Can we make breastfeeding work under these circumstances?
July 10, 2008 5:11 AM   Subscribe

Breastfeeding, daycare, and erratic schedule: please help us figure out a plan.

Pregnant, busy doctoral student here. We'll have 2 months at home with baby before I have to get back to grad student life and I plan to breastfeed for that time.

But after that I will need to be on campus for: 1.5 hours TAing twice a week, 2 hours of office hours each week, 1.5 hours of sitting in on an undergrad class twice a week, and various meetings (plus trying to do work!). Campus is a 15 minute drive (but gotta pay for parking) or, optimally, a 30 minute bus ride. It is very likely that all these times that I have to be on campus will spread out through 4 days of the week.

Husband will have flexible paternity leave and is happy to stay home with baby as much as he needs to. We also have childcare at his workplace, starting at 8 weeks, but they and we'd prefer that baby doesn't go til 3 months if possible.

What can we do with this? We see these options:

1. Husband comes to school with me and works in my office so I can breastfeed baby during breaks? (Not fun for him or officemates).
2. Pump all the time (at home, at school) and have a storage of breastmilk in the fridge at home and try to drive home as often as possible between classes. (But what about if I HAVE to be somewhere (proctoring an exam or something) for 3-4 hours in a row? Will I start leaking? And the logistics of pumping and kicking my officemates out of our office for 30 minutes at a time multiple times a day...)
3. Switch to formula after month 2. (Perk of this - I can get back onto meds sooner that help me be a better/more productive grad student.)

I'm leaning toward option 3, but there is a lot of guilt and cost associated with formula. Am I being selfish, putting baby on formula so that (1) my life/schedule is easier and (2) I can be on meds again?

Example of how people made feeding the baby work would be really helpful. Opinions about the feasibility of options 1 and 2 would be great too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't let yourself be dragged down by 'formula guilt'. Breastfeeding for the first two months is far, far better than not breastfeeding at all.

Sometimes breastfeeding just doesn't work out. My partner struggled to breastfeed for the first month; our son turned out to have an undiagnosed tongue-tie that prevented him from feeding properly, and he lost a lot of weight. Meanwhile, midwives and health visitors were piling on the pressure to persist with breastfeeding, which really made my girlfriend's life hell. Two years later we have a child who is big, strong and healthier than most kids his age.

And remember, it's not an 'either-or'. It's absolutely fine to breastfeed when you can, pump when you can, and formula-feed when that's the best option. Give yourself some flexibility.

Breast pads and spare clothing should help if you do leak a little. You could try keeping a pump with you and using it at convenient times when you're at school, provided you have refrigeration available.

You're not being selfish; you're just looking for a compromise that's best for you and the baby.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 5:35 AM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would try to breastfeed exclusively for your time at home. When you go back to working, plan to bf first thing in the morning, and through the night, pumping at work and filling in with formula when your stock gets low. When you first start working and you begin to pump, your supply may be... plentiful. Pumping then will give you a good stock for your husband to start with.

Then again, this may not work at all. Pumping (sorry) sucks for many women. And you may miss the meds too much as you begin working. I think the most important thing as a new parent is to keep yourself sane... even more important than breastfeeding, despite what some may have you believe. If you need to cut back, or even quit, rest assured that you're doing it to be a better mother.

You can even just plan to bf once a day, before bed or first thing in the morning. Your supply should be consistent as long as you time the once-daily feeding consistently.
posted by iscatter at 6:00 AM on July 10, 2008

A former coworker of mne came back to works after 2 weeks home with her new baby. She pumped during breaks (twice a day) and went home for lunch to breastfeed, and it seems to work really well for her and her child. I think the first advice is flexible. Maybe you could compromise on 2 & the combined pump/breastfeed thing until 3 months, when you're expecting to possibly send your child to daycare. Then you alleviate some of your mommy-guilt, get another month of breastfeeding, but don't delay going back on your meds for too long.
posted by kattyann at 6:21 AM on July 10, 2008

One of my children was only breastfed for three months then weaned herself as I'd gotten pregnant again and the milk flavor apparently changed...she is just as healthy as the other two who were totally breastfed.

You can most definitely combine formula feeding and breastmilk after breastfeeding is established. And if you have to switch to formula there is NO shame in that. You simply do what is best for you and your baby. In your case, since there is medication you need to be on, maybe option three would be the better thing?

You don't have to decide immediately.
posted by konolia at 6:40 AM on July 10, 2008

Pumping is a pain in the ass, but totally workable, and no, you won't explode if you have to go a bit longer than normal between pumps. You can buy breast shields that will absorb leakage and prevent embarrassment. You can also buy very portable pumps (my wife got the Medela Pump in Style Advanced). Check with the school -- I bet they can find accommodations for you to use to pump so you don't have to kick your officemates out. Generally employers and schools are very accommodating for this kind of thing.

