COVID-19: How Portable Pumping Made Work From Home More Efficient
In this guest blog, Shaza Khan tells us about her experience with portable pumping and working from home during the coronavirus stay-at-home orders and how the Freestyle Flex made life a little easier during an otherwise unprecedented time. Read below for her story!
Shaza is a marketing professional, working mom of 3, and breastfeeding mom of her sweet new addition. She has proudly used Medela breast pumps for all 3 children across 3 different countries, 2 continents, medical school, and now through the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. See her story – in her very own words – below!
Until recently, I always thought small and portable pumps were essential for a particular set of working moms - those who didn’t have access to convenient power outlets when they worked or traveled, or those who had to shuttle a pump to and from work. The last thing that crossed my mind was how pivotal portable pumping is for moms who are working from home - a realization that became blatantly apparent during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Re-Entering the Workforce After Maternity Leave During a Lockdown
My third child was born in January 2020, right around the time COVID started hitting the news. Prior to January, I had everything prepared for my return to work – a full-time nanny, older kids enrolled in camps, friends and family visiting periodically, and a pumping and breastfeeding schedule that worked well. I was excited to get back to work, especially since I was one of the lucky moms who had a flexible schedule and could work from home, which allowed me to physically breastfeed the baby whenever possible. However, all plans went out the door when coronavirus cases flared and schools closed. My nanny, who had two children in school, could no longer come. My older kids suddenly had virtual classes and extensive homework schedules. I couldn’t ask my family or friends for any help because of social distancing orders. My husband’s schedule became strenuous because he worked in healthcare. The last thing on my mind was how all this would impact my plans around continued breastfeeding and pumping.
How COVID-19 Changed My Day-to-Day Schedule
After my son was born, I rented a hospital-grade (multi-user) Medela Symphony breast pump to build my milk supply, which I planned to continue using while working from home. I set the Symphony up in my bedroom, where I planned to breastfeed and then pump after or during feeding sessions. My little one was breastfed and also took 1 - 2 bottles of breast milk from my husband, mainly so I could catch a break. When he was a little under three months old, I went back to work. At the time, our company had just transitioned everyone to work from home and it just so happened that two days after I restarted my job, schools shut down. I quickly found that my work schedule was completely different from what it was before. Back to back meetings filled my day, as our team was still learning to communicate and streamline workflows without face-to-face interactions. I had never found myself so short on time. Breaks between meetings were for the bathroom or helping my older kids log in to Zoom meetings. Even then, I took meetings that I didn’t lead from my phone because it allowed me some form of mobility to check up on the kids, make them lunch, or ensure they were doing their schoolwork.
Where was the baby in all this? He would be in my lap breastfeeding, as I found little time to pump or had to interrupt my pumping sessions midway through because my pump was too heavy to carry around with me, or – if I tried not to use the hospital-grade (multi-user) pump – I couldn’t empty my breasts fast enough. The multiple bags of breast milk that I had stocked in the freezer soon started to run out and I quickly found my milk supply dwindling, especially as my baby was going through a growth spurt.
"Sprint", When the Baby Sleeps
I’m sure every mom has heard the gem of advice that goes “sleep when the baby sleeps”. It’s a great notion that works somewhat when you have a single child and are on maternity leave – but when you factor in working, studying, or the myriad of tasks moms do these days, it evolves into different go-to mantras like:
“Study, when the baby sleeps”
“Work, when the baby sleeps”
“Cook, when the baby sleeps”
“Clean, when the baby sleeps”
Or my own personal, unknowing favorite where I get lost in my own thoughts:
“Stare at the wall, when the baby sleeps”
Every mom could basically fill the first half of this phrase with her own priority afforded by the short gap of time her little one decides to enter dreamland.
Mine, with everything I was juggling during the COVID-19 lockdown, was most definitely “sprint, when the baby sleeps”. So, what did that entail? It meant that, when the baby was sleeping and I wasn’t on a meeting, I would put the baby down quietly, tiptoe out of the room (usually my work room), softly shut the door, and then run around like a mad woman trying to start and/or finish multiple tasks at once. To make it work, I started to concentrate on tasks that could be coupled with other “to-do” items as I could concurrently start them and hopefully finish them (or maybe get midway...?).
