World Breastfeeding Week 2015 begins on August 1, so I thought I’d kick us off a few days early by sharing my experience of nursing my son for a year as a mama who works full-time outside the home.

When I was pregnant, one of the most-asked questions I received was “are you going to breastfeed?” Talk about a personal question! Each time though, my answer remained the same: “I’m going to try.” And I truly meant that answer. My plan was to breastfeed for a year, but I knew that there was a good chance I might not be able to achieve that goal, especially since I planned to go back to work when my son was 12 weeks old. I feel fortunate that we had no major issues with breastfeeding, but it’s still one of the most difficult parts of motherhood I’ve faced. I know I couldn’t have made it without the support of friends and family members.

Nursing and working full-time outside of the home can be possible, but it’s not without its challenges. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way:

Establish breastfeeding early on. Before I checked into the hospital to deliver my son, one of my sisters-in-law gave me a great piece of advice: have a lactation consultant watch me nurse every time so I could help ensure we established good breastfeeding habits early on. Depending on your hospital, the nurses may be trained in lactation or they may have certified lactation consultants on staff. Regardless of which you use, be sure to take advantage of their experience while you’re in the hospital.

Find a good lactation consultant. We found our fantastic lactation consultant through our pediatrician’s office, but if your doctor’s office doesn’t have one on staff, you can often find them through the hospitals or La Leche League. As a new mom, I had so many questions about breastfeeding, so it was wonderful to have an experienced resource to turn to with questions or just for reassurance that things were going okay. Also, don’t think they’re only there for the early newborn stages. I turned to our lactation consultant when my son was around five months old and I started having issues keeping up with what he needed.

Invest in a good pump (or two). Your pump will be your best friend and your worst enemy. There will be days you want to throw it across the room from being so sick of using it. But, as a working mama, it’s a necessary evil. Most insurance companies cover breast pumps now, so you should be able to get one free or at a reduced cost. If you’re going to be pumping for most of your child’s feedings, I recommend a double electric pump (here’s the one I used). After I returned to work, I learned several mamas had two pumps – one for home and one for the office. That saves you the hassle of hauling your pump back and forth. I learned that trick near the end of my time nursing, so I didn’t invest in a second pump, but I thought that idea was a great time saver.

Buy lots of supplies. Pumps require lots of parts and lots of bottles, which can be a pain to clean. I washed my pump parts and bottles in the dishwasher nightly, but they were often still wet the next morning, so I made sure I had 3 sets of pump parts and 20-30 bottles to pump in (I found this set of 10 on Amazon), so I had plenty of time to wash everything and let it dry before the next use. If you can swing it, it’s nice to keep a backup set of parts at the office or in your pump bag in case you forget to pack them one morning. A hand’s free nursing bra or two also can be invaluable because it will allow you to work and pump at the same time.

Establish bottle-feeding early on. Perhaps it was laziness on my part, but I found it easier to nurse than to pump and deal with giving my son a bottle, so as my maternity leave drew to an end, I found myself with a baby on my hands who wouldn’t take a bottle at all, let alone from me. I’m fortunate that my saint of a mother-in-law came over every day to give my son a bottle to get him used to it. He was pretty stubborn about it, but after several weeks of me leaving the house while she gave him a bottle, she finally got him used to taking his milk from a bottle. If you know you’re going to need to use a bottle at any point during your child’s first year of life, I strongly suggest you get them used to a bottle early on so you don’t find yourself in a similar situation.

Block off time on your calendar to pump. I was able to nurse my son in the morning before work and at home before he went bed. Otherwise, I had to pump for all of his other feedings, which meant pumping three times a day at work plus one more time before I went to sleep at night. I blocked off my calendar three times a day for 30-minutes so I could pump. I’m fortunate I have an office with a door that locks, so I could just pump in my office and continue to work. I put a sign on my door saying I was unavailable face-to-face, but was available by phone or email. Having that time blocked off on my calendar meant people wouldn’t schedule me to be in meetings when I needed to pump, and it reminded me when it was time to stop and pump. I know this isn’t possible for lots of professions, but keep in mind that there are specific rules for companies covered by FMLA, so make sure you know your rights and don’t be afraid to speak up if your needs aren’t being met.

Know that supplementing may be necessary. I distinctly remember the day I was sitting in my office staring at a measly five ounces I’d just pumped while my mother-in-law texted me that there was only enough milk left in my supply to get my son through that day. I called my husband in tears knowing that we’d have to supplement with formula for the next day. I don’t know why I had such a hard time with needing to supplement, but it was gut wrenching. I felt like a failure. I wanted to be the one to provide for him for his first year and I’d barely made it five months. We ended up supplementing with formula for that week and then I adjusted my pumping schedule to try to get my supply back up. After a few days of my own pity party, and a visit with our lactation consultant, I quickly got over it and realized that supplementing with formula wasn’t the end of the world. Some weeks we didn’t supplement at all and some weeks we did. He still got plenty of breast milk and, as my lactation consultant said, the formula was just like a little extra protein shake to help him get the calories he needed.

Find a support network. I’m lucky that I worked with several women who had nursed their babies while working, so I could turn to them for advice and support when I had questions. If you don’t know other mamas who’ve had to breastfeed while working, La Leche League is a great resource as well as KellyMom. You’ll have lots of questions along the way and some days will just want to complain about another pumping session, so having women you can turn to is a huge help.

Pumping mamas, what helped you survive?