However, as said, there is absolutely no shame at all in going to formula. It's more expensive (we start to move to milk in a couple of weeks, and goddamn am I happy about that), but it's perfectly healthy, and two months worth of breastmilk will give your child plenty of health benefits.

So bottom line, it's a question of how badly you want to continue breastfeeding. If you're willing to put up with the inconvenience, then rock on. If not, don't allow imaginary boogeywomen or La Leche League or whoever shame you away from formula. Go with what's best for your family, not what others tell you is best for your family.

If you like, anon, MeMail me and I can get you in touch with my wife, who dealt with the whole career/breastfeeding thing and finally gave it up at about six months. She'll be happy to relate her experiences, make product recommendations, whatever.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:44 AM on July 10, 2008

Since it sounds like you're only talking about doing this for a month and not every day, I recommend #1.
posted by acoutu at 6:46 AM on July 10, 2008

- Get a good breast pump. A really good, expensive, double pump, one that has a battery pack so you can use it even where there is no electrical outlet. Get the most expensive one you can afford. I've had inexensive manual pumps and expensive electric ones, and in this case, I've found that you really do get what you pay for. Medela makes good ones, in my opinion. Avent, not so much. Some of them come with insulating bags for transporting the milk (useful).

- Find out if there is anywhere other than your office where you can pump in private. In Canada, employers must accommodate your needs in this regard. I'm guessing you're in the states, but see what you can find out. It will impact your officemates' productivity if you're kicking them out all the time, and possibly bother you enough that you'll stop pumping just to avoid the hassle, so I don't see that as a great option. You need somewhere you can go whenever you want/need to, without having to worry about what other people are doing. Here's a thought: Handicapped bathrooms sometimes have more privacy -- does your school have any of those? As long as there isn't someone waiting to use it, I'm sure it's fine if you do.

- You probably will leak in the beginning, so make sure you have lots of breast pads. Leaking in public is embarassing. I'm on a roll, so here's my take: Lansinoh ones are good. Johnson's, um, leave "fluff" behind which I hated. Those little rubbery stick-on things (Lilypads) don't work nearly as long as the manufacturer claims, so I think they're a waste. Reusable cotton ones are good, but they show through your clothes more than the other types, and are better in winter when you can wear thick sweaters to disguise them.

Option 1. Having your husband come to work with you sounds horrid to me. It will be boring for him (and possibly unpleasant/distracting for you). It would be nice for him to visit, I imagine, and everyone likes to see a baby (well, almost everyone), but as an ongoing solution? No way would I do this.

Option 2: I've done this, and it worked for me. I wouldn't pump ALL the time (it's kind of boring). Nurse when you're at home, and pump when you're at school. You'll figure out a schedule that works for you. Your breasts and baby will eventually figure out what's going on, and supply will be greater during the times you are home with the baby. You won't know how this will work until you actually try it, so give it a try. If you HATE it, stop.

Some babies after 6 months or so do something that I think is called "reverse cycling," where they nurse much more often at night, to make up for being away from their mothers during the day. It can mean less sleep for you, unless you're willing to co-sleep (and even then, means interrupted sleep for you).

I definitely agree with the poster who said you can pump AND supplement with formula. Supplementing with formula can really take the pressure off of pumping (otherwise you can find yourself in a panic when you realize you don't have enough milk. And feeling pressured makes pumping harder).

Option 3: In the end, it's your decision, isn't it? I don't think that breastfeeding should ever be forced upon women who don't want to do it, but I do think the evidence shows it has advantages for the baby. I always recommend that people give it a serious try and do it for as long as they can. If it doesn't work, it is not the end of the world.

Your baby will be fine - nursing exclusively for two months is great. Pumping, if you can, is great. Supplementing with formula is fine. Switching to formula, if that's what you need to do...I have trouble typing "that's great too!" because my inclination is against this. But it's not me, it's you, and millions of babies thrive on formula.
posted by Badmichelle at 6:50 AM on July 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the most important thing as a new parent is to keep yourself sane... even more important than breastfeeding, despite what some may have you believe.

