Returning to work after maternity leave does not mean you have to stop breastfeeding. It is possible to continue breastfeeding whilst working. However, you should know that working and breastfeeding is more difficult than staying at home and breastfeeding or than working and formula feeding.
Perhaps this is why so many mothers don’t even attempt to continue breastfeeding when going back to work. In my experience, many feel so overwhelmed by the idea of doing both that they don’t even really consider it as an option. As your baby grows and once he starts eating solid foods it will also get easier as he may be able to wait longer between milk feeds. So while it definitely requires some planning, it is possible to successfully breastfeed and have a career.
There are various challenges facing mothers who are working and breastfeeding:
- Women have to find the time to express during the workday. Sometimes your workload makes this impossible.
- You will spend your lunch break wolfing down food awkwardly with one hand while trying to manage the breastfeeding equipment with the other.
- Many workplaces do not have space for women to express, and you may end up in less-than-ideal locations like in a bathroom or inside your car.
- You will have to keep your breast pump and bottles clean and ready-to-use, adding another task to your already-busy early morning, and substantial luggage to your commute. This will often include a cooler bag with heavy ice packs as there may not be freezer space that you can use.
- You will most likely face some ridicule from colleagues, male and female. Even low-noise breast pumps create some sound, which is hard to miss in an office.
- If you don’t express regularly and properly empty your breast, not only will you struggle to maintain your supply, but you can get breast engorgement and mastitis.
- Women express different amounts of milk. One mother can manage to get enough during a session to supply in her baby’s needs, while another would need to express multiple times to get enough milk together.
- On top of working the whole day, you will be the one breastfeeding your baby at night. This can be considered an advantage of continuing breastfeeding, as it gives an opportunity to make up for time missed with baby during the day. But it will still be tiring. Of course, formula babies will also feed at night, so technically you would have had to wake up anyway.
Have I convinced you yet? Why go through all this trouble if you can simply give your baby formula milk? Let me share what motivated me, and maybe this can inspire you to do the same.
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Between my two children, I expressed and worked for a total of 20 months. It took lots of effort, but I managed to get through those periods without giving any formula milk. Of course as a midwife my work environment was breastfeeding friendly and my colleagues supportive. This definitely helped a lot. I realise that this is not the case for many mothers.
Nevertheless, it required some pushing through, especially as I was one of those moms who never expressed huge quantities of milk at a time. I had to express on average 4-5 times a day to ensure enough milk for the times away.
My worst expressing moments was probably when I got in bed tired late at night, only to remember that I still had to express. Often those late-night sessions only yielded 10-20ml of milk. However, I knew that without those small amounts my bottles would lack the last 10-20ml of milk they needed to be full, which motivated me to log that last session.
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So why do I suggest taking on all the work and drama in a time when you actually need to simplify things for yourself? Here is what kept me going:
- Expressing milk enables your baby to still reap all the rewards of drinking breastmilk, even when you are separated.
- Babies placed in a crèche or daycare are exposed to many harmful germs from other babies and caregivers. Breastfeeding offers immune protection and helps to prevent illness and infections. And let me say, having a constantly sick child will disrupt your work schedule far more than 2-3 expressing breaks daily.
- Most mothers feel guilty and sad to have to leave their babies to go to work. This shouldn’t be the case, considering the biggest motivator for this decision is financial compensation, without which the same baby will inadvertently suffer. Expressing breastmilk offers mothers a way to do something for their little ones, even when they are not there in person.
I really want to encourage you to at least consider the option. Any breastmilk is better than no breastmilk. Many women I talk to don’t seem to realise that you can add in formula if you are unable to express enough milk to fulfil baby’s needs for the time you’re away. This takes away some of the pressure.
Obviously the longer you can feed baby, the better. But even if expressing just allows you to continue feeding for a few more months it is worthwhile. So hang in there mama, and know that each drop you can give is worth gold.
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