Working and Breastfeeding

Women have always combined work and breastfeeding. You can too. Take at least 6 weeks to focus on your baby and breastfeeding, if you can, without worrying about pumping and storing milk. The longer you delay going back, the easier it will be for both of you!

Timing Think it through. Your baby needs you most during his first year, and it's a year that will never come again. Can you take a leave of absence? Take out a loan? Some mothers ask for an "early inheritance" or loan from family, since the need right now is so great and there may be no need at all in later years. Can you go back part-time for a while - either for a couple of full days or 5 half days a week? Will your income be worth it after daycare, transportation, clothing, convenience foods, and the extra work and worry of separation? Could you bring your baby full- or part-time for a few months? Can some of the work be done at home? Mothers with even the most inflexible job requirements often find surprising ways to combine working and mothering! When you do start back, begin on Thursday, if you can, and take the next Wednesday or two off. That way, you'll work no more than two days in a row while you both adjust to your new routine.

Equipment Find a way to express milk that suits you. Talk with nursing friends, La Leche League or a Lactation Consultant. Every method has its pros and cons. Hand expression is free and needs no equipment, but takes a bit of practice. Hand pumps are very portable, but may take more time than a rental pump or hand expression. Two battery-operated pumps can be used to "double pump" - both sides at the same time - but they require frequent battery changes and may not have enough suction or a fast enough cycle. Small electric pumps can also be used for double-pumping, but they require an outlet and are not as efficient as a rental pump. Rental pumps are efficient, comfortable, and very easy to double pump with, but are bulky and may require an outlet. If you'll be pumping for several months, they cost about $1 a day (compared with about $3 plus added doctor bills for formula), and the cost can be shared with a nursing co-worker. Steer clear of pumps made by formula or baby food companies; breastfeeding is not their main focus.

Childcare Before you return to work, look for a supportive caregiver whose mothering style matches yours. Look for someone who will hold or wear your baby as much as possible, especially during feedings, who will use your milk and check with you before offering anything else, who will be flexible, and who will avoid giving your baby a big meal just before you're due to arrive. Some mothers prefer someone close to home; others look for someone close to work.

Expressing Your Milk Can you go to the baby to nurse on your lunch hour or break? Can the baby be brought to you, by the sitter or by someone else? Would you rather have two shorter breaks or one long lunch hour? To supply all your baby's needs, you'll probably need to express your milk two or three times during a full work day. (Some mothers like to pump first thing in the morning, so they already have one bottle.) As your baby gets older, he may prefer waiting for you to taking a bottle. Some babies decide to have their long sleep stretch at the sitter's, and nurse more in the evening and at night - a pattern known as "reverse cycling". Their mothers may find that they no longer need to pump as often, if at all. Older babies may be happy to snack on solids. Stay flexible, and take your baby's changing patterns into account.

Storing Your Milk About two weeks before you begin work, start storing small amounts of milk in the freezer. Many mothers find morning the easiest time to express extra milk, perhaps nursing on one side while they pump on the other. It can be frozen in any kind of clean container or bottle bag. If you use bags, keep them in a larger container to protect them from punctures. You can add to already-frozen milk if the milk you add is cold, but storing in small amounts (no more than 2 ounces at first) lets the sitter thaw only what's needed, so there's less waste. Label the milk with the date, and keep it toward the back of the freezer for the coldest temperature. At work, most women express their milk on Monday for Tuesday's feedings, on Tuesday for Wednesday's, and so on, refrigerating it or keeping it in a cooler with "blue ice" containers at work until they take it to the sitter's. Friday's milk is saved for the next Monday, and over the weekend they don't pump at all. Milk can be refrigerated for several days or frozen for several months. The oldest milk should be used first. A "soapy" smell is sometimes related to freezing and rarely bothers the baby. Milk should be thawed under warm running water, not on a stovetop or in a microwave, then shaken to re-mix. If you feel your supply needs boosting, you should feel comfortable taking a few "sick days" to stay home and do plenty of nursing. After all, you have a higher priority now than perfect attendance!

Supplements Some mothers combine breastfeeding and formula. Remember that even a little formula given in the early months alters a baby's system and cuts into the benefits of human milk. On the other hand, even a little breastmilk improves the nutrition and health of a mostly formula-fed baby. Using formula will reduce your milk supply, and can result in an earlier weaning than you would like. On the other hand, even one or two nursings a day mean an irreplaceable "immunization" for your baby - especially important in group daycare - and an important relationship for both of you. When you've weighed all your options and feel comfortable with your choices, you've done what's right for your family.

Bottles Almost all babies will gradually accept a bottle if it's not forced on them, and if someone other than Mom offers it. But wait until you and your baby are a happy nursing couple before experimenting with bottles. They were designed to replace breastfeeding, and sometimes they do! There are other easy ways to feed a baby, like using a small cup, so if bottles are beginning to damage your breastfeeding relationship, contact La Leche League or a Lactation Consultant for suggestions.

Working Mothers' Rights As you begin making arrangements with your employer, explain that you will be breastfeeding, rather than asking permission. You'll probably be surprised by the positive response! Almost all countries recognize a mother's right to be with her baby in the early months. The Innocenti Declaration, signed by the United States and other countries in 1990, states that "...all women should be enabled to practise exclusive breastfeeding and all infants should be fed exclusively on breastmilk from birth to 4-6 months of age. Thereafter, children should continue to be breastfed, while receiving appropriate and adequate complementary foods, for up to two years of age or beyond. This child-feeding ideal is to be achieved by creating an appropriate environment of awareness and support so that women can breastfeed in this manner... All governments by the year 1995 should have... enacted imaginative legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women and established means for its enforcement." You have a recognized right to breastfeed your baby. If you need help protecting that right, contact your physician, La Leche League, or a Lactation Consultant.

©1996 Diane Wiessinger, MS, IBCLC 136 Ellis Hollow Creek Road Ithaca, NY 14850


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