I just wanted to second this. I had to stop breastfeeding and go back on some meds when my son was 3 months old; our pediatrician made the excellent point that you can't take care of a baby when your own health is a problem. So do what you can, and remember that sometimes in order to put your baby first, you have to make your own well-being the priority.
posted by Janta at 6:51 AM on July 10, 2008

Pumping is a pain but an electric pump is a very worthwhile investment (maybe you know someone you can borrow from). Don't beat yourself up if you just can't arrange breast feeding for more than two months. Your baby will likely do just fine on formula and will have had a solid two months of getting the benefits of breast milk (as will you! I found it to be a very wonderful bonding experience and the bonus is that breast feeding really helps in losing those pregnancy pounds). Once the baby comes, you may find that there is a natural choice among your options or that new options seem better. I don't think you have to decide now. With my three children, I did a combination of breast feeding (plus pumping) and formula -- the time of exclusive breast milk varied depending on what was going on with my work schedule.

Whatever you do, you may want to make sure that your baby has had some bottles early on -- our first child was very fussy about taking a bottle after exclusive breast feeding for three months and it was kind of stressful making that transition for parents and baby. With our second, we began bottles after about the first month (with pumped breast milk) and the transition was much easier. Good luck!
posted by bluesky43 at 6:56 AM on July 10, 2008

I had typed out a response and then on preview, realized that I had echoed almost EXACTLY what Badmichelle said. She gave you great advice. You and baby will work out what is best for you so don't stress about it. You are being a great mom by bf when you can and your little one is going to benefit. Best of luck!!
posted by pearlybob at 6:59 AM on July 10, 2008

I combined bf, pumping, and formula when I returned to work. BF at home, pumping 1 to 2 times a day at work, supplement with formula if there was not enough breast milk for the baby during the day. Sometimes he didn't like one, sometimes the other... others, he would go back and forth b/w them.
posted by mistsandrain at 7:13 AM on July 10, 2008

Thirding Badmichelle, but also wanted to mention a couple things no one else has said:

- give yourself a couple weeks of just breastfeeding before you try out the pump. Your supply is still being established, and in my experience pumping during the first three weeks wasn't very successful. HOWEVER, once your supply comes in and you are comfortable pumping, you can pump and store a little bit extra every day, (usually easiest to pump after the very first feed of the morning when your supply is high) and you can freeze it and stockpile it- and you'll be surprised how much you can tuck away in a month or two. That will give you a buffer of milk supply for when you go back to work. You can also use it to get your baby used to formula- you can give a 50/50 mix of formula and breastmilk to stretch out your supply.

Most of all, don't stress about this now- you will figure out something that works for all of you.
posted by ambrosia at 8:05 AM on July 10, 2008

My wife and I had our first in April. My wife has been working to settling into a breastfeeding schedule and got the Madela Freestyle pump. It is ultra portable and easy to use. We have taken it on a couple trips and it's easy to use in the car even.

The first couple of weeks we rented the Symphony which was a good workhorse.

I'm not sure where you live, but near us we have the Pump Station which is a great resource for breast feeding. They also have some good resources online for breastfeeding tips and lactation consultation.

Also, many cities or states have free lactation consultants that can help you out. The resources can be militantly pro-breast and anti-formula, so be aware that you might get some strong opinions/judgment on your situation.

I know that none of these answer your direct question, but it may help you figure out how to make your situation work.
posted by jonah at 8:07 AM on July 10, 2008

I'm about to have my baby too!

Option #2 seems strange to me. Why would you pump at home? I can see pumping out the remainder once your baby is done breastfeeding and stockpiling it, but it's not like you need to stick to just one technique, and I would miss breastfeeding when I could. Try any combination that works for you; if there's one thing I've learned from all these baby classes, it's BE FLEXIBLE.

Option #1, husband at office, is not fair to either him or your officemates.

Neither is kicking out your officemates when you need to pump - they didn't have the baby, so the inconveniences that go along with that shouldn't be their problem. It's basically up to you to find somewhere else to go, but that shouldn't be hard; what's wrong with the bathroom, or going out to your car?

FWIW, my taking-care-of-baby-class teacher said that you need to introduce a bottle at around 3 weeks (be it full of breast milk or formula) so that the baby will learn to take it. Otherwise, they will reject bottles down the road and make your life hell. So do start pumping and using bottles here and there earlier than 2 months, even if you're mostly breastfeeding. It's a good opportunity to get Dad involved in the process.
posted by GardenGal at 9:24 AM on July 10, 2008

I bought my freestyle pump from Add a little love. They had the lowest prices last time I looked. And the woman who runs it is really helpful.

But, I actually had better luck with a manual pump. I would get more faster than with the electric.

There's nothing wrong with formula, don't let anyone make you feel guilty about it. You have to do what's best for you and your family. The baby needs to eat.

Good luck. You will find something that works. Just remember, it's not forever.
posted by krisobi at 10:36 AM on July 10, 2008

I had to give my triplets formula from the beginning (because they were preemie, and because, well, there were three of them!) but I was able to give them a little breastmilk, for a little while. I felt terribly guilty about it too, but my boys are very healthy so far, so I'm over the guilt.

