"I've thought about breastfeeding. I have to go back to work 6 weeks after my baby is born. It just doesn't seem worth all the aggravation that I've heard about. I want to spend the few short weeks I have, recuperating and enjoying my baby."
Just the idea of going back to work in the first few weeks or months, causes some women to rule out breastfeeding.
Research shows that ANY amount of breastfeeding is beneficial, and women should breastfeed at least until they return to work. However, even after breastfeeding is going well, going back to work increases the risks of early weaning. And all mothers acknowledge that working and breastfeeding is challenging. So, why bother?
The United States is last in the world in how much maternity leave mothers receive.
This means that women are returning to work soon after birth, which also means they are working before breastfeeding is securely established. You aren't the only one going through this and many women have done it before you. You don't need to solve every problem yourself but going back to work before you are comfortable breastfeeding adds an extra layer of stress into your family.
Women often lack the support of their employer to pump at work.
Employers are sometimes surprised when you let them know you will need a place to pump when you are working.
Even though studies show that mothers who breastfeed take fewer sick days. Even though employers who accommodate nursing mothers have lower employee turnover, because women are happier. Even though there are laws that protect your right to express your milk for as long as three years postpartum.
Things are changing, but you may find your employer is pushing back in major or minor ways, and it may not be worth the fight.
How might breastfeeding and employment work out?
1. First, do a cost analysis and see if it even makes sense to return to work.
Add up your costs of daycare, transportation, work clothes, convenience foods and the likelihood needing to supplement with, or switch to, formula feeding. You may find you are eligible for Medicaid health insurance or a low-cost Marketplace plan if you aren't working. Some moms offer part-time child care for older children while they are at home or find another home-based business to close the gap.
2. Talk to your employer while you are pregnant about pumping schedules and a clean, private place to pump.
Share “The Business Case for Breastfeeding” with them.
Expect to pump 2-4 times a day at work, or about every 3 hours. Experienced pumpers block out 20 minutes, but you may need longer in the beginning. Not all pumping breaks will be paid.
Employers must provide you with a clean, private room with a locking door and access to washing facilities. Laws specifically prohibit bathrooms as workplace pumping stations. Some large workplaces have dedicated pumping rooms with amenities such as refrigerators, hospital grade breast pumps and comfortable chairs.
3. Try breastfeeding and see how it goes.
You might be pleasantly surprised. Women who never intended to breastfeed are often shocked when their baby finds their breast and begins nursing. Many times, their reluctance to breastfeed fades. They find they enjoy it. You really can’t predict how breastfeeding will go, or how you will like it, until you try it.
4. Don’t be afraid to combine breastfeeding and formula feeding after you go back to work.
Some breastmilk is always better than none. Breastfeeding is a wonderful way for you and your baby to reconnect after being separated. Accepting that you may need to use formula takes the pressure off pumping enough milk every day. After surrendering to this idea, you may find that you actually are able to pump more milk because you aren’t anxious about "starving your baby".
Talk to other mothers who are back at work.
Before you make a final decision, find out what it's really like from moms who have breastfed and gone back to work. There is no need to solve all the challenges yourself. When you listen to moms who have done it, you will learn how to express milk, what you need in equipment, how to handle emergencies, how to handle separation and things you can't even imagine, before you are actually in the situation.
Talk to moms who formula-fed and worked. It's not always an easier choice-- it has its own unique challenges. You will learn how to handle regrets and jealousy that arise as your baby attaches to other caregivers. You will find out about planning amounts and not wasting money dumping out half full bottles. They will have ideas about handling rashes and upset tummies and things you can't possibly know unless you've been through it yourself.
Take your time and really think about what's important to you.
You know yourself best and what you need. You've had your whole life to learn what challenges you have relished, and which ones sent you into overwhelming self-pity and regret. This is a big decision and how you feel in a few months may surprise you.
A baby would always choose to breastfeed but breastfeeding is not always the right choice for a mother who works. It requires some problem solving, time sacrifice and equipment, and that may not be the healthiest choice for you.