We have a very special guest today! Emma Pickett is a lactation consultant who works and lives in England and has agreed to grace us with her words of the wise on going back to work while continuing to breastfeed.
I have to admit me and the breast pump never got along very well, but I also have to admit that my attempt was pretty half-assed. I never had to pump which probably played a larger part in my lack of success.
I know this topic is a hot one for many many mamas across the board so without further ado I will hand it over to Emma. This is an article that she had written previously on her blog that she adapted for us north americaners.....I was truly astonished, as she points out below, that the U.S. actually has better breastfeeding stats compared to England, even when they recieve 6 + months of maternity leave compared to our puny 8-12 weeks here. I was also flat out amazed that England does not have any laws in place for a woman to have pumping rights in the work place! The U.S. still has a long way to go in supporting its mama but it turns out we do have some things in our favor.
Happy reading.....and happy breastfeeding!
I’m a lactation consultant in the United Kingdom and I commonly work with breastfeeding mums who are returning to work and keen to protect their breastfeeding relationship.
In the UK, mums regularly return to work after six months of full-time care of baby and twelve months isn’t at all unusual. I take my hat off to any mother who is returning to work after just a few weeks and is determined to make breastfeeding work. It’s hard but women manage it every single day. And despite the much longer maternity leave in the UK, American mothers exclusively breastfeed to six months in greater numbers than the British do. You also have greater numbers doing any breastfeeding at six months. We really don’t deserve to be smug.
Mothers are deployed in the military to foreign countries and STILL manage to pump milk and ship it home. Women work night shifts and have several children. They have babies with special needs or special needs themselves. With the right pump and a bit of organisation, you can keep your baby exclusively fed on breastmilk for as long as you want to.
It works for American mums because you have state and federal law that protects your right to continue to give your baby the milk that makes sense. It’s not just about employers being lovely and kind. These laws exist because they make sense for everyone. It means less absence (as breastfed babies are less likely to be ill with conditions like diarrhoea and respiratory infections and ear infections). It means better employee recruitment and retention and better employee morale and productivity.
The first few days and weeks are often a blur for new mums. The learning curve is steep and you survive day to day – remembering to shower and put food in the fridge for yourself if you are lucky. For those mums still in the middle of that blur, the thought of the eventual return to work can be one that provokes anxiety.
You can’t imagine how it will feel to leave this new special person in your life.
How do you people cope with drop-offs to childcare and getting back to work after potentially several night-wakings?
What do you do if you don’t want to give up breastfeeding?
Here are my SEVEN top tips for returning to work as a breastfeeding mum.
1. Don’t think about it.
OK, now I don’t mean that too literally. My message is just that if you are going to take 6 weeks, 3 months or a year off work and you spend most of that stressing about the return to work, you will be seriously missing out.
STOP yourself thinking about it too much. If you stare at your gorgeous three week old and think fleetingly, “How can I ever leave you?” (which is how nature very much wants you to feel), that is fair enough. But if you spend chunks of your maternity leave feeling anxious and worrying about practicalities, you will be wasting the special times you do have together.
This time is precious. Your baby now is not going to be the same person when you return back to work. They will sleep differently, feed differently, and interact differently. You will not be leaving THIS baby but an older one. So get your childcare sorted (which you will have thought about in pregnancy anyway) and other than that, there’s not too much more to do! If you intend to express milk at work, it’s a good idea to speak to your employer before you go back to work to talk about arrangements. It makes sense to find out in pregnancy how things work at your workplace and what systems are already in place. And then just carry on as normal. Don’t jeopardise breastfeeding by focusing too much on the return to work. We don’t need a baby that is only a few days old to be taking a bottle. We want them to learn how to latch correctly on the breast so you are comfortable, they can transfer milk effectively and we give your supply the best chance we can. When you are really happy with the latching, then you might try and express some milk and experiment giving it to baby. If they don’t immediately take to a bottle, don’t panic! It’s very easy to set yourself into a panic when the truth is that things usually work out with the right information and the right support. The person who gives the bottle when you are away from baby is going to have their own strategies and probably their own experience and baby will know it’s not you. Babies can also be fed milk in other ways if the bottle really really isn’t accepted. There’s cup feeding and syringe feeding and even finger feeding using a feeding tube. The world doesn’t end if a baby doesn’t take a bottle so don’t spend the start of baby’s life stressing about it.
