8 Must-have Items for Pumping at Work

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If you knew me back in the day — the day being approximately two years ago — you might remember that during Emme’s first year of life, breastfeeding and pumping consumed me. It was all I talked about, all I thought about, and when I would get around to posting on my old blog, it was all I wrote about.

If you did not know me, you’re welcome.

Pumping at work is an unfortunate reality for many working moms who are heading back to the office post-baby and want to continue breastfeeding.

Now, I realize that you’ve spent the last nine months romanticizing the idea of lugging a bulky breast pump to and from the office in your sassy, standard-issue Medela bag; huddling topless in a storage closet away from the hustle and bustle of cubeland while praying that the weird guy from accounting doesn’t decide that right now is the perfect time to search for some obscure office supply; and answering questions like, “Can’t you put that milk somewhere else?” from horrified colleagues who are “fine” with your life choices, but just don’t want to see your life choices in the fridge next to their turkey sandwich. You understand, right?

Is there anything more beautiful than pumping at work?

Sadly, I’m here to burst your bubble and tell you that pumping at work is time-consuming, messy, inconvenient, annoying, awkward, and uncomfortable. Raise your hand if someone has walked in on you while pumping at work.

Represent ladies.

But the good news is that it’s doable, especially if you have a better attitude than I did about it. And to make pumping at work marginally easier on yourself, put these items on your baby registry or purchase them before you find yourself locked in a vacant office with your top off. Trust me, when you’re pumping at work, even marginally easier is worth it.

Must-have items for breastfeeding mamas who plan to pump at work, including tips for making pumping at work just slightly less painful.

Breastfeeding Mamas: 8 Essential Items for Pumping at Work

1. A Double Electric Pump

If you’re going to be pumping at work, you’ll need a breast pump, and I’m not talking about one of those little hand pumps. You’re going to want the best double electric breast pump you can get your hands on. My book club went in on a group gift for my baby shower and gave me the Medela Freestyle Breast Pump. What I like about the Freestyle over other popular pumps is that the pump is small enough to carry around in a normal bag or backpack.

If the Freestyle seems like too much of a splurge, check out the Medela Pump In Style. Tried and true, you can’t go wrong with this pump. My sister’s lactation consultant also recommended the Ameda Purely Yours, another solid, less-expensive option.

from left to right: Pump In Style, Freestyle, and Purely Yours

You could also rent a hospital-grade pump. My sister actually did this as well and kept the rented pump at home and her Ameda pump at work, so she didn’t have to carry it around.

Keep in mind that insurance now covers breast pumps, so check with your provider to see if you can get a pump for free or at a reduced cost. I received my pump about six months before the rules changed, so I’m not an expert on the new breast pump insurance policies, but my understanding is that most providers have specific brands and models that they cover.

2. Hands-free Pumping Bra

Never stop surfing the internet to pump again. The Simple Wishes bra is hands-down the best hands-free pumping bra out there.This little contraption might be the greatest invention ever for moms who pump. I would actually recommend having a spare hands-free pumping bra — I bought the more expensive Simple Wishes bra and had a slightly less expensive back-up version that I picked up at Target. (Full disclosure: The Simple Wishes Bra is totally worth the cost.)

Some of the Medela breast pumps come with a rubber contraption called a “hands-free accessory kit.” I never figured out how to use it. If you did, you probably have a degree in engineering. Either way, once your hands are free, you can spend your pumping time surfing the Web or chatting on Google.

3. An extra set of pump parts

Here’s what an extra set of pump parts gives you: options. I have friends who kept their spare parts at work, so they had slightly less stuff to haul around. This also prevented the inevitable, oh-crap-I-forgot-my-pump-parts nightmare that does happen.

I, on the other hand, tempted fate and carried my extra parts back and forth so that I had less washing to do. I would swap out new parts each day so that the other set could be washed in the top rack of the dishwasher instead of having to hand wash them every night.

4. Breastmilk storage bags

Do you have an issue with oversupply? Is each day a new adventure in finding out how much you’re going to pump? Not sure if you should bring two bottles or four or six or 12? Here’s a good tip: Don’t worry about it. Bring two bottles that you will pump into, and then pour the milk into a Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bag. Keep a supply of storage bags at the office, and you will never again have to worry about having enough bottles. Bonuses: They are less bulky than bottles, and they can go directly into the freezer if you don’t need to use the milk immediately. Don’t forget to double check that the bag is sealed tightly.

