Summer has looked incredibly different this year because I’m not home with a newborn. Last summer we welcomed our daughter at the start of June, and the year before that our son surprised us 3 weeks early with his arrival on St. Patrick’s Day. Ending the school year on maternity leave felt comfortable, starting the next school coming off of maternity leave was harder than I expected. I thought the summer had given me the time I needed to prepare, but I didn’t really know what to prepare for exactly. Before our son was born I read everything I could get my hands about giving birth. Then I gave birth and I hadn’t spent enough time reading about what to do when the baby gets here. Because once he was here there was no time for reading, or at least I couldn’t stay awake long enough to finish much more than a blog post or article. If you’re like I was last summer, having a little anxiety about returning to school this fall, let me share some things to think about and maybe help you prepare.
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What to wear
Go through your closet. Find all the pieces that fit well and feel comfortable. Now put those at the front of your closet. After having a baby our bodies can change a lot or a little, so try everything on and know if you feel good in it. The next thing to check, if you’re nursing, is to decide if you can comfortably pump in it. As I did my back to school shopping I looked for tops with buttons or specific nursing clothing. Even though the baby isn’t with you it’s easier to pump in a nursing compatible top. Don’t forget about a hands-free pumping bra. I used a cheap elastic thing that really didn’t give me much mobility while using it. This is one of those places I would say don’t skimp. Maybe try a few before making a final decision.
As a nursing mom, it took me a while to really get the hang of it, with both kids. Seriously, you would think it’s like a riding a bike situation, but every kid is different. What helped me prepare for returning to school was to get on my school schedule before it actually started. I looked at the times that I would be able to pump and started to make sure those were the times I was feeding baby. This was tricky at first, but it helped in making that full feeling not so bad when school started.
This will be dependent on where you’re able to pump. I was able to lock my classroom door and sit in the corner by my closet where I kept all my supplies. If you have to use a room somewhere else in the building I would suggest stocking it well before the first day. My pump came in a carrying bag and has a bag for bottles with an ice pack. Consider how you will be able to keep milk cold, the ice pack was enough for me. I started out pumping twice a day, lunch and then planning period. I used the Medela pump wipes after lunch when there wasn’t time to run to the sink because kids were already coming back to class. I also found that it was helpful to have a roll of paper towels handy.
One more thing I want to stress is the emotional side of this situation because as prepared as you may feel there will be emotions you may not have expected. Everyone is different of course. So let me share some things that came up for me in case they can help you navigate the same emotions.
It can be difficult timing things on a strict schedule. I tried to read about pumping at work, but so many of those articles talked about an environment that allows women to set their own schedules. That is not a luxury we have as teachers. My schedule after having my son worked out pretty well, but with my daughter, it was off by an hour and that made a difference. I wasn’t able to pump 10 ounces in 10 minutes like my colleague and that made me feel very frustrated. However, flow is not something I found I could change so I accepted the fact that it would take my entire break time to pump.
Since I was using my entire time to pump I had to be strategic in how I could multitask while pumping. For starters, I had to eat lunch. This meant I missed out on casual lunch conversation and catching up with my colleagues’ personal lives. I felt very much out of the loop. The team also had to be intentional about scheduling parent meetings when I would be available. Before I would use my planning time to make copies or run errands around the building, now I was stuck to my back table. So I made sure to use that time for responding to emails, or typing plans, or writing feedback, or grading papers. I saved errands and copies for before or after school.
Remember, every woman is different, but this wasn’t a topic I had ever talked to my friends about so I didn’t really know what to expect other than I knew this is what I would do. If your experience was different and you have some good tips or tricks please share them in the comments. Anything we can do to help each other when navigating a new experience is encouraging.