"I'm going back to work in a few weeks. Will I be able to continue to breastfeed my baby?" Lots of mothers are asking this question these days. The special health and nutritional benefits of human milk are now common knowledge, and employed moms want their babies to have nature's best start. With planning, persistence, and the right equipment, working mothers can continue to enjoy a breastfeeding relationship with their babies while pursuing a career.
The Importance of a Good Start
The first six weeks after the baby arrives are very important. This recovery time is essential for the mother's health and for the establishment of a robust milk supply. Moms and babies need a quiet time to work through the learning phase of breastfeeding. Any persistent problems that arise should be dealt with during this time.
Lactation consultants, La Leche League leaders, and Nursing Mothers Counselors are available in most communities to assist with issues such as sore nipples, milk supply concerns, and the logistics of caring for your breastfed baby. They will reinforce the importance of frequent feeding and lots of rest. Rest is especially important for the woman who is returning to a job at six weeks to three months postpartum.
Learning how to quickly and comfortably express milk during separations from the baby is the key to successfully combining working and breastfeeding. Women have different situations and different breastfeeding goals. Some working moms feel strongly about continuing to exclusively breastfeed until the baby is 4 to 6 months old. These moms will need to express an average of three times each work day in order to maintain a full milk supply and have adequate milk for the babysitter. Other mothers may have work situations that don't allow for this. They may only be able to express once or twice during the day. These moms will use formula to make up the difference between what the baby needs and what they can pump. Breastfeeding proceeds as usual before and after work, and on weekends. Over time, the milk supply will adjust to most situations. Most women wear pads inside the bra at work to protect against leaking.
Choosing a Breast Pump
Investigate breast pumps and learn how to hand express milk during maternity leave. A combination of pumping and hand expression enhances the milk collection process. La Leche League publishes a pamphlet about hand expression, or a lactation consultant can show you how to perform this simple and effective technique.
A good breast pump is important. Some women blame themselves when they can't pump enough milk, but the problem is often faulty equipment. Breast pumps come in all price ranges and sizes. The best pumps are rental grade. These are the sturdiest and most dependable for ongoing maintenance of production. Some of the companies that manufacture these pumps also sell high-quality pumps through lactation consultants or hospital-based stores.
In general, it is wise to purchase the best equipment you can afford. The pump should be comfortable, easy to clean and transport, and should carry a good warranty. Many pumps allow for double pumping—a benefit when time is of the essence! Some of the newer pumps are packaged in discrete carrying bags that include a built-in cooler.
Consumer warning: many older, less effective breast pumps are still on the market. Ask a lactation consultant for advice before making a decision. Pumps are considered to be personal hygiene products, and are not recommended for sharing. It is unwise to purchase them second hand.
Teaching Baby to Take a Bottle
Most experts agree that it is best to allow the baby several weeks to learn how to breastfeed before introducing bottles. Around three weeks postpartum, Dad or Grandmother can begin offering occasional bottles of pumped milk to help the baby become accustomed to another way of feeding. Observe the baby while bottle-feeding. Too much gulping, spilling milk out of the corners of the mouth, or fussing after feeding may indicate that the flow rate of the nipple is too rapid for the baby to manage. If this happens, try one of the newer, slow-flow bottle nipples.
Sometimes people wait too long to introduce bottles. Older babies may sometimes refuse the bottle, creating a great deal of anxiety for parents and caregivers. In these cases, offer the bottle without putting lots of pressure on the baby. Make bottle-feeding sessions playful and brief, and keep repeating the experience until the baby relaxes and adjusts. Some parents with very opinionated babies have discovered that a sippy cup works just as well for the older baby.