Being a student and a parent presents unique challenges, especially when you are also planning to breastfeed when you head back to class. Despite the initial challenges, it is totally possible to balance breastfeeding and school, and most moms are able to hit their stride even while staying on top of their studies. There are steps you can take to make sure that you have your ducks in a row before the semester begins.
Take Your Time
Heading back to school is a lot like heading back to work — it’s important to avoid rushing back if you can help it. The standard maternity leave is around 12 weeks and students should aim for the same. Postpartum hormones are intense, and getting a handle on breastfeeding requires time. Keep this in mind if you feel like you need to rush back into your busy lifestyle post-baby. If you’re currently enrolled in school, be sure to communicate with your teachers about the time you are taking off before your return. Ask if you can do your school work from home at first if you are concerned about falling behind.
If you are looking to enroll in classes, register for a quarter/ semester that gives you enough time to get childcare and supplies together before it starts.
This is probably the most challenging aspect of returning to school for students who don’t have immediate family or friends willing to provide regular childcare. Daycares can have waiting lists and can be prohibitively expensive. The more time you spend setting up childcare before you need it, the more comfortable you’ll when it comes time to drop off your little one. If you run into childcare issues after you’ve already started school, communicate with your teacher. Some teachers are fine with student parents doing school work remotely and some are even supportive enough to allow new parents to bring their baby to class in a pinch. Don’t just skip out on class, make sure your teacher knows that you have a child to care for – it is likely that they will understand or that they have even been in your shoes.
Gather Your Pumping Supplies
If you are planning to spend chunks of the day away from your baby, you will need to pump your milk in order to maintain your milk supply. Typically new moms will need to pump every few hours. It is important to listen to your body, because it will tell you when your breasts are getting full. However, don’t wait until you are uncomfortably full, because this can tell your body to turn down the volume on your milk supply.
Get your pumping supplies together before you need to use them. Do a few practice runs at home and work on building up your frozen milk stash for caregivers who will have your baby while you are in class. If you need help choosing a pump, see our suggestions for moms-on-the-go.
Pumping at school may be tricky, given that there aren’t always guaranteed spaces to pump. Talk to a counselor in Health or Student Services, and visit the campus before your first day to scope out private areas for pumping. School administrative staff can be extremely helpful in setting up a routine and providing resources for new moms. They may already have a parent resource center on campus, so it never hurts to ask.
Pick a Good Schedule
If you are able to choose your class schedule, try to give yourself a break between classes. You will need time to pump, eat lunch, and call/text your child’s caregiver to touch base. You need to make sure you are taking care of your needs! Start out with a lighter course load at first if you’re limited on time… don’t feel pressured to take the maximum amount credits.
Remember that you also need time to do homework. If you can swing it, find someone to help with the baby for an hour here or there on weeknights so you can focus on homework. Planning to do homework while the baby sleeps is another option, but napping schedules can sometimes be unpredictable and this can be a risky strategy when you really need to get your assignments done.
Know Your Rights
Most colleges don’t have an official policy for breastfeeding or pumping on campus. However, the Department of Education suggests that schools offer a pumping space and proper resources for new moms. All states except Idaho (wtf, Idaho) have laws to protect breastfeeding in public — breastfeeding is allowed wherever, whenever.
Of course, setting up a breast pump wherever, whenever is not so simple! Be sure to discuss potential pumping rooms with college staff. If possible, find a space that has outlets and a refrigerator you can use for storage. There are battery-powered breast pumps and cooler storage bags that you can use if you don’t access to these resources.