Written by Marion Rice, Director of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon and Program Manager for Maternal/ Child Health at Oregon Public Health Institute
After baby comes, it seems you have no time for anything you did before and you can’t believe you can’t remember what life was actually like when you didn’t have this amazing soft, mushy, bundle of joy. It is all wonderful and delicious and so sweet, but when you think about going back to work, dread and even panic may ensue.
Support for mothers to return to work and maintain expressing milk for their children is in the news, now more than ever. While breastfeeding initiation rates are trending higher nationwide, there continues to be a large drop in breastfeeding rates once women return to work, which means that many working moms are unable to meet the current recommendations to feed their babies breast milk exclusively for at least the first six months of life. In an effort to encourage breastfeeding among working moms (and improve breastfeeding rates among working moms), the US Surgeon General addressed issues related to employment and breastfeeding in her Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, which was released in January 2011. This Call to Action encourages employers to establish lactation support programs for employees and to expand the use of programs that allow breastfeeding moms to have access to their babies throughout the day.
There are all kinds of reasons why nursing through the first year or more is beneficial for you and your baby. But even with all these benefits, many women just can’t see how they can make it work AT work. While many companies and organizations view lactation support as part of an overall corporate wellness strategy and are quite pro-active in their support of employees returning to work and needing lactation accommodation, some careers are more difficult for women to navigate when combining work and breast milk expression. Women with hazardous, non-office jobs, such as firefighters and police officers are especially challenged.
If you are headed back to work, here are some suggestions for ensuring you can continue to breastfeed successfully:
- Talk to your workplace about your needs well in advance of going back to your job.
- Identify the most convenient pumping solution, including suggested times and locations.
- Have a GOOD pump that will do the job!
- Freeze at least 32 ounces of milk in 2 ounce bottles; your milk supply might need a ramp up period and this way you have a stash in the freezer.
- Make sure you have confidence in your childcare providers experience handling human milk.
- Talk to your partner about sharing the load at home.
- Anticipate potential changes in babies feeding needs and sleep patterns.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew by creating a gradual re-entry plan. (Perhaps start on a Wednesday or Thursday vs. a Monday.)
- Line up help and support at home while you adjust to added responsibilities.