Breastfeeding is nature’s fast food. It’s the ultimate convenience: Baby is hungry, milk is ready. Any place. Any time. But that convenience changes when moms start thinking about separating from their baby and going back to work while still breastfeeding.
But just because you’re headed back to work doesn’t mean you need to wean. In the long run, you might get more work done if you continue to breastfeed, since breastfed babies are less likely to have chronic illnesses.
Last January, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a 100-page Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, citing a long list of breastfeeding’s health benefits. And first lady Michelle Obama recently encouraged women to breastfeed as part of her Let’s Move campaign, because breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity in children.
While there are obstacles to continuing to breastfeed when you return to work, it may be getting easier. The Internal Revenue Service recently affirmed that breastfeeding equipment, like pumps, are eligible medical expenses, which can be covered by flexible spending benefits. And a recent amendment to federal law requires employers to provide break times and private, non-bathroom space for employees who need to express milk or feed a baby up to 1 year of age.
Despite the fact that a law exists, sometimes having the conversation with an employer about the need to express milk can be tricky. It may help to share with your employer the business case for breastfeeding: Employers can save money when it comes to health-care costs and employee attendance by supporting breastfeeding, because of its health benefits to babies and to mothers.
Virtually any new mother who returns to the workforce should be able to pump. Employers might even find they’re rewarded for offering a supportive breastfeeding policy. Each year, the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington bestows the Outstanding Employer Award to a Washington business “that has shown leadership in and significantly contributed to promoting and supporting breastfeeding as a vital part of the health and development of children and their families.”
Past winners include Eddie Bauer, the City of Tacoma, Russell Investment Group, and Fort Lewis & Madigan Army Medical Center. Fort Lewis earned the award because of its policy supporting breastfeeding soldiers, which includes a daily mail courier to transport breast milk for mothers who are working in the field.
Once your employer is on board, these tips may make breastfeeding at work even easier:
1. “A good electric pump is a must,” advises Woodinville mom Aimee Perkins, who has returned to work and pumped breast milk for all three of her children.
2. Schedule your pumping time, she adds. “If I didn’t write it in my calendar, the day would be gone before I knew it.” Also, don’t assume pumping time is wasted. Perkins advocates the hands-free bra, which holds pump cups in place so you can do other things.
3. If milk supply is an issue, rather than multitasking, you may need a relaxing pumping routine. Stress hormones can make milk production difficult. Shoreline mom Jennifer Kittleson created a routine to help make pumping easier. “I used rice bags with lavender, photos of the kids and nursing tea,” she recalls, and found that this routine helped. Many mothers find that relaxing and thinking of their babies help stimulate the hormones that enhance milk supply and the let-down reflex.
4. Use proper milk storage containers, label them and bring them home each day. Mystery milk in the shared fridge may not be treated with the respect that your precious mama milk deserves.
5. Nurse at home as much as possible. Safe cosleeping can help provide the physical connection that helps increase milk-producing hormones. And nursing at night can help keep up your supply. Some babies will cluster-feed when mom comes home and not take as much milk in bottles during the day. These babies have strong survival instincts, because that extra nursing is very good for mom’s milk supply.
6. If you can coordinate childcare near your workplace, you may even be able to visit your baby during your lunch break to nurse. In any event, work with your childcare provider to minimize your pumping time. If you can feed baby right before you leave and immediately when you get home, that’s one or two fewer bottles and less need to pump. After all, a busy mama can use one less thing to do.
Tera Schreiber is a freelance writer who carried on a long relationship with her breast pump when she returned to work, after the births of her children.
Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington’s educational website, Working & Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington’s Business Case for Breastfeeding
U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding
Safe co-sleeping guidelines from the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at Notre Dame
Safe co-sleeping guidelines from Dr. Sears