5. Work-appropriate nursing tops and tanks

You can go ahead and move those cute dresses into a storage bin until you’re done pumping. The name of the game when you’re a working mom who pumps is to undress as little as possible. I highly recommend investing in some office-appropriate nursing tops as well as nursing tanks that can be worn under sweaters and other shirts. I liked these Gap nursing tops, and I bought two of these nursing tanks (a little pricey, but very well-made, and I may or may not still wear them). If you are using a hands-free pumping bra, you can just put the bra on over your nursing shirt or tank for maximum coverage while pumping at work.

6. Breast pump wipes

Let me tell you how not fun it is to stand in a communal bathroom or kitchen washing pump parts two to four times a day. It’s not. So don’t. I started using breast pump wipes because I had a space where I could air dry my pump parts, which is really the only caveat for using these.

7. Burp cloths

Pumping is a messy business and milk stains on your clothes at work is generally not cute. Bring a handful of burp cloths or old hand towels so that you can wipe yourself off after pumping. A friend told me she also would keep a towel in her lap to prevent splashes of milk getting on her clothing.

8. Cooler and ice packs

Most breast pumps will come with a cooler and an ice pack, but if yours didn’t you’ll want to purchase one. My office had a full-size fridge where I kept my milk, but a cooler will work if there’s no room in the mini-fridge your company was generous enough to purchase for the whole floor. Medela states that you can store breastmilk in its cooler with a freezer pack safely for up to 12 hours. Just make sure the freezer packs are frozen when you leave for work.

Did I miss anything? For those of you who have pumped at work, were there items that you could not live without? Help a working mother out by leaving your tips for pumping at work in the comments.

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An Interview with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs | Work Life Mom

Let’s talk for a minute about how awesome the Internet is. Last month, when I wrote about the pitfalls of flexible work arrangements, it happened to catch the eye of FlexJob’s PR manager who reached out to me about the post. After a few emails and with my Work | Life | Mom series on my mind, I decided to ask if Sara Sutton Fell, FlexJob’s founder and CEO as well as a mom of two, would consider being profiled on Mommy Sanest.

I assumed it was a long shot, but they pretty much immediately said yes, to which I responded: o_O (because nothing says professional like an emoticon).
Sara Sutton Fell, Founder and CEO of Flexjobs | Work Life Mom
If you’re not familiar with Sara Sutton Fell’s story, it’s a good one. An entrepreneur from a young age, Sara started a company in college called Job Direct, which she and her co-founder sold in 2000. Sara went on to other professional endeavors, but in 2007, she found herself looking for work that would allow her to have a flexible schedule.

Did I mention that Sara was pregnant at the time?

When she struggled to find legitimate flexible work, she did what any pregnant woman would do: She started a company that would solve this dilemma for job seekers by connecting them to real companies offering professional opportunities with flexible work benefits.

FlexJobs was born.

I’ve actually been a member of FlexJobs since last year, and now that I’ve quit my full-time marketing position, I plan to actively use the site to find contract and project work. I highly recommend that anyone looking for telecommuting, part-time, short-term, or contract positions check out the site.

As for Sara, she thoughtfully and thoroughly answered my questions about her family and work life, how she balances it all, and what advice she has for those of you seeking flexible work arrangements. I couldn’t have hoped for a better profile to kick off my Work | Life | Mom series.

Sara Sutton Fell, Found and CEO of FlexJobs talks motherhood, ambition, and how to talk to your supervisor about flexible work options.

Lou: Tell us about your family.

Sara Sutton Fell: I’m a proud mom to two young boys, Harrison and Palmer. While I work from home, my husband works outside of the house, but I have our chocolate lab Derby to keep me company in my home office.

You started Flexjobs when you were pregnant because you couldn’t find flexible work opportunities and kept running into scams. What were some of the challenges of starting a company while pregnant? Were there benefits to this timing?

I often joke that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend someone start a company when they’re pregnant! Probably the biggest benefit to this timing was that it proved that FlexJobs must be a REALLY good idea, because I kept with it even through all the sleepless nights and stress that being a new mom brings along. The challenges were exactly what you’d think–trying to balance my time between a newborn and a new company, all while giving myself a little time, too. Luckily I had tremendous help from my husband and my own mom, which made it all possible. Easy? No. Possible? Yes.

What makes FlexJobs different than other job search websites?