2. As mentioned, speak to your employer.
Talk to them when you are pregnant. Find out what your rights are. What have other colleagues done? Is there a workplace buddy who can offer you practical and emotional support?
3. Talk through your schedule with a breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant.
Chat through your expectations. How often do you need to pump? How much breastmilk does a baby take in a bottle when they are away from mum? (The milk calculator on www.kellymom.com is useful for this). Is there a way to get in some extra breastfeeds in the day? Could you visit baby in your lunch hour? Maybe do a feed when you collect baby rather than wait until you get home? Maybe it makes sense to pump again at home just before you go to sleep?
4. Talk to your partner and family.
Your partner needs to know why this matters. They need to know that you are going to need time to pump at home too and they are going to need to help take some responsibility for home life running smoothly (please tell me this would happen anyway). What sometimes happens is that the mum takes more leave and takes on responsibility for baby organisation and when she goes back to work, that responsibility continues. But your husband or partner is just as capable of buying diapers and thinking about dinner. Perhaps more so while you are adjusting to getting back to work. Your childcare (professionals or other family members) also need to know how to store and prepare breast milk and they need to know about paced bottle feeding techniques and the ideal way to give a bottle (have a look at ‘paced bottle feeding’ on YouTube).
5. Practise pumping.
Is the breast pump you are using a home something you are familiar with? Do you have a backup if you need to pump at work? It’s a good idea to use a DOUBLE electric breastpump if you can. You want one that’s robust and used to frequent use. You may be able to hire one. Watch out for used pumps as some aren’t ‘closed systems’ and milk and mould can get inside the pump and make them potentially unsafe.
There are tricks such as preparing the breast using massage and warm compresses. And we know that women who finish a pumping session using hand expression techniques can increase their output considerably.
It’s also not a bad idea to build up a bit of a freezer stash before you go back. If you start pumping for one extra session each day and storing that in a freezer bag (store them flat and build up layers of thin flat bags which defrost more easily and take up less space), you will have some wiggle room if you need it. It’s not entirely predictable how pumping will go at work and some women find that their pumping output decreases towards the end of the week and then a weekend of normal breastfeeding boosts it back up again. If you have that freezer stash, it will take away some of their anxiety.
5. Get your kit.
So you need a pump and some bottles and some breastmilk storage bags. What else? Surprisingly not much. You don’t need to store freshly expressed breastmilk in the fridge at work if you don’t want to. You can have a freezer block and an insulated bag and put any expressed milk in there. It is fine in that for 24 hours. So if you store it like that at work, put it in the fridge when you get home, then that milk can be given to your baby’s carer for the next day.
It’s also really important to note, you don’t need to wash and sterilise the pump between pumping sessions. Breastmilk is fine at room temperature for up to 6 hours. So you certainly don’t need to wash a pump between your 11am pumping session and your 2pm one. Lots of working mums use a technique called ‘wet-bagging’, putting a pump in a plastic bag between sessions and then putting it back in the fridge. Then simply take it out next time and wipe any wet parts with paper kitchen towel if you don’t fancy cold drips against you! This also saves precious time.
6. Breastfeed when you can.
Your supply is more likely to be maintained if you breastfeed when you get the chance. Is your childcare near work or home? Could you work from home for one day a week for the first few weeks? You could breastfeed early in the morning, then once more at drop-off, once more at pick-up and again at home later in the evening. Breastfeeding at the weekends and during holidays will help to boost your supply.
