Everyone knows that being a new parent is hard. But what does that actually mean for a full-time working mom who is also breastfeeding her newborn?
Let's take a look at a typical day:
10:30 p.m. - 5:30 a.m
Sleep? Maybe. You should be able to at least get some sleep, but since newborns typically only sleep two to four hours at a time, that means you will only be sleeping a few hours at a time between nursing sessions and diaper changes. Breastfeeding should be based on when your baby is hungry, which is generally every one and a half to three hours. As they get older, they might start nursing on a more predictable schedule, but will still need to eat at least every four hours. Let's just say it's not necessarily the most restful sleep.
Wake up (if the baby didn't already wake you up an hour ago). Since it now takes three times longer to get out the door in the morning, you have to wake up an hour earlier to get yourself and your baby ready for work/daycare. Try to fit in five to ten minutes of some kind of exercise, take a shower, make a caffeinated beverage so you can keep your eyes open, hopefully eat something (probably a granola bar or maybe a banana) and remember to put nursing pads in your bra so you won't leak breast milk on your shirt.
Get your baby changed and dressed. Pack milk and bottles for the baby with cold packs, and remember to pack cold packs for yourself in your pumping bag. Remember your lunch and water bottle in the fridge and any bags you packed the night before. Try to squeeze in a nursing session right before leaving.
Leave for work. Drop off baby at daycare when they open at 7:30 a.m. (but let's be real, you probably don't actually get there until 7:45 a.m. or later since it's almost guaranteed that something extra will come up before you leave like baby spit up all over your shirt, an exploded diaper, a forgotten work badge, lost keys, etc.). When you finally make it to daycare, try not to cry when you leave your baby in someone else's arms for the day.
Hopefully make it to work on time. Try to get some work done before you have to take a pumping break to relieve your aching milk-filled breasts. Schedule around other women's pumping schedules and work meetings to try and keep a consistent pumping schedule so you can keep up your milk supply.
Pumping break. This typically involves a pumping bra, an electric double breast pump and a myriad of tubes, flanges, bottles and caps, labels, a pen and other accessories. Remember to drink water and eat a healthy snack to meet a minimum of 1500 calories per day.
Lunch and pumping session. Yes, these are usually combined to make the most efficient use of time. And yes, pumping can get lonely. It's loud, awkward and can be stressful. To help yourself relax, you look at pictures, watch a video or try and do a quick webcam session with your baby (if you have set up a nanny cam system with your daycare provider).
Pumping break. Remember to label the milk bottles with the date and put them in the fridge or cooler with cold packs so it doesn't spoil.
Leave work to go pick up baby before daycare closes. Remember to bring home everything you brought to work: your pump, all the pumping parts you washed, the milk you pumped from the fridge, your lunch bag, water bottle, work bag, etc. (Running on minimal sleep, this can actually be harder than you might think).
Nurse the baby right when you get home, then try to make something healthy for dinner (unless daycare gave your baby a bottle right before you got there - then you need to pump again). Nursing is always preferred because 1) you get to bond with your baby, 2) your baby is much more efficient at emptying the milk from your breasts than a pump is and 3) it's easier - you don't have to deal with cleaning and sanitizing all the parts.
Put the baby to bed (bath, diapers, jammies, swaddle, nursing, looking at a book, more nursing/bouncing/rocking).
Wash and sanitize all the pumping parts and bottles so they will be ready for the next day. You should probably wash the dishes too and will likely need to throw a load of laundry in.
Pack the daycare bag with extra clothes, diapers, binkies, etc. and your work bag for the next day. Pack your pumping bag with sanitized bottles, pumping equipment, extra nursing pads, a pumping bra and anything else you might need. Pack your lunch with healthy snacks for yourself. Remember to put the laundry in the dryer.
Relax with your spouse and talk about your day (or, more realistically, fall asleep on the couch watching Netflix).
Wake up to baby crying. Nurse baby and change diaper. Nurse or rock baby back to sleep.
Go back to bed and pray that the baby will stay asleep til three so you can get a solid four-hour chunk of sleep (you have no control over this).
While many mothers value breastfeeding and all of its short-term and long-term benefits to both themselves and their babies, it does take a lot of work, which is oftentimes unnoticed or invisible to most people. Next time you see a mom breastfeeding or rushing to try and fit a pumping session in before her next work meeting, give her a reassuring smile, a hug or a note of encouragement. The acknowledgement will go a long way.