FlexJobs isn’t your typical job search website because we don’t feature any advertising or other clutter on our site. Instead, FlexJobs members are greeted with a clean, ad-free, scam-free, screened database of flexible jobs. In exchange for our 100% commitment to, and focus on, job seekers, we ask for a small monthly or yearly fee from our users. It’s not typical to charge job seekers as a job board, but we truly believe — and have proven through our success — that we’re able to provide a better job experience because of it. FlexJobs aims to make job searching easier, faster, and safer for job seekers.

Another big difference is that we have a client services team for our job seekers. Monday through Friday, job seekers can call, email, or chat with our client services team, ask questions, and get help with their job search questions. It’s not often with any service today that you can call and speak to a human being with no hassle!

What flexible benefits do you offer your employees, and do you take advantage of these benefits as the CEO?

We offer pretty much every type of flexibility you can imagine. All of our 53 staffers work from home, and the vast majority have flexible schedules and can set their own hours (except client services, which needs to operate on a set schedule). We offer full-time and part-time roles, and hire for freelance contracts. I definitely take advantage of our flexible work options! I work from home myself, and while I keep fairly regular business hours, I don’t feel guilty switching up my schedule to care for sick kiddos, or attend to other family and life issues. And our staff know that they are free to do the same!

Can you describe your “typical” work day?

Most days I work from around 9am to around 6pm, from the converted office above our garage. Earlier in the morning, I’m able to help our kids get ready for school and drop them off. When the weather is nice, I’ll get out for a bike ride, and I attend a weekly yoga class. And I’m lucky enough to work from home, so during the growing season, I can make a fresh salad from our veggie garden for lunch. But, as I mentioned, I feel able to switch up that schedule to meet the needs of the day, both for work and for life. I might have an early morning interview with a local TV station, or take a break in the afternoon to attend my sons’ school activities. I know I can shift my hours to later in the evening to make up the difference.

How do you and your partner manage childcare?

We have a great team of babysitters to help us when our kids aren’t in school. When they were very young, before they were in school full-time, our sitters did a great job of caring for them while my husband and I worked. We also take full advantage of summer camps. My advice for anyone with young children is to have multiple childcare options in case something falls through. Trying to work from home and watch your kids at the same time simply isn’t fair, for your kids or your job.

How do you and your partner manage the “business” of running a household?

Google calendar! We have a color-coded shared calendar that, to anyone else, probably looks like a child’s art project more than a method of running a household, but it works really well for us. We each have our own calendar, and share items with each other to stay on track. I’m happy to say that we definitely share the load when it comes to chores, cooking, etc. We work really well as a team.

If you could change one thing about how you balance work with other areas of your life, what would be?

Overall, things work really well for us. Especially because I really see work-life balance as just that — a balancing act that will tip back and forth depending on the needs of the day. The key is to not let things tip too far in one direction or the other. I’m probably not the only one who struggles with this, but I’d love to be better at the ability to let the little things go. There’s always going to be that one last toy that needs to be picked up, or that one last email that needs to be sent, but I often remind myself that if it’s not critical, it can be let go.

Finding a job with significant flexibility often means giving something up—whether it be taking a pay cut or giving up career advancement momentum. Do you think it’s possible to keep a career on track and find the flexibility you need, or do you always have to give something up?

Yes! There are so many surveys that show what people would give up to get more work flexibility, but I try to show people that you don’t need to give things up! One of the biggest misconceptions is that telecommuting jobs pay less than in-office jobs, but from the research we’ve done, we’ve found that’s not the case. Salaries for telecommuting and office jobs are right in line with one other (accounting for the industry, location, experience level, etc.).

One of the keys to keeping your career on track with a flexible job is to be proactive with your manager. Don’t wait for them to contact you–reach out and show them what you’re working on. Because you’re a bit separated from them, physically, you need to proactively communicate your value to the company rather than waiting to be recognized. Doing this regularly will help keep your career on track regardless of where or when you work.

You’re a successful entrepreneur, having started a business before you even graduated from college. Other than starting Flexjobs as an answer to finding legitimate flexible work, did motherhood change your career ambitions or how you view work?

It didn’t change my ambition, but it certainly changed how I wanted to work. Becoming a mother made me realize how vital work-life balance is to a healthy and happy life. I still want to be professionally active, and it’s become really important for me to show my two boys that a mom can have a successful career just like a dad can. I love work, but having a family also showed me that to continue loving work, you need to balance it with other obligations and fun things in life!

Why do you think some companies are hesitant to offer flexible work arrangements? Do you have advice for employees who want to talk to their supervisors about considering these options?

