Breastfeeding and the Working Woman

This article discusses the issues involved in breastfeeding while working.
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In this article, you will find:

Returning to work

Breastfeeding and the Working Woman

Controversy still swirls around the issue of breast- versus bottle-feeding. If you're not sure which method to use, you can try starting with breast-feeding and switching later. Once you decide to bottle feed, however, you'll lose the breast-feeding option because your milk supply will dry up without the stimulation of your baby's sucking. Your success with breast-feeding once you return to work will depend upon your confidence with your decision, and how well you organize it.

Combining Breast-Feeding and Working
Combining breast-feeding with working takes careful planning and a determination to see it through. Remember that the demands of the job will continue in spite of your special circumstances. If you don't assume the responsibility for your feeding plan, no one else will. First, if possible, allow at least eight weeks before returning to work in order to:

  • Recover from your child's birth
  • Establish your milk supply
  • Store a sufficient supply of expressed milk for the caregiver to use
  • Become proficient at breast-feeding so that it's routine and easily manageable when you're working
If you want your baby to have only breast milk, prepare for the challenge of finding a good setting to express your milk during the day. Otherwise, you have to find a caregiver who is nearby and able to bring your baby to your work. A woman who works full time can expect to be away from her baby for up to ten hours, which equals two or three pumping sessions.

Overcoming the Challenges of Breast-Feeding While Working
As a working mother who is breast-feeding, you'll face a double challenge: how to implement an important personal commitment while maintaining your professional image. Even sympathetic, flexible employers will expect you to produce as much as before or to arrange for the objective to be met some other way. Try to face the task realistically:

  • Make arrangements in advance—Don't assume that everyone will agree with your plans. Discuss the subject early, before you go on maternity leave. Evaluate your daily work schedule to find times when you will have the opportunity to nurse or express your milk. If you have to feed or express twice during your workday, you might suggest that your lunch hour be divided up or perhaps you could come in earlier or leave later to make up for your milk collection time.

    Your boss may be reluctant, in which case you need to emphasize the potential benefits to the company: (1) a breast-fed baby is healthier; therefore, you will not need to miss as many days because of illness, and (2) a happier mother is a more productive worker.

    Once you have approval, evaluate your daily work schedule to choose the best times when you will not be tense or rushed. Plan on a half an hour for a feeding or expressing; although expressing may be faster, it requires clean-up time.

  • Speak with your coworkers—Always discuss your plans in advance to draw out any potential negative reactions. If they feel resentful because they have to take on some of your responsibilities, avoid getting defensive. Any inconvenience to them is temporary and they'll probably forget about it soon. Look for coworkers who have been or who are going through the experience and suggest forming a support group.
  • Consider bringing baby to work—Under the proper conditions,this can be a good opportunity to visit with your baby during the day. Breast-feeding relaxes most women, after which they're eager to get back to work.
  • Other mothers, however, find that this option is just another painful separation and would prefer to avoid it. Some women enjoy keeping their babies with them throughout the workday, but such an arrangement puts extraordinary demands on a working mother and on colleagues. Nearby child care, if possible, can solve the problem of a long absence from baby.

    Now that the basic decision has been made, it's time to arrange things in the office:

  • Protect your privacy—This is important because you need to relax to allow your milk to flow freely. Pumping in an employee's lounge or a bathroom sometimes won't do. Instead, look for an empty office with a lock on the door (or use a Do Not Disturb sign), a supply closet, or a space in a health facility. As a last resort, use a conference room. Make sure there is an outlet for an electric pump, if you are using one, and a comfortable chair. You will also need a place to store your equipment during the day.
  • Appoint someone to run interference—Ask a coworker nearby to stop anyone who is about to disturb you.
  • Arrange for a substitute—Ask a coworker to fill in for you while you're breast-feeding or expressing with the understanding that you'll pay back the time when your baby is weaned.
  • Keep your expressed breast milk cool—If no refrigerator is available at the office, bring an insulated cooler, filled with chill packs (refreezable, plastic containers of liquid), to store the milk. Relieve soreness by placing some cool compresses on your breasts. Or use a package of frozen peas or other vegetable as a quick substitute.