Ask the grumpies: Pumping and a job talk

R asks:

My situation is that I was just shortlisted for a TT position before Christmas and now the interview is coming up January 30. I am working on my slides and have read all of the “do’s and don’ts” available online, but none address my situation.

Like one of you I have two offspring and the younger is 14 months and still takes in 90% of his calories from breastmilk. Combine this with my oversupply issues and this means I have to pump every 4 hours for comfort. The last thing I want is to leak while meeting with someone or presenting.  I’ve asked and they’ve said the day will go from 8:30am until dinner starting at 6. This means potentially 3 pumping breaks I need to fit in (the interview is local and I am not staying at a hotel, but it is quite far from my home).

The secretary offered an office space but informed me that there are large windows so there will be no privacy, or told me the other option was the “large restroom” (after I specifically said no restrooms!). I wrote back and politely said that I am fine with a non-private space, my as long as others will not be uncomfortable or disturbed by the noise of the pump.

My other issue is that the schedule as they have structured it only has 30 minute breaks for me, and I need at least that to pump. I’ve asked for more time, but I don’t want to seem too demanding. Yes, I can multitask, but it is not very relaxing to be doing prep. while pumping (at least not for me), and sometimes I need to focus on one thing at a time.

Advice on how to handle this gracefully? Also, am I to avoid all mention of the offspring and details of family life during the day? Merci!


First off, the short advice.  Bring anti-histimines.  They’ll dry you up temporarily (not all the way, but they take the edge off and help prevent leaking).  Since you have an over-supply you won’t need to worry about making up for lost milk.

I’ve actually pumped all sorts of places… airport restrooms, my car, the worst recently was a restroom in a fancy new building at the Stanford business school where they ridiculously didn’t have electricity sockets near the sink so I had to do it on the floor next to the door.  (That was ridiculous, but I only needed to pump a little bit so I didn’t bother asking the organizers for an extra space– had I known the only outlet was on the floor I might have!)  If you’re worried about cleanliness, you can always pump and dump.  Yes, it would be nice if there were dedicated pumping rooms everywhere, but one has to be pragmatic.  I think the key is whether it is a one-time situation or a long term expectation of bathroom pumping.  Generally when I’m invited to give a talk some place while still needing to pump, a faculty member offers his (male-dominated field) office and I use that.  That may still happen, though it is odd that the secretary wasn’t able to arrange that for you in advance.  (Possibly a red flag, possibly not.)

What kind of prep do you think you’ll need to do during your interview?  What can you do to minimize the need to do any prep during the day?  Usually on job interviews I just needed a break so I didn’t have to talk to anybody or think about anything.  Pumping suits that pretty nicely.  Even without pumping, I’d warn against trying to fit anything in during breaks because talking to that many people and being “on” can be pretty exhausting.  So make sure your talk is prepared and practiced in advance.  And remember that you don’t need to know everything about everyone before talking with them– it is fine to ask people the same question, and it is fine to ask everybody what they like about working where they’re working and if it’s a research place, about their research.

As for  how to deal with scheduling questions gracefully, be super polite to that secretary when you get there.  Thank her graciously for setting everything up etc.  A little appreciation can go a long way when you’re asking for something a bit out of the ordinary.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say to avoid talking about the kids and family.  Not because it’s bad to talk about kids and family, but because when you’re talking about them you’re NOT talking about what’s important.  You want them to remember your stellar research.  Your great teaching ideas.  Your professionalism.  How you’re going to fit into their program.  Not cute stories about your adorable kids and amazing husband.  That’s not to say if they ask point blank you shouldn’t answer direct questions on how many kids you have, but that you should then follow-up that question with another question about the job.

Now, some parts of the interview may be more relaxed (usually food is involved), and don’t need to remain 100% focused on research.  Those are when you ask questions about the town and they tell you about the school system (whether you have kids or not) and so on.  But you live there so you already know all that stuff.  Still, you can chat about things you like in the area etc.  Stay upbeat and collegial.  And sneak in a little bit of fun research-related talk in there (interesting questions, stuff they’ve done etc.) too.

Grumpeteers, any advice?


Tips for nursing and working

An earlier post on nursing addressed issues of supply.  Check it out for what could go wrong with your pump.

Working mom resources: is a great resource for all things nursing.  Unfortunately it isn’t as thorough on the issues of pumping and working while nursing as it is on issues of say, poo.  A great resource is the book, Nursing Mother, Working Mother: The Essential Guide for Breastfeeding and Staying Close to Your Baby After You Return to Work.

Here’s some brain-dump in Q&A fashion.

My baby won’t take the bottle and I have to start work in a week:

The baby is more likely to take the bottle if mom is not in the house.  A good time to introduce it is when you are not around and the baby is sleepy.  Often another caretaker (dad, the nanny, a grandparent etc.) can sneak the bottle in at that time.  Additionally, some babies will be more likely to take the bottle facing out rather than facing in (and some vice versa), depending on if they want the bottle experience to be similar to or different from nursing.  Similarly, if you can get away with never warming the bottle you’re in better shape than if the baby insists on it being warmed, but if warming it up is what it takes, get a bottle warmer.  (NEVER heat milk up in the microwave– it causes pockets of burning.)

