I’ve never talked to anyone who loves pumping. It’s certainly not one of my favorite things to do. I dreaded a lot of things when I returned to work after maternity leave, and pumping at work every few hours topped that list (along with putting on real pants and missing my sweet baby).
I assumed it would add stress to my day, decrease my productivity, and be an overall hassle. On occasion, pumping was all of these things. On other occasions, it was none of these things. Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t an article on how to learn to love pumping. It’s still not my first choice of activities, but I learned a few things about time management and setting boundaries that I hadn’t expected pumping to teach me. Read on for my top three lessons.
1. Don’t Apologize for Setting Boundaries
As a workplace people-pleaser and perfectionist, I tend to gravitate toward sacrificing my time or adjusting my schedule to put others first—even when I should be setting healthy boundaries and prioritizing my needs.
With pumping, that was not an option. There was the physical aspect: my boobs would literally start leaking mid-meeting if I skipped out on a pumping session, and my supply would dwindle if I did that regularly. And there was the mental aspect: nothing was more important than ensuring my baby got the milk she needed.
The priority of pumping was so crystal clear and non-negotiable that I had no choice but to get a little uncomfortable with protecting my time by setting boundaries, both with peers and superiors. When a meeting went over time, especially if it started encroaching on my 30-minute time slot in the mother’s room, I had no trouble pointing out that we were over time and should schedule a follow-up if further discussion was needed.
I learned to stop feeling sorry about setting boundaries or like I was letting people down. And guess what? No one got mad at me or demanded an apology. In fact, my respect for my own boundaries garnered others’ respect for my boundaries.
2. It’s OK to Say No
Any working mom knows what it’s like to be laser-focused on maximizing their time in the office to achieve ultimate productivity. Adding pumping into my day made me ultra-laser-focused, which made it easier for me to filter out things that didn’t deserve my time.
The thing about pumping is that it’s kind of a sacred time. No one questions you or asks you to adjust your schedule when you tell them you can’t make a meeting because you have to pump. Or at least, I hope they don’t; they absolutely should not.
As a pumping mom in the office, I got comfortable saying no. When I received “urgent” requests from people who failed to plan ahead and needed me to drop everything to solve their “emergency,” the answer became clear: “I can’t do that now, but this is when I can deliver it.” In my pre-pumping life, I would have rearranged my whole schedule, but when that was no longer an option, I got comfortable with pushing back.
Once again, the world didn’t stop spinning, and people didn’t stop speaking to me because I said no. People will always ask for something; it’s my job to prioritize how and when to allocate time for it.
3. You Should Take That Break
Pumping forced me to take a break from whatever I was doing. Not a leisurely break, but a mental break at the very least. Experts actually recommend taking breaks to improve productivity, but how many of us actually do that? I don’t.
When you’re crunched for time, especially as a working mom, your ultimate goal is to get as much done as humanly possible while you’re at work. Stopping mid-work session to take a mental break—even if they say it will increase your productivity in the end—is a nice idea in theory but not all that realistic in practice.
As a whole, my time spent pumping became a time for a mental break and to get out of my own head for a minute. Most times, I brought my computer with me into the mom’s room, but on particularly stressful days, I spent my time pumping with the lights off, listening to a meditation app, and practicing breathing exercises. This is something I would never have made time for in the middle of any day—workday or otherwise—outside of being forced to sit down in a room and pump for 30 minutes.
And miraculously, all my work still got done. My productivity didn’t nosedive. When I really needed to get something done, I took my computer with me and multi-tasked. When I really needed a break, I took a break.