There’s a bit of the fear of the unknown. Managers are used to seeing employees at work, but with telecommuting and other flexible work arrangements, you have to change up your management strategies to rely less on seeing employees, and more on understanding exactly what they’re working on regularly. If you want to talk to your supervisor about flexible work options, I highly recommend planning your proposal in advance. Be sure to demonstrate all the ways flexible work benefits your manager and the company (you’ll be more productive, you’ll require less real estate and office equipment, you’ll take fewer sick days, etc.). And give them a clear picture of where, when, and how you’ll be working. Tell them about your well-equipped home office, schedule a regular weekly call to go over your projects, and promise to email them every day with status updates on your work. The more you can do to assuage their fears, the more receptive they’ll be.

A big thank you to Sara Sutton Fell as well as Kathy Gardner, PR Manager at FlexJobs.

You might also be interested in checking out the next interview in the Work | Life | Mom series with Abby Brennan, Owner of Brennan Spa.

Moms Who Work

We made it! Twenty fifteen is here, and I’m already beyond on my content calendar.

Since I started Mommy Sanest, I knew the “mommy blog” space was relatively crowded (#understatement). I wanted to do it anyway, but I also wanted to find a niche that felt like the right fit for this blog. And while I am not about to abandon general parenting topics or personal essays — I like that stuff — I want spend a little more time discussing moms and work.

I’ve decided that the whole stay-at-home vs. working mom thing is a red herring. It’s good for headlines and makes for feisty debates in the comments sections of The Huffington Post and Jezebel. But the Internet spends a lot of time pointing fingers and judging everyone else’s choices… probably because no one feels totally comfortable with the ones they’ve made. It’s a distraction.

Here’s the thing, I don’t know any moms who don’t work. Some do unpaid work, taking on the lion’s share of childcare and home management responsibilities. Some stay in the more traditional workforce. Some do side projects or freelance work during nap times, in the evenings, and on weekends. Others start their own businesses.

Moms who work: Presenting the Work Life Mom series on Mommy Sanest

I’d like to to talk about the different choices moms make with regard to paid and unpaid work, the ins and outs of going back to an office job after having a baby, the policies and politics that make balancing careers with family life more difficult or more doable, and how motherhood doesn’t have to be a fork in the road where you either off-ramp or step on the gas, but rather, how it can be a time to reassess and re-imagine.

As part of the discussion, I will be profiling moms who work. I’m planning to divide the year into three parts. The first part of the series will profile moms who own businesses. The second part will look at moms who take on freelance, project, and/or part-time consulting work. And the third part will profile moms in more “traditional” work roles. The series will kick off with a profile of — and I think this is especially apt — Flexjobs.com founder and CEO Sara Sutton Fell. If you’re not familiar with Flexjobs, it’s an awesome website where job seekers can search for and find legitimate flexible work. Sara actually started the company when she was pregnant, but you’ll hear more about that later this week.

I hope you guys dig this stuff. I legitimately believe that changing the way we work so that all people, including moms, dads, and caretakers, can better balance the demands of home and career is quite possibly the legacy that late-Gen-Xers and early-Millennials will leave the next generation of American professionals. That’s my hope anyway. Probably too lofty a goal for this lil’ blog, but I’m excited to contribute to the conversation.

Moms Who Work: Check Out Profiles in the Work | Life | Mom series

An Interview with Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of Flexjobs
An Interview with Abby Brennan, Owner of Brennan Spa

Self-Doubt and the Way Forward

There are days I feel optimistic.

Other days, I wonder what the hell I’m doing “burning the candle at both ends,” if you will, because none of this is going to land where I want it to land.

So I’m going to be frank. I’m going to let you in on what I’m really doing here — that there is a bit of a grand plan to this new blog.

But let’s start here: I love to write. When I started my first blog, it was because I wanted to write. I never gave any thought to my blog’s strategy, marketing my “brand,” or gaining a followers. But I made some blog friends and had a few regular readers. It was fun. I wrote a lot for a while, and then, as it happens, life got in the way.

I thought about blogging during my time away. I thought about starting a new blog. I thought about what I wanted to write. I thought about giving blogging a real and more serious shot.

But, I figured I was too late to the party. Particularly because I want to write about topics that fall into the mommy blogger category — a space already saturated with talented and popular bloggers — it seemed dumb to even try.

So I thought about other options. I thought freelance writing.

But, I assumed a career as a freelance writer was a long shot — what with my lack of journalism degree, published clips, and professional experience, not to mention that there are so many good writers out there. Except that I do have writing experience — a lot of it — I’ve just never been called a writer at work.

I’ve stalled.