There were three stressful, high priority daily tasks that were caused by the COVID lockdown, of which two I could potentially carry out when the baby slept:
- Explain homework assignments and make sure my older kids were completing them. Due to distance learning, my kids had an extensive weekly assignment list and I would need to check in and make sure they knew what the assignments were. So, I would talk through the instructions and do a practice question with them if I could. If I had already managed to task them with the assignment, I needed to make sure they weren’t surfing YouTube or watching TV instead.
- Push my kids outside to play in the backyard. COVID-19 massively impacted the outside activities children could do – beaches and playgrounds were closed, sports groups and camps were cancelled, and they couldn’t have play dates with their friends. With both my husband and I working, we had to stay cognizant of screen time and make sure the kids played outside during the day (which was also the time we were working). We noticed during the days they played outside that they were more positive and they also were inclined to sleep on time. So, I would take away screens and give kids a ball, rollerblades, or other outside toys and tell them to go play outdoors.
- Log onto the kids’ Zoom meetings and ensure they weren’t putting themselves on mute or had the camera off, so they could chat with friends or surf the internet. Yes, they did that. This was the one task that usually had to be done outside of baby sleep time since it was based on a preset meeting schedule. Because of the set schedule, it was perhaps the hardest thing to do daily with a new baby.
In addition to these tasks there were many others, including pumping. But it quickly became apparent that “sprint” pumping wasn’t possible with my hospital-grade (multi-user) breast pump or any pump, as a matter of fact, that I had to hold and walk around with.
My "Second Phone": the Medela Freestyle Flex™
Feeding my little one with breast milk was a decision I made very early on and was dedicated to. During my leave, I pumped several times a day to stockpile milk in the freezer. Breastfeeding helped me get my work done since I could feed and then do work on a laptop at the same time. It also helped me sleep, since It was relaxing – to the point of me falling asleep – during the overnight feeds. Having the ability to give the baby a bottle was very important because my husband could take some feeding duties, giving me a little time to myself. However, when my milk supply dropped because of having simply too much to do during the COVID-19 lockdown, I wanted to give up because there was much too much going on. However, I thought if I did then it would probably already make my day even more stressful than it already was, because breastfeeding was going well for me already. I just needed to pump enough so I didn’t have to be frantic during cluster feeds – which I was realizing formula couldn’t do for me since my little one was crying and throwing up a lot when I gave him formula exclusively. There was also the fact that he seemed to like the taste of formula more and would then refuse the breast at times.
So, I decided to get a Medela Freestyle Flex to help with my portable pumping needs. I had the original Freestyle® breast pump when I went to school and worked abroad, so it was natural for me to get the newest pump. The newest pump design is also more ergonomic, so I could attach it to my jeans or put it in my back pocket if needed. Prior to my decision to use the Freestyle Flex, I used some other popular pumps but none seemed to have the strength that Medela’s Freestyle Flex did. This made a huge difference, especially since one popular portable pump given to me by insurance gave me 4 rounds of mastitis and took 1.5x longer to remove the same amount of milk.
The downside with the Freestyle Flex, like the previous version, was that it was really loud, which didn’t bode well for meetings in which I had to talk. To accommodate that, I used the hospital-grade (multi-user) Symphony pump when I had large stretches of meetings and the baby was sleeping – all other times I used the Freestyle Flex. More often than not, I was running around the house with a nursing cover and the pump attached and, with the help of a hands-free bustier bra, doing the tasks mentioned above or others like chopping, cooking, or whatnot. Within a week, I was able to build my milk supply back up again and juggle a very hectic schedule much more efficiently.
The Freestyle Flex really accommodated my crazy, new, and unexpected schedule of being mother, teacher, and employee when I really needed it the most. It gave me a way to be sane as well and continue breastfeeding my child.
One of the BEST things about the Freestyle Flex, besides being portable and strong, is that it has a universal USB cord charger. That ended up being a godsend because if I forgot to charge it then I could plug it into my laptop or sit down on the kitchen counter and just use any USB brick that was plugged into the wall. I was also able to plug it into the car charger slot, which was AMAZING. With all the social distancing, my husband and I would go for late-night drives to take a load off so we could relax and get out of the house. I would take my Freestyle Flex with me and could then charge it in the car or run it off the car battery if I needed to. The backlit indicators meant I didn’t have to use an extra light to see how long I was pumping and every time I pumped it would update my Medela Family account and show the time spent pumping.
All in all, I was really amazed at how important portable pumping was for me while working, even when I was in the house the entire time. I’m 6 months postpartum now and I still use the Freestyle Flex for pumping while I do other things around the house. It’s a resilient little pump that was well worth the investment!