I just wanted to mention that WIC might be an option for helping with formula costs. Hey, it's what we pay taxes for! We get it, and it's a godsend for us.
posted by pyjammy at 12:24 PM on July 10, 2008

(I'm assuming you haven't yet given birth from your message, but could be wrong...)

I'd suggest you do some thinking about this now, but not spend a lot of emotional agony on it until you know how it all works out. Really, I don't think this is going to be too hard to figure out. You don't have a huge work schedule to cover, unless I'm missing something (it looks like less than 40 hours total, right?) and it looks like you'll have some flexibility and breaks. You also don't know yet how bfing is going to work for you and how you will feel about continuing or not (and how your med issue will feel to you-you may feel like your top priority will be to get right back on your meds once baby is here, and if so, I think you need to go with that, making the rest of this a moot question). The leaking question is another thing you won't know til it happens-I never leaked much at all with my two, but have friends who are like faucets all the time.

I think you can do a combination of things, assuming breastfeeding goes well and you want to try and continue. I'd second introducing a bottle at 4 weeks or so, ideally with milk you've pumped after a feeding. If you have health insurance, you may very well be able to get a nice pump that way-we only had to pay a $50 copay on our $250 pump. Once the baby is taking a bottle, keeping pumping milk after feedings whenever you can. Remember, your supply should increase the more you pump/feed. So, let's say you nurse right before you leave and right when you come home. If you have a long day, you could then pump on a break and maybe your husband could bring the baby down at lunchtime for you to nurse-you could even do so in the car to try and not pay for parking :).

Scope out where there is for you to pump right now. If your office mates aren't in the office very much, and are supportive, you could work out a system where you could get the room for fifteen minutes a couple times a day (say, the old sock on the door? but not as fun). If not, there may very well be designated places on campus to pump (in my state, employers are required to include "lactation rooms" with fridges and lockable doors in new buildings). You are definitely not the only woman in your situation at your school, so ask around, I'm sure there's a place to go. Bathrooms aren't ideal, but I've definitely done when out of the office for meetings or something. In that case, you want to make sure you have a pump with back-up battery, as there's nothing worse than being really engorged and going to the bathroom and finding there's no power supply.

I nursed both my girls for about 18 months, but after the first five or six, it was mostly nursing but some formula. That's just fine. Formula is insanely expensive and I'd have loved to give them only breastmilk, but honestly, I wasn't dedicated enough to pump as much as I should. You've gotta go with what works for you. Good luck!
posted by purenitrous at 12:47 PM on July 10, 2008

Re leaking: Lansinoh are the best pads, absolutely. They're more expensive than some other brands, but they're worth it. (Trust me -- my kids put on a pound a week when they were newborns. I know leaking.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:46 PM on July 10, 2008

Saying this as the dad of a three-and-a-half month old who is either fed right from the boob or fed pumped milk, I'd go with none-of-the-above (for your offered options); what my wife is currently doing, which is working really well for her, is to breastfeed when she's at home, pump milk at work, and then be really flexible for times when she might be able to get back to the baby to feed her but might also not be able to (i.e., your "might be two hours, might be more" periods in your day). So we've slowly built up a supply of refrigerated and/or frozen milk that I or someone else can feed our peanut if we get a call saying that my wife can't be home, and we always give daycare an extra bottle so that if my wife runs late and can't get there in time to give her her late-afternoon meal, they can feed her the bottle and everyone's just fine with it.

And asking my wife her opinion, she definitely echoes the sentiments of getting a good, dependable, as-expensive-as-you-can-afford pump for those times you need to pump -- they make literally everything better (from how you feel while pumping to how much milk you're able to collect). We're renting a Medela Symphony at home, and she has a Medela Pump-In-Style Advanced that she leaves at work -- when we're ready to give the Symphony back, she'll probably just throw the Pump-In-Style into its shoulder bag and bring it back and forth, or something like that.

But all that said, my wife really feels that there's just a crapload of logistics and hassle to pumping, there's really no two buts about it -- right now, she's willing to do it, but I'm sure that there are times that formula looks really attractive, and as most everyone has said, there's nothing wrong with that if the logistics of pumping and breastfeeding are just impossible given your work and financial constraints. Two months of breastmilk are better than none, and that's a huge, huge thing.

And finally, you mention offhand that formula might help you get back on meds that you feel are good for your academic life -- please, please think about dropping me an email if you feel comfortable talking about this in private (email's in the profile). I'll just say that I have some particular experience with that, and leave it to email to explain... but I might be able to be of some assistance there in a way that doesn't make it an either/or.

Oh, and finally, CONGRATS!
posted by delfuego at 8:10 PM on July 10, 2008

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