Pinky McKay’s practical tips on returning to work and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and worrying about what returning to work will mean for your milk supply and baby? Well, according to Australia’s most recognized and respected breastfeeding expert Pinky McKay, you needn’t worry! Here are Pinky’s practical tips for continuing to breastfeed and returning to work.

You’ve finally mastered breastfeeding, you and your baby are enjoying this special bond, but knowing you’re returning to work has you fraught with anxiety. You worry, how can I maintain my milk supply? How do I negotiate expressing or feeding breaks at work? How will I express, store and transport my milk? What about my baby — how much milk do they need and will their caregivers support me to breastfeed?

Take heart, returning to paid employment and breastfeeding are entirely compatible. Your baby can enjoy the health, immunity, and nutritional benefits and you will still have the unique connection of breastfeeding.

Sarah, the mother of a 10-month-old, returned to work when her baby was five months old. She says, “I remember stressing about having to express and what that would mean for me, how I would cope, and if it was going to be easier to just stop breastfeeding. Once I started work and got into a routine it was fine and I realized I was worried about nothing. We are still breastfeeding as much as ever.”

Cara, the mother of a four-month-old, started back at work recently. She says, “Our company has a soft landing policy, so I work from home in the morning and then go into the office at lunch. We have a nursery room so it’s pretty easy to pump in the office. The biggest challenge is finding time to pump, so I schedule it in my diary and have even started walking out of meetings if I need to. I pump in the morning and then breastfeed my baby and head into the office around noon. She has two four-ounce bottles of expressed milk whilst I’m gone and then feeds normally at night. The only trouble I have found is if I have a late meeting or work event, but I have a nanny so I get her to bring the baby to me for a feed. Over the next few months, I will add an hour until I am back in the office full-time.”

While Sarah and Cara make breastfeeding and employment seem relatively straightforward, for others, facilities and circumstances in a workplace can be much less accommodating for those who are breastfeeding. Hayley returned to work when her baby was six months. She says, “When I asked the manager where I could express while I was at work, she said I was more than welcome to grab a stool and sit in the disabled toilets.  I ended up expressing twice a day in my car three days a week when I was at work. I wish I had told her it wasn’t appropriate to offer toilets as a place to express, but I didn’t want to cause any issues with my job. It was a casual position and I needed the money.”

Gaining support at work

In some jurisdictions, your right to breastfeed (or express at work) is protected by the law, and in others, it is strongly recommended that employers take reasonable measures to accommodate their employees’ needs. Either way, an understanding employer and coworkers will make things a lot easier.

To gain support in your workplace, it’s best to notify your employer of your intention to continue breastfeeding as early as possible, preferably while you’re pregnant. The CDC and Australian Breastfeeding Association both have excellent information to share with your employer about why it’s beneficial for businesses to support their breastfeeding staff, including increasing retention rates, lowering absenteeism, reducing recruitment costs, and retaining valuable corporate knowledge.

While many workplaces could potentially be happy to support breastfeeding staff, they may not be aware of how to help. Try and make your requests clear and simple: you’ll need a private comfortable space to breastfeed or express milk, access to a fridge (although you can keep freshly expressed milk in an icebox or cooler bag), time to express, and support from coworkers (inappropriate comments should be reported to your human resources team, as this is discrimination).

Choosing a caregiver 

To make breastfeeding and working possible from a practical perspective, it’s important to choose a caregiver who is breastfeeding-friendly: your caregiver will need to be motivated to implicitly follow your instructions to store and thaw (if necessary) and feed your milk to your baby.

Also, there’s nothing worse than arriving with breasts full of milk to pick up your baby, only to find they have just been fed, so do request that your caregiver considers this. They can either help your baby wait (as long as the baby isn’t upset) or offer a small amount of milk to ‘tide them over’ (rather than a full feed) if you’re on your way home. This will also require close communication on your part — perhaps a call as you leave work with an estimated arrival time.

Expressing and returning to work 

A good quality electric pump that will express both sides at once is an investment that will save you time and support your milk supply for the longer term. It’s wise to start expressing about two weeks before you return to work. This will allow you to become efficient at expressing, and storing some milk in case you have some ‘low supply’ days when you’re back at work. However, please don’t worry if this happens, breastfeeding according to your baby’s cues on your days off will boost your supply again.

How much milk does my baby need? 

The research shows that from one to six months, breastfed babies take in an average of 25 to 27 ounces per day (intake doesn’t increase with age or size as the composition of your milk changes as your baby grows). This will vary between individual babies, but a typical range of breast milk intake is from about 20 to 30 ounces a day.

So, to estimate how much milk your baby will need each feed, work out how many feeds your baby has in 24 hours then divide 27 ounces by that number. For instance, if your baby has six feeds a day, you would make up feeds of 4.5 ounces.

It would also be wise to leave some smaller amounts with your caregiver — say, one to two ounces, to offer as a top-up if your baby is thirsty or it is almost time for you to pick them up. Then they will still feed when you arrive and also, your caregivers won’t waste precious expressed milk by starting another full bottle if your baby is a bit hungrier than usual.

Practically speaking…

At work, it can help to look at a picture or video of your baby as you express. Besides expressing at work, other options to maintain a good milk supply include asking for some flexibility so that perhaps you work from home one day mid-week (and breastfeed as your baby needs) or either go to your baby or have them brought to you by their caregiver for a feed during your lunch break if this is practical. You will also need to take care that after a weekend or days off work, with more frequent feeding, you express for comfort to avoid engorgement and the possibility of developing mastitis.

Written by Pinky McKay, Australia’s most recognized and respected breastfeeding expert. Pinky’s an IBCLC lactation consultant, best-selling baby care author (Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting by Heart and Toddler Tactics – Penguin Random House), and creator of Boobie Foods, all-natural and organic foods to nourish you as you breastfeed your baby. Download Pinky’s free ebook Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally.

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