Returning to work after maternity leave is a time of change and stress for any working mother, but maintaining a breastfeeding regimen adds extra challenges. Planning ahead, talking with other experienced mothers and gaining the support of bosses and colleagues will ease your transition. Breastfeeding is known to provide important health, social and immunological benefits. Besides providing essential nutrition, the breast milk provides antibodies and significantly decreases the risk of acute and chronic diseases in babies, including ear and respiratory infections. The bond between a mother and baby increases during nursing. And advantages to the mother include reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and increasing oxytocin levels that help contract the uterus after birth.In April 2006, the World Health Organization released new standards for worldwide child growth and development. Breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition for the first six months of life, the statement said. With 72 percent of U.S. women between the ages of 25 and 54 in the labor force, and with an average of six to 12 weeks off from work, it is inevitable that many mothers will be breastfeeding when they return to work.
There is no consistency among states and work environments in protecting a breastfeeding mother’s rights. Some states like California have strict laws that mandate employers provide adequate breastfeeding facilities. Other states have no rules in place to facilitate the needs of breastfeeding mothers. Workplace situations vary too. Some women have the luxury of private offices or employer-provided lactation rooms, while other women pump in their cars or bathrooms. No matter what your situation, there are still some universal tips of the trade.
Before returning to work, mothers should try to increase their stored breast milk supply several weeks in advance. Pumping early in the morning when breast milk supply is greatest or after the baby has fed are the best times. Freezing as much breast milk as possible before returning will allow time to figure out the pumping and working routine. Once back to work, mothers usually pump fresh breast milk for the next day’s supply.
Practicing a routine before the first day back to work may ease the transition. Two weeks before Julie Hough, 30, returned to full-time work, she tried to get her then 3-month-old son, Max, on a pumping schedule. She would nurse in the morning, and then pump throughout the day, feeding him with a bottle. “It was a hard transition,” said Hough of Culver City, Calif. “I wanted to see how much he was taking per day and how much I needed to produce.”
Within a 24-hour period, mothers should aim to feed 2.5 oz. of breast milk for every pound the baby weighs, according to La Leche League International. So if a baby weighs 10 pounds, he/she should eat 25 ounces in a given day. During Hough’s first couple days at work, she underestimated how much breast milk Max needed and had to buy formula to cover a few feedings. “It’s so expensive,” she said. “It was more motivation to keep breastfeeding.”
The best time to introduce the bottle varies between babies. But a good time is usually between four to six weeks when the baby has perfected the art of breastfeeding and the mother’s breast milk supply is well-established. And every bottle does not work for every baby. There will be a trial and error period until you discover which bottle your baby prefers.
Ideally, you should pump every three hours while at work. This may entail scheduling meetings around pumping sessions, so as to avoid painful engorgement or leakage at inopportune times. Full-time working mothers recommend the double breast pump. It speeds up the pumping process to about 15 to 20 minutes for both breasts.
Choosing a daycare provider who values breastfeeding is also imperative to success. Alberta Soranzo, 36, of Santa Monica, Calif. ruled out daycares that wanted pre-filled bottles for her five-month old daughter, Giorgia. If her daughter didn’t drink all the breast milk, the providers would throw away the rest. Instead, Soranzo found a daycare that accepted 10-ounce milk containers and fed Giorgia just what she needed and saved the rest.
If possible, choose a daycare provider near your workplace. Try scheduling a breastfeeding session during your lunch hour. Talk with your provider about timing a feeding just as you return from work. This way you can reconnect with your baby after a long day at the office.
Mothers should continue to breastfeed in the evenings and during the weekends. This will ensure continual bonding and keep the breast milk supply plentiful. And the more moms nurse and pump the more milk they produce.
Store your milk in glass or hard plastic containers, or bags made especially for breast milk. Expressed milk can be stored at room temperature for up to 10 hours, in a refrigerator for eight days, in a freezer for three to four months, and in a deep freeze for up to six months, according to La Leche League International. It’s easiest to freeze milk in small quantities, such as two to five ounces, which thaw more easily. Date all containers and store pumped milk in a fridge while at work. A cooler with frozen ice packs is the best way to travel home with the bottles.
Every mother’s work and home experience is personal. But the greatest key to success is motivation. Focusing on one day at time and setting short-term goals helps to reach the six-month breastfeeding mark, mothers say. “It’s doable and you have to be really committed to it,” Soranzo said. “The only thing is believing that it can be done.”