Working moms that wish to continue breastfeeding can sometimes go through a very difficult time when they return to work. It may be because of an employer who doesn’t fully understand the benefits of breastfeeding, a very demanding job, an ineffective pump, stress, or a number of factors combined. I see mother’s struggle with this everyday and I wanted to find some helpful information so I reached out to Karin Hardman, IBCLC – a professional and friend, for some expert advice and tips for breastfeeding moms returning to work. Here is what she had to share:
Hi there! I am Karin Hardman. I am an IBCLC or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. If you are wondering how that differs from other kinds of breastfeeding helpers, click here. I have been helping breastfeeding moms for over 8 years.
I was also the president of the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition, from 2010-2012 where I helped businesses move into compliance with the new workplace laws and helped mothers advocate for those accommodations in their own workplaces.
Over 50% of mothers return to work early in their child’s life. Yes, even in Utah. Some out of choice and some out of necessity. And since Utah has a breastfeeding initiation rate hovering around 90%, it stands to reason that a large number of women will be faced with the situation of having to maintain a milk supply while being separated from their babies. Most mothers in this state have very short maternity leaves. Just a little north of us, mothers in Canada have about a year to take care of their little ones before they must return to their jobs and many Scandinavian countries provides 3 years paid time before the return. The US requires 12 weeks of time. That does not have to be paid time and companies are allowed to use the employee’s sick and vacation time for this family leave. This 12 week time frame is the time that an employer cannot “fill” the job in mother’s place, but they do not need to be paid. Many mothers cannot afford all of this time without pay, however, and need to return to work even sooner.
Having a place to pump that is not a bathroom is a big deal for a lot of moms. It doesn’t need to be big, just comfortable. If you are working and still don’t have a place to pump, call or email the Utah Breastfeeding Coalition and they can help you talk with your employer.
Because nursing works differently for each mother/baby pair, working and nursing will look differently as well. The first step is to be open with your employer during your pregnancy. There is no reason to plead or beg for accommodations to this law. A matter-of-fact talk with your HR department or supervisor such as, “I will be using this office for pumping my milk for my baby during my breaks. Would you like to make a sign for the door, or would you like me to?” is usually sufficient. Some businesses provide not only a place to pump and store milk, but also a hospital-grade pump and maybe a steam sanitizer, so that employees only need bring their pump kits to and from work. Depending on the number of employees your employer has, this may be more cost-effective than the extra sick days that moms (and dads) with babies often incur when not providing human milk.
Generally, you want to pump as often as your baby eats. Sometimes, this is not possible, so we all do the best we can. Typically, someone who works for an 8 hour shift will get 2 breaks and a lunch. These are the ideal times to express your milk. How you remove your milk will be individual to you. Some moms like to have a single-user double electric pump. Some moms use their hands. Some moms are able to find a caregiver close to their place of work that they can visit or that will bring the baby to them for feedings. And anywhere in between are all fine for you. 🙂As long as you are able to effectively remove the milk from your breast while separated from your baby.
Many moms are worried about the storage requirements of their milk. This is a guideline on milk storage. Always use the freshest milk for baby. It is the most living. If you do have a “freezer stash” (unnecessary for most working women), it is okay to rotate one or more feedings per day with the fresh, but many moms find that pumping and saving that milk to give to baby the next day is ideal. That way you know you are always keeping up your supply for your baby and baby gets all the immune factors as you are producing them.
Babies fed expressed milk take it in all kinds of receptacles. There are lots of places that discuss “getting a baby to take a bottle” or the best bottle to get. The important part of all that to remember is *how* the baby is fed. Make sure he is held, spoken to, and his pace is respected. Here is a great place to read about that. Of course, babies don’t need bottles, they are perfectly capable of using a feeding cup or spoon. Here is a great article on how to cup feed.
Reverse cycling is something that happens with breastfed babies when mom goes back to work or school. Babies have control over so little in their lives. Someone else dresses them, takes care of their toileting needs, helps them self-regulate, provides their food, keeps them warm, and helps them learn what kind of place the world is. When they eat is one of the few things they can control. Sometimes a baby will refuse to eat very much while mom is gone. This is okay.🙂 As long as baby is allowed access to the breast anytime mom is home (including sleep time) and he is able to feed on cue, things should be okay. This means that often, babies will feed all night long to stay close to mom. Once you figure out how to nurse lying down, this is usually a breeze for moms. Of course, practice safe sleep and if anything ever feels “off” about this arrangement for you, call your local IBCLC. She has training for helping to manage milk supply while separated and she should be aware of the laws that will help you.
Sometimes moms have different working arrangements, waitstaff often get breaks when things are “slow” but are expected to be available when things pick up. The same is true for flight attendants and nurses. Teachers also face unique challenges when it comes to finding time and space to nurse. With support and information, along with some adaptibility, most mothers are still able to reach their breastfeeding goals.
If you are finding going back to work more difficult than you had anticipated or you have questions regarding pumping, reverse cycling, pump fittings, bottles, employers, or any other breastfeeding issue contact me (or other IBCLC) at firstname.lastname@example.org.