For working mothers, returning to work can feel like a significant roadblock in your breastfeeding journey. After all, you won't be able to be with your baby to nurse on demand like you have during maternity leave. But you can still provide all those nutritional benefits to your baby even if you can't be with them all day long, and it doesn't mean that your breastfeeding journey must be over.
Benefits of Continuing to Breastfeed
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastmilk as the sole source of nutrition for the baby’s first six months of life, followed by continued breastfeeding for up to one year, along with introductory solid foods.
That’s because breastmilk comes packed with nutrients and antibodies that help protect against certain illnesses and diseases like asthma, SIDS, ear infections, and more. Not only that, but breastmilk composition changes to meet the nutritional needs of your infant, so you can be sure that your baby is always getting the very best to keep them healthy and happy.
If your child is heading off to daycare or spending time with other children or caregivers, they will be exposed to more germs. This makes the powerful antibodies in your breastmilk even more valuable to them.
It can be a big change for your little one to be away from you all day long. Continuing to breastfeed while you are together will give you that special time to reconnect, snuggle and bond after a long day away from each other. This is not only good for your baby but good for you too. After all, heading back to work won't be easy for either of you.
While heading back to work will be challenging, there are many ways you can still give your baby nutritious breastmilk, so be sure to plan your return well in advance and know your options.
Planning Your Return to Work
If you already know you want to head back to work, it’s never too early to begin planning for that day. After all, many considerations should go into arranging care for your child, and it’s important to think about how breastfeeding fits into the equation.
When choosing childcare options, think about what will be most convenient for you (and for breastfeeding). If it's important to you to breastfeed exclusively, you should look into caregivers near your work that will give you the ability to sneak away on breaks to breastfeed your child.
Remember that breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing. It would help if you thought about what's best for your lifestyle. You can express your milk so that caregivers can give bottles to your little one, and you can still breastfeed while you are together. There’s no harm to compromising and offering your baby a bottle of breast milk when you can’t be with them to ensure they get all the nutritional benefits of exclusive breastfeeding through the first year (and beyond).
The good news is that once your breastmilk supply is well established, it can be extremely flexible, so you can adjust your breastfeeding and pumping schedule to fit the demands of your job and your infant.
Whether you decide to work part-time, ask for flexible working options or pump your milk at work, you do have rights as a breastfeeding mother.
Know Your Rights
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) recommends that you let your employer know in writing that you are breastfeeding. This will let them know that they need to complete a risk assessment to identify any apparent risks to you while breastfeeding.
While it's not a legal obligation, the Health and Safety Executive recommends that pumping mothers are provided with a safe and private room to express and store breastmilk. If you're planning to express milk during the workday, you'll need to request a private place to do so (that is not a bathroom), with a door that can lock. This means that you should have access to electricity for your pump, a fridge to store your expressed milk, and running water to clean your pump after use properly.
Your employer is not legally required to provide breastfeeding breaks. Still, they must follow health and safety laws and discrimination laws, which mean that you can't be mistreated because of breastfeeding.
In many cases, workplaces accommodate any breaks or special requests you have while breastfeeding. After all, it's a short period of time and will ensure that you're happier at work (and a happy employee is a great worker).
Be open and transparent with your employer, and don't be afraid to ask for flexible working arrangements if needed to support your breastfeeding journey.
If you feel like your employer is not supportive of breastfeeding, you may have a claim under the Equality Act. Contact Maternity Action if you feel like you are being discriminated against for breastfeeding or expressing milk in the workplace.
Tips For Expressing Your Milk at Work
Expressing breastmilk at work is a great way to provide breastmilk for your baby even when you can’t be with them. We wrote a previous blog on expressing and storing your breastmilk, but keep in mind the rule of 4s, which means you can store freshly expressed or pumped milk for up to 4 hours at room temperature or up to 4 days in the refrigerator. When you freeze expressed milk, using within six months is preferred, but it's safe for up to 12 months.
Knowing that there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to express your milk once you return to work.
To start, La Leche League recommends that you express your milk at least every three hours while away from your baby. This will help prevent leakage and engorgement while you’re getting used to the new schedule. But what about when you're in a long meeting or stuck in traffic, and you begin to feel uncomfortably full? Pressing hard on your nipples for several seconds can help prevent leaking. You can do this discreetly by crossing your arms tightly across your chest. Over time, this will become less of an issue, but it can be helpful to put your pumping times in your calendar so you don't accidentally schedule a meeting or long lunch during your pumping window.
Typically, you can express enough milk during the day to be used the next day, but it can be helpful to have a small freezer stash that’s available if you need it.
Check out our previous blog posts to see more tips on expressing and storing breastmilk.
Work With Your Employer
Communicate all your needs with your employer. As mentioned above, most employers will be willing to work with you and fully support your breastfeeding journey.
Discuss how often you will need breaks for breastfeeding or expressing your milk. Your options will likely depend a lot on the nature of your job. For some, flexible work arrangements may be accommodated. Here are some questions to ask yourself before returning to work (courtesy of La Leche League):
· Can you extend your maternity leave, request part-time or flexible working hours, or an extended lunch hour?
· Are you able to work from home for all or some of the time, or even bring your baby to work?
· Can you break up your working week, perhaps working alternate days, so your baby is not away from you several days in a row?
· Shorter workdays might be easier to manage, with less pumping for you and fewer missed breastfeeds for your baby.
· Or you may prefer fewer but more extended workdays, with more full days at home with your baby.
· Do you really need to return to this job? Some mothers make adjustments to stay at home or explore other, more flexible ways of earning money.
Consider all your options and be completely open and honest with your employer along the way. It will make for a more rewarding and less stressful experience for you and, in turn, your baby.
Your Breastfeeding Journey
Making your return to work is undoubtedly stressful, but that doesn't mean you need to stop breastfeeding. And with options like pumping, and breastfeeding when you can be together (early morning or evening feeds) are great ways to make sure your baby stays healthy and happy during this significant life change.
Consider slowly returning to work to make the transition less abrupt for you and your baby. Try going back to work on a Thursday so you can start with two days before launching into a full workweek.
We mentioned it earlier, but transparency with your employer is extra important during this time. Decide how you want to feed your baby and communicate those needs with your workplace.
Always know your rights! If you ever have any questions or concerns, Maternity Action (www.maternityaction.org.uk) has lots of information to help both you and your employer.
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