My baby doesn’t drink much from the bottle, but drinks plenty from the tap:

It’s recommended to introduce the bottle sometime between 3-6 weeks.  Earlier and they might develop nipple preference/confusion because bottles flow faster than breasts (this is rare, but a huge hassle when it does happen).  Later and they might reject the bottle entirely.

Even if the baby doesn’t drink much from the bottle at daycare that’s not a big deal.  Look up reverse-cycling.  So long as they’re wetting, pooing, and gaining weight, as appropriate for their age group they’re good.  Nursing at drop-off and pick-up is great too, especially if you’re worried.  Cosleeping also helps working moms because they can nurse while you sleep and your sleep cycle gets synched up theirs.

I don’t have a fridge/freezer at work, what do I do?:

Breastmilk is amazing stuff.  So long as you don’t freeze it, it will stay quite happy at room temperature or cooled for quite some time.  The freezer-thing kit that comes with your pump should be enough until you can get the fresh milk home.  The same is not true for milk that has been frozen.  So it is better to not use the freezer at work if there’s a chance the milk could melt on the way home.

My milk separates in the fridge, is that a problem?:

Nope, the cream is just rising to the top, just like cow’s milk.  It is still good to go in the bottle.  Go ahead and shake it a bit.

I don’t get more than a couple ounces out each time I pump:

Not a problem!  That is totally normal.  It just means you don’t have a big oversupply.  You are doing fine.  I never got more than 2 oz out a pump unless I was at a conference sans baby and had infrequent opportunities to pump.  I would pump extra on weekends and if my supply was running low I would do a session in the middle of the night or before my morning nursing.  My baby ate nothing but breast milk for hir first 8.5 months and I pumped until 18 months.

Working moms, anything else to add?  Questions?  Comments?  Concerns?  Stories?

Breastmilk supply

I find myself constantly writing these comments over and over again, so I think I’ll write a post I can reference.

Breastfeeding is really really difficult at first.  It doesn’t really come naturally either for mom or for the baby.  (Some folks suggest it comes easier if the baby is allowed to nurse immediately after birth, which may be true, but there’s still a lot of learning involved.)  Reading up on it is helpful, and having the number for a good lactation consultant or LLL can work wonders.

Breastmilk is demand-induced supply.  The way the baby tells your breasts to make more milk is by sucking as much as ze can, even after the breast is empty (the breast never gets completely empty, but it definitely will go down in amount stored with each feeding).  Unfortunately, there’s a delayed response between the baby saying, “I want more” and the body actually making more.  The breasts will have more storage capacity and more milk in them later, so long as the baby keeps sucking.  A common mistake encouraged by the formula companies is to feed a bottle of formula at this point, but when you do that, the breast doesn’t get the message to make more milk and so the baby still doesn’t have enough to drink the next time, so there’s more formula supplementation, and eventually the mother loses her supply and stops nursing.  A recommendation is no formula for the first two weeks (assuming the right number of wet diapers) until the milk supply is set in.  Another trick you can do that cuts down on the painful (to mom) crying is to pump so that you get a small oversupply, so that your breasts are ahead of the curve on supply.

Your baby starts out with a tummy that’s about the size of a dime.  That means lots and lots of nursing while you and the baby learn how to nurse.  As the baby grows, the tummy grows, and it wants more milk but can go longer between feedings.  It is normal for a baby to eat frequently, especially during growth spurts.

Later on, you may think you have a lower supply. Read these links on kelly-mom:

Remember too that babies will lose some weight after being born, and that’s normal.  Additionally breast-fed babies have a different growth-curve than formula-fed babies and don’t poo as much.  An older breast-fed baby can go a LONG time without a poo and that is also normal.  (The resulting poo is generally ginormous though.)

A few more things to point out if you suspect a low supply later:

1. You may be about to have your period. Your supply will go back up after it is over.
2. You may be anemic. You need to eat more iron: pills, red meat, oatmeal etc.
3.  At some point in nursing your breasts become less milk storage devices and more milk creation devices. This is normal. Just because they’re squishy doesn’t mean they’re not making enough milk.
4. The one major thing missing from kellymom is discussions about pumping problems.  If you’re just going by pump output, you may need to clean out your pump. Is there cat hair on the motor membrane? The medela PISA seems to be designed for the rubber membrane to rupture every 9 months (at least the versions I and my similar baby aged colleagues had… the earlier ones were more hardy and the later ones may be as well). Do you need to replace the little white flappy things on the horn?

How to insure a good supply:

Mom needs to do NOTHING for the first two weeks (longer if c-section) except sleep, eat, drink water, nurse, and relax.  She needs to be waited on hand and foot.  She is not to be allowed to clean or cook or anything.  She needs to conserve her energy and her sleep for learning how to nurse and making food for the baby.  The #1 determinant of ability to nurse long-term is support.  (Obviously there are cases in which breast-feeding is impossible, like after some kinds of breast reduction surgery, or because of genetic problems, and thank God we have formula, but for most people it is lack of support that is the problem.)  Kellymom now has a forum in addition to being an awesome resource otherwise.

I could talk a lot more about breast-feeding, but I think I’ll just stick to the issues of supply.  Do you have any questions, comments, concerns, stories?