As any working mother will tell you, returning to work after having your baby is probably one of the hardest things you will do as a parent. While in many cases it is the only option, returning to work can be especially stressful when you are a breastfeeding mother. Many new moms find that continuing to breastfeed their baby via expressed or pumped breast milk becomes too overwhelming and stop breastfeeding all together. This can add salt to the already raw wound of not only having to leave your new baby but by also having to stop providing them the best nourishment for them.
While some mothers are granted FMLA leave which can allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid job security, many mothers cannot or are not granted this much time to be home with their babies. Sadly, this means that some mothers have to leave their new babies as early as two weeks postpartum, while most take and average of six to eight weeks off to be home. Here are some tips for these new moms (or soon to be new moms) if they are faced with the daunting task of returning to work.
Tip One: Prepare ahead of time
Preparation is key to the success of continuing to breastfeed your baby when you return to work. Your baby will be getting pumped milk by bottle from a caregiver and the last thing you want to worry about is not having enough supply for your baby. As soon as you are ready, try to begin pumping while you are still home on leave so you build up a stock in your freezer. Breast milk can stay good in the freezer for up to six months, so the earlier you can start pumping the better.
There are several ways to accomplish pumping while building your milk supply at home. One way is to feed your baby on one breast and pump the other (this can be done at the same time as the baby is feeding or right after). Just know in the beginning weeks you will only be producing as much as the baby needs, which is usually a very small amount, so don’t be alarmed and think that you are not producing enough. By pumping ahead of time when you can, you should have a good stock of frozen milk before you return to work.
Tip two: Know your rights
As a breastfeeding mother you are entitled to certain rights that can ensure you have the ability to pump at work if you choose to continue breastfeeding when you return. By knowing your rights going back you can set yourself at ease in knowing that your employers must provide you certain accommodations. In a nut shell, these accommodations are that you should be provided the right to pump when you need to and be granted a quiet place that is shielded from view and free of intrusion from co-workers- and it CANNOT be a bathroom! Your choice to provide breast milk to you baby should not become hindered by your employment and if you find that you are not being accommodated you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor.
Tip three: Mimic the Baby
When you are home with your baby, your baby will nurse frequently in the first few weeks to build your supply of milk. This is very important for maintaining and continuing to breastfeed. Do not mistake this behavior of constant nursing as you not having enough milk to fill the baby. What the baby is doing is telling your body to make more milk. A simple rule of thumb for breastfeeding is the more you do it, the more milk will come.
When you return to work and need to pump try to mimic the baby’s normal feeding schedule. This usually means pumping every two to three hours for about 15 minutes and by continuing this pattern you are essentially telling your body to keep producing milk. When you are home with your baby, let the baby nurse on demand freely which also continues to build your supply. While it may seem like a lot of work (and it is!), it will be so worth it when you find you are able to continue to provide your baby with the perfect nutrition they need.
Tip four: Do your best and forget the rest
If you have taken the time and energy to prepare for your return to work, you should find some success in continuing to provide your baby with breast milk. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for the first 12 months, know ahead of time that you may not make it that far. Breastfeeding is difficult on its own, and adding the pressure of returning to work can make things much more complicated. Just know that any amount of breastmilk provided to your baby is the best possible option. Set a goal, prepare for it, and give it your best shot! Remember to take it easy on yourself; you are new at this whole motherhood thing after all.
So in review, if you are returning to work and you wish to continue providing your baby with breastmilk, just remember: prepare ahead of time, know your rights, keep with the baby’s patterns, and give it your best! Breastfeeding your child is a wonderful part of motherhood and it has so many benefits to you and your baby. Keep going, Momma, you’re doing a great job!