Thinking Teaching Creating

Thoughts, Tips, Ideas, and Projects from a Creative Teacher Mama

Teaching and Pumping

No, I’m not talking about “pumping iron,” I’m talking about pumping milk.  This post is about breastfeeding.  If that’s going to bother you, it may be best for you to not continue to read this post.

Quite a few years ago, I worked at a school where teachers had 6 planning periods a week, and at least 5 of them every week were spent in a meeting.  Teachers ate lunch with their classes, took them to recess, and went to meetings during their planning periods just about every day.  Heaven forbid a teacher need to take a moment to use the restroom, because if so, you would be late to the meeting.  Being late to one of our perpetual meetings meant you got dirty looks and pointed comments about finally being able to get started.  During my time there, only one teacher had a baby, and I was not even a little surprised when she eventually opted not to return to work when her maternity leave was over.  I suspect now that she wanted to breastfeed her baby, and either thought the school wouldn’t work with her, or had asked and had been denied time to pump during the day.  That’s all speculation though.

By chance, I did not become pregnant with my first child until about a month after finding a job at another school for the 2007-2008 school year.  The school I moved to had two planning periods each day, and there may have been three times in an entire year that required a planning time to be used for a mandatory meeting.  Lunch was supervised by teacher assistants, who then took their lunch break during the other lunch period (the school had a small enough lunch room to warrant two lunch waves).  I pumped during my planning times, and sometimes lunch if my planning periods were significantly before or after my lunch time.

Fast forward five years, and I’ve breastfed all three of my children.  Well, one is still going.  You see, he’s just 4 months old right now, and if you read my most recent post, I just accepted a new job.  Luckily, a federal law was passed in 2010 requiring that employers provide reasonable break time, along with a private place other than a bathroom for new mothers to express breastmilk for the first year of her child’s life.  You can read more about those laws here.  Those laws made me comfortable enough to seek out a new job during a year that I would need 2-3 breaks a day to pump milk for my baby.

Now, knowing something is a law that must be followed and knowing that the employer is going to do so without making you feel like a pariah are two totally different scenarios.  That is why I broke the rules about things you aren’t supposed to discuss at job interviews, and after finding out how planning time is structured, I outright asked how they accommodate new mothers who need to pump breastmilk.  I know that not offering me a job solely because they would have needed to provide time and space for me to pump would have been discrimination, but there really wouldn’t have been a way to prove that was what had happened if an offer was not made.  Because of that, I don’t necessarily suggest approaching things the way I did, but I waited to ask this particular question until near the end of the interview, and I had the sense that they really liked me (and I was seriously considering accepting a position if it were offered).  It was also really important to me to know whether the breaks would be given with an attitude of legal obligation served with a side of snide comments and shunning or whether it would be a simple fact that for the first 7 months of employment, I would need someone to cover my classroom a few times a day so I could do what is best for my own child.

I’ve been pregnant, breastfeeding, or pregnant AND breastfeeding since June 2007.  Over the years I’ve watched this practice make its way back into the mainstream.  If you disagree, go check out Target’s intimates section and check out the nursing bras that are available.  Five years ago Target only sold them if they were DDs with an underwire in white or off-white.  (Coincidentally, underwires can lead to clogged milk ducts, which are painful and can lead to breast infections.  Trust me, you do not want that to happen!)  Once my oldest started solid foods regularly and decreased the amount of milk he needed from me, my need for a much smaller bra became obvious.  Unfortunately, they simply weren’t available unless you went to a specialty store and shelled out a lot of money.  I left many stores in tears after a frustrating experience and eventually just bought the nursing tank tops sold at Target and wore one every day under my clothes (even when temperatures in NC hit 90+ degrees at the beginning and end of the school year).  Now, not only does Target offer nursing bras in smaller sizes, but they even have some that are cute!  I think that’s definitely a sign that more people are breastfeeding their babies.

If you are a teacher who is a new mom, and you want to nurse your baby, I want you to know that it is completely possible to do!  I do have a few tips though:

  • Tell your employer as soon as possible what your needs will be so they can make a plan to accommodate them.  Arrangements may need to be made to find a private non-bathroom space with an electrical outlet for you, and some shifting of schedules may need to happen to make someone available to cover your class.  Don’t feel like you’re being a diva for asking for this.  It is your legal right to have the time and a place to either feed your baby or pump milk for him/her.
  • Stress will affect the amount of milk you can pump.  A relaxed mommy will get more milk than a tense one.
  • Get a double electric pump.  Another component of ObamaCare is that as of January 2013, most insurance companies provide new mothers with one breastpump per pregnancy.  You may have a very limited selection (I was given a choice of two different brands), but call your insurance company before you shell out $200-$300 for one.  Call your insurance company to set it up.  You can request your pump up to 30 days before your due date.  If you’ve already delivered, I think you have until your child’s first birthday to request your pump.  Even if you bought one and started using it, I recommend taking advantage of this.  With my first child, the motor in my pump died when he was 11 months old.  The company was amazing and sent a replacement for free because it was less than a year old, but I didn’t have a pump for a week.  When the replacement arrived, I suddenly was unable to get any milk from the pump.  (I went on to nurse him for quite some time afterwards, I just didn’t respond well to the pump.)  I stored that replacement pump for a few years until my second child was born, and it stopped working when he was just a few months old.  I knew I needed a pump pronto, and there was no way I’d be getting one for free.  I didn’t have the ability to spend the money on a double, so I settled for a single electric pump.  It was much less efficient and I very nearly had to supplement with formula.  It doesn’t hurt to have a spare pump on hand.  If you never use it, you can always save it for your next pregnancy, or pass it to a friend or relative who needs it if you’re finished having children.
  • To stay relaxed, you may not be able to use the time you’re pumping to grade papers or plan lessons.  I find that reading is a sufficiently peaceful activity for when I’m pumping.  If you feel guilty for the amount of “work time” you’re using and not actively working, you can always read professional books.
  • If some of the time you’ll be pumping is not during your planning times, try to schedule recess, a block of time for independent reading, or something else that your class can be pretty self-sufficient in for when someone will cover your class for you.  Knowing that whatever you’re missing is something that won’t matter who supervises it will help keep you from stressing out about missing too much time with your students.
  • From what I’ve seen, the recommended amount of time to pump is 15-20 minutes.  Make sure you schedule more like 25-30 minutes.  By the time the person arrives to cover your class, you go to wherever you pump, set up, pump, and put your things away, you’ll have added those ten minutes.  If you’re the only person who uses your pumping area, you may be able to shave a couple of minutes off that time by setting up your pump when you first arrive in the morning, and leaving it ready to use for your next session when you’re done.
  • It’s wise to order a set of spare parts for your pump.  I got a set for about $25 on Amazon for my Ameda pump.  If you have anything other than a Medela, it can be difficult to find spare parts at your local Babies R Us.  It doesn’t take much for the tubing to get punctured, and then your pump is useless until it’s replaced.  Again, if you never use it, you can always pass it to someone else later.