But this summer I started thinking about the intersection of all of these things: where I’ve been, where I am, where I want to go. And realized that maybe the intersection is the answer, rather than the point at which I have to choose one direction.

If there’s anything I believe, it’s that the choices we make are leading us to something.

My decision to stick with my day job is something I have questioned, but it has pushed me in a new direction — content marketing. And content is really does tie together all the other things for me: ye old blog, all the blah, blah, blahing I’ve been doing on the Internet for eight years, my desire to write, my marketing background, my project management experience, this freelance career I’ve been mumbling about for lord knows how long… it’s all connected. It doesn’t have to only be one thing. It can be many things.

Here’s the bottom line:

I want to do something I love. I want to be creative. I want to lend my voice and opinion to the conversations about motherhood, parenthood, and the balance of family and work that are happening all around us online. I also want to cook dinner and manage our household. I want to take care of myself and my family. And I want to have the flexibility to take my daughter to a park on a Friday afternoon while she’s still little. I want to volunteer in her classroom when she gets older. I want to walk her to school and be there to pick her up when the last bell rings.

I want to write this blog, and I want to build a business as a freelancer. And hopefully, they can feed one another.

I’m old enough to know that there is no perfect situation, and I’m probably romanticizing this other life. I’ve also been around the work world long enough to know that if my job was fulfilling items one and two, I’d probably feel a little better about the balancing the rest of the list. And not for nothing, I realize how privileged it is to even be able to entertain these ideas.

I regularly live in a headspace dominated by thoughts that I cannot change the path I am on, that I don’t have what it takes to build something, and that most people don’t get to do what they really want to do anyway. But then, I put together and execute a successful content marketing plan at work; I teach myself how to edit CSS; I design some graphics; I take a decent photo; I put myself out there for a guest blogging opportunity; I have a call with a potential freelance client. And I think that maybe all of the voices in my head are wrong. I have a solid set of skills, and I’m willing to put in the work to build the ones I don’t have. And maybe, if I’m smart and planful and a little bit lucky, it will all work out the way I want it to.

Like I said, there are days when I feel optimistic.

Mommy Guilt and the Right Reasons

Recently, I had a conversation with an acquaintance, a fellow mom, about how she would like to move her young child to a new daycare. “But my reasons…” she hesitated a moment, “They aren’t good. They’re selfish.”

When she listed her reasons, they didn’t sound selfish. Rather, they sounded like they would improve her quality of life and, by extension, her family’s. As a hardcore advocate of eradicating mommy guilt, her reasons seemed totally… well, reasonable and not something she should feel conflicted over. Case closed, right?

But I recognized the sentiment.

Since giving birth, I’ve second guessed so many of my choices, dreams, wants, and goals based simply on the idea that the reasons for pursuing these things weren’t the right ones—they were selfish and therefore wrong—as if the moment you become a mother, a reason is only valid if it is completely selfless, 100 percent benefiting your child and not you, not even one tiny bit.

I’ve found this tendency to categorize my reasons as good or bad almost paralyzing. And, while I hate to use the word regret, I have made some decisions since becoming a mom that I am not proud of because they have been based on the idea (my idea) that my reasons for considering alternatives were not good enough.

For example: Last summer, I had the opportunity to take a part-time job with the kind of flexibility that would have allowed me to have a little more time at home with my kid, a little more time to manage our household, and a little more time to pursue other professional goals—all while bringing in a regular (though reduced) paycheck. My daughter Emme goes to a home daycare that allows part-time arrangements, and the idea was that I would work in an office three days a week and have Emme in daycare four days a week, so that one day a week, I could take care of other business, and one day a week, I could be at home with her.

It was pretty much my ideal arrangement.

I was tortured making this decision, and it would be an over-simplification to say that there were no other factors that stopped me from taking this job. However, I cannot ignore the fact that I was plagued with mommy guilt over the idea that if I was going to take a part-time job, it should be because I wanted to spend every extra available second with my kid—not because I wanted to make my quality of life better.

So I didn’t do it. Even though, by the same logic I used in the daycare scenario, if I was making my life better, wasn’t I also making my family’s life better? So here’s a thought: Maybe all reasons (assuming they don’t hurt someone else) are valid reasons. And maybe our “selfish” reasons are our best reasons because the decisions we make based on these reasons make it more likely that we’ll be present with our families when it really counts.

But none of this became clear to me until I was talking to the mom with the daycare dilemma. Isn’t it amazing how simple these things seem when we are on the outside looking in?