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Going back to work after maternity leave is tough. It’s tougher still if you intend to continue breastfeeding your baby.
A study of almost 700 women breastfeeding newborns and working full-time jobs showed that only 1 was able to exclusively breastfeed her baby for the first six months.*
One out of 700!
That’s not to say it’s impossible – after all, that one woman did it. Realistically though, if it was easy then the number of working moms exclusively nursing for six months would be much higher.
Obviously, it’s going to take some work to keep breastfeeding after maternity leave – and I’m here to help you get started. Bookmark this page, print it out, whatever you need to do. Consider this your own personal Success Checklist!
Not everyone is aware of this, but as a nursing mother, you have rights in the workplace. You have the right to express milk for your baby. With only a few exceptions, your employer is required to provide breaks adequate for you to pump when you need and is also required to provide a private place other than a bathroom for you to pump.
Click here to read the compliance standards for employers of nursing mothers. This information can also be found at https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/hrg.htm#NursingMothers
Have a plan
Ever heard the old adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail?” It totally applies here. You have to have a plan to make this work.
Know what type of childcare you’re going to use – not necessarily who you’re going to use – just the type. This may be a daycare facility, in-home daycare, family member, nanny, or maybe daddy works from home and plans to take care of your wee one while you’re at work. Nothing has to be concrete, just have an idea of the type of childcare you plan to use.
Now think about where you work and figure out the best way to successfully pump there. Here are some considerations:
- Do you have a job where it’s possible to take breaks to express your milk?
- Is there a place that could be designated as a pumping room for a while?
- How often do you plan to express your milk?
- How can you make pumping efficient? Can you use a hands-free pumping bra so you can still do some sort of work?
- Can you come in earlier or stay later to make up for lost work time so you don’t fall behind?
Use this information to create a well-thought-out action plan before you ever even talk to your boss.
Talk To Your Boss
This part can be daunting, and that’s why you want to know your rights and have considered how to make pumping as easy as possible for you and your employer. I hope your boss is supportive; but even if that’s not the case, you’ll be just fine. That well-thought-out plan I mentioned earlier will arm you with all the answers to any objections your employer might voice.
Be sure you have this conversation before you go on maternity leave.
Do your homework
Yes, you have homework to do! Write a 500-word essay…no just kidding!!! Here are a few things you need to take care of before maternity leave:
- Research breast pumps and find out if your insurance helps cover the cost.
- Learn about safe breastmilk storage.
- Finalize plans for your childcare and make sure they understand how to safely store your milk.
- Consider joining an online group for working mothers who breastfeed so you can get support, encouragement, and helpful advice.
Prepare before returning to work
The idea of maternity leave may have you thinking of long weeks snuggling on the couch with a sleeping newborn while you catch up on your favorite show. I hope it’s as lovely and relaxing as you anticipate. During all your snuggle time, throw in a little preparation for your return to work. Because unless you’re super, super lucky, it really will eventually happen. Probably faster than you expect.
Take some time to get familiar with your breast pump. You also want to build up a store of milk so you’ll have plenty when you go back.
After the first month, introduce your baby to the bottles he’ll be using. Start mixing a few bottle feedings into his routine so he gets used to them. You don’t want him to refuse to eat on your first day back at work!
Easing the transition
I’m not going to lie, the first day you leave your baby is going to be HARD. You may cry and pray and cry and scream all the way to work, even if you were looking forward to going back. Everything in a nursing mother’s body will tell her that separation is wrong, even if her mind understands the reason it’s necessary. The emotional angst of those first few days you’re apart may make it difficult for you to let down your milk.
Here’s a brilliant way of helping along what may be an elusive letdown: have someone use your phone to take a video of your baby crying and then latching on and nursing happily. Start watching this video at the start of your pumping session. I almost guarantee your milk will be flowing quickly!
It’s best to breastfeed right before leaving your baby, and again right after picking him up. Doing this serves two purposes: it eases the transition for both of you, and it helps you fit in as many nursing sessions as possible. The more you breastfeed and pump, the stronger your supply will be.
Be sure to keep open communication with your employer to make sure if anyone has concerns about your pumping sessions, you can address them before they become an issue. And can I offer a friendly tip? It’s absolutely your right to pump, but have consideration for how what you’re doing affects others. After all, you win more bees with honey. I’m not saying be a pushover by any means! Just realize this affects more than you, so to be successful it needs to be as convenient as possible for everyone involved (but mostly you).
Know and be confident in your rights! Consider having a printout of the law in your pump case – just in case Nosey Nancy thinks your “preferential treatment” needs to stop.
As I mentioned earlier, your employer should provide a private area away from intrusion where you can express milk. This needs to be someplace other than the bathroom! I know people (possibly your boss) will argue that pumping breastmilk is private and should be done in the bathroom. You’re doing a lot more than removing a bodily fluid though! You’re fixing lunch for your baby. Who wants to eat a lunch that was prepared in the bathroom???
Ideally, you should pump at your normal feeding times or as close as possible. Pumping during breaks and lunch can work for most people.
You’re going to need to allow yourself at least 15 minutes to pump. Anything less than that, and you risk not getting enough of that super nutritious hindmilk your baby needs.
How much milk do you need to get out of a session? A good rule of thumb is to pump enough to provide your baby with a full feeding. For the first six months, a baby will eat 2-3 ounces at each feeding. As he gets older, he will take more milk less often.
To store your expressed milk, you can use an ice pack in a thermal cooler. If you have access to a refrigerator, you can keep it in the back where the temperature will be most stable. If it’s a shared refrigerator, be sure to label your milk. Don’t be surprised if a knot-head coworker gets squeamish about your breastmilk being in the refrigerator. Some people…
Personally, I like the thermal case and ice pack route because that way it can stay with you and you always know where baby’s milk is. People can be thoughtless. They dig through refrigerators, leave things on the counter, open a container that’s not even theirs and dump the contents because “the milk didn’t smell right.” Nervy, right? Some people…
Ignore the people
Co-workers are hands-down the biggest hurdle for moms who want to keep breastfeeding after maternity leave.
People can be wonderful, caring, thoughtful and supportive… and those same people can sometimes be thoughtless, careless with words, self-absorbed, and unsupportive.
Ignore those people. Many women quit pumping at work because their coworkers hassled them or because it was causing tension. Don’t let it surprise you, even if it comes from an unexpected source.
Ignore the people and you’ll do great. Co-workers are hands-down the biggest hurdle for moms who want to keep breastfeeding after maternity leave.
You got this!
It’s true that most women who want to keep breastfeeding after maternity leave struggle to make it work. With some advanced planning and a solid plan, you don’t have to be one of them. You’ve got this! Let me say, I am really proud of you for working so hard to provide the absolute best for you and your family. You’re amazing!
Have you ever expressed milk from work? What advice can you give other moms to make it easier for them? Please comment and let us know!
*This study can be found at https://ssl.uh.edu/research/news/magazine/2016/moms/index.php