Here are the stories of three mothers:
Phoebe is returning to work at 2 months. Her baby feeds around 6 times in 24 hours and a few of those are at night. She has a job where she’s often out of the office and pumping during a working day isn’t easy. She breastfeeds her baby at 5.30am when they wake up. When she gets to day care, she does a little mini-feed just to get as much milk in him as she can and then she goes to work. She pumps around 10.30am and it takes 10 minutes with a double pump. She stores the milk in a cool bag with an ice block and leaves it in her desk. She keeps the wet pump in there too in a Ziploc bag. Some days she is on a client visit and she drops by her baby’s daycare around lunchtime for a breastfeed. If not, she’ll pump again at around 1pm. She leaves work at 4pm and feeds her son at his daycare. She breastfeeds again at home at 7pm after his bath and again at around 11pm. He wakes in the night to breastfeed and Phoebe co-sleeps with him (following the recommended safety guidelines) so night feeding fits with her sleep cycles and it isn’t too disruptive. Her son’s daycare give him a bottle of expressed milk roughly every 4 hours. On days she visits at lunchtime, he gets one larger bottle in the morning and a smaller one in the afternoon. They are careful not to feed him too close to when she is due to pick him up. Because Phoebe’s baby is ‘reverse cycling’ (feeding more at night than he does in the day, he takes expressed milk less frequently in the day than another baby of the same age might).
Carla is going back to work full-time at 6 months. Her son is an enthusiastic exclusive breastfeeder and she’d like to avoid using formula if she can. When her son is 4 months old, she writes to her boss (she is a PA in a law firm) and explains she would like to express her milk at work. Her boss explains the company procedure of having a small office set aside for pumping and there is also a fridge available. Carla explains she intends to express around 3 times in the working day and one of those times will be during her lunch break. Her boss is fine with that. She has a double electric pump which she starts using from 4 months and she gives her son a bottle every other day to get him used to it. She finds he prefers to sit a bit more upright and usually takes 3-4oz from the bottle.
She starts solids around 10 days before she goes back to work and he takes small amounts initially and Carla knows his breastfeeding schedule will remain unaffected for a while. The week before she starts work, they visit the nursery together and he has a few hours there. He then has two trial days where Carla practises her expressing schedule and the daycare workers give him a bottle and some solids.
On her working day, she breastfeeds him as normal at 6am. She drops him off at daycare at 7.45am and offers again and he takes a small feed. At work she expresses at 11am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm. She collects her son at 6pm. He is keen to breastfeed when she arrives and they breastfeed at nursery. She breastfeeds him again at home at around 10pm as a dreamfeed. He wakes once at around 2am and she breastfeeds him again.
While he is at daycare, the carers give him bottles and offer solids and he usually takes around 12oz in total while they are separated. As he has 3 good breastfeeds in addition to that in 24 hours, Carla isn’t worried. Carla expresses more milk at work than her son takes in a bottle at the moment. Over the next few weeks, she moves to expressing only twice. Carla ends up offering exclusive breastmilk until 12 months and then she gradually introduces full fat cow’s milk.
Karen is returning to work when her son is 6 weeks old. She practised expressing and giving some bottles in the 2 weeks before she was due back to work but she didn’t introduce a bottle before then. She breastfeeds at 6am. She expresses at 11am, 2pm and 5pm. She uses a double electric breast pump and stores her milk in a mini fridge. She gets around 90-120mls (3-4 oz) each time she pumps. She collects her son at 6.30pm and breastfeeds. She breastfeeds again at 9pm and 11pm (and he often wants to cluster feed in the evening. She finds that wearing him in a sling makes life easier). He feeds again at night at around 2am.
Does any of that fit with what you might do? The truth is that every story is different and every family find their own way. The months that you choose to combine working and giving breastmilk will be hard work but what part of new motherhood isn’t? And the effects of your decision will last a lifetime.
So ladies what to do you think? Got questions? Let us know in the comments section below! To learn more about Emma, and get your hands on all her amazing articles, videos, and resources, head on over to her blog www.emmapickettbreastfeedingsupport.com.