Since the first commercial formula became available in 1867, generations of babies thrived on it. That said, there are a host of benefits to breastfeeding including extra protection against disease. Because babies don’t develop a mature immune system until they’re about six months old, the antibodies they receive from their mothers help fend off viruses and infectious diseases. This can be particularly helpful for moms who enroll their babies in daycare.

Another added bonus to breastfeeding is weight loss. Nursing burns about 500 calories a day (roughly equivalent to walking five miles a day). It also helps to shrink your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size so it’s less like a watermelon, and more like a kiwi.

If you’re working and nursing, then you will also need to pump. Although you may hear lots of moms talk about how much they love breastfeeding, I challenge you to find one who loves pumping. The breast pump design is quite literally based on dairy farm equipment. It’s a labor of love and unless you want it to feel like hard labor, I suggest investing in a good, quality pump. It will make a significant difference in the experience. There are even tax credits available now for lactation equipment and lots of health plans pay for all or a portion of the cost of a pump, so it’s worth a call to your insurance company.

Go Easy On Yourself

Maternal guilt is unproductive and pretty much unavoidable. When I went back to work after having my first daughter, I remember worrying that she would think I’d abandoned her. I worried that she wouldn’t bond with the people at daycare, and I worried that she would bond with them too much and forget about me. I worried about what my co-workers would think about me pumping two or three times a day. I worried about pumping enough milk, and I worried about when I would look like myself again.

Looking back now, I realize what a waste all that worrying was. As it turns out, all of my co-workers either had moms or were moms, and they understood that my life was going to be a little more hectic than before. My daughter is a happy, well-adjusted four-year-old, and I have every reason to believe my youngest daughter will be the same. Being a working mom is difficult but manageable (most days). As long as your baby is loved, and you are doing whatever works best for you and your family, chances are pretty good that everything is going to be OK.

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