The Working Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding
So you just had a baby! Congratulations! You’ve made the decision whether out of desire or necessity (or both!), to return to your job after maternity leave…AND you’re breastfeeding. Well, you should know, breastfeeding while going back to work has its challenges. But it is very possible if you’re prepared with the right knowledge and expectations. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), we want to share some tips to help you keep a healthy supply and continue your breastfeeding journey for as long as you’d like.
Balance – Banish the Guilt!
It seems unfair to be forced to choose between what’s best for your baby and what’s best for your career or finances. We want to help you feel like that’s not a choice you have to make! While keeping up with work and doing just as great a job as always is important, your health and the overall health of your baby should never be what suffers.
You’ve now entered into a new role of motherhood which requires self-sacrifice, multi-tasking, and the constant awareness that part of your heart now exists outside of your body. Be prepared to give yourself lots of extra grace and take the pressure off of yourself. It may take some time to get back to the level of productivity you once had. The commitment to pumping while at work is a significant one. Commitment is what it takes to make it happen! Give yourself a goal to reach. Maybe you want to try it until your baby is 3 months old, six months, or go for the full year! Take it a little at a time, embrace the quiet moments and extra breaks that pumping at work allows for you. If other people can take smoke breaks every couple of hours, you can take that time guilt-free to produce nourishment for your new baby.
Invest in Quality Equipment
Who says your productivity has to slow down, just because you have to pump? Technology has advanced so much in recent years. It’s possible to pump completely hands free while on your commute or even at your desk while responding to emails. It’s your world, mama, make it work for you! Many insurance companies will even provide a quality pump at no extra expense. Make sure to research all your options and find out what’s worked best for other working moms you know.
Keep Up Your Supply
One of the biggest challenges, outside of frequent pumping, can be keeping up a good supply. Being physically away from your baby for extended periods of time can signal your body to slow down its production of milk. Here are some ways to guard against that and keep up a supply to meet your baby’s ever-changing demands.
- Get enough rest
- It’s so important that in order for our bodies to perform at their optimum capacity, they have the rest they need to recuperate and repair. Give yourself a regular, soothing bedtime routine and stick to it. Just like your infant needs that time, so do you. It may not always be feasible, but it should be the goal. Three out of five days a week is better than none at all. Take a small snooze at your desk or in the car on your lunch break. Even if all you do is close your eyes and meditate for 10 minutes, it allows your brain and body a chance to rest.
- Eat a healthy diet
- Now is not the time to cut calories or skip breakfast. Your body NEEDS food for fuel to produce the proper nutrition for your baby as well as for you. You’re still eating for two and may find yourself even more ravenous than you were during pregnancy. Keep nutritious snacks full of fiber and protein close at hand at all times. Eat small meals every couple of hours and never skip a meal. Planning ahead is key, especially for your busiest days.
- Stay Hydrated
- If you’ve already begun to breastfeed you know how incredibly parched you become when you sit down to feed your baby. Keep a large, insulated water bottle with you at all times. Don’t like the taste of water? Try an infused water recipe or other added flavor packets (best to do ones without any added sugar). Staying hydrated is one of the MOST important aspects of keeping up a healthy milk supply.
- Keep photos of your baby close
- It can be difficult for your milk to let down when your baby is not close by. Keeping photos of your child around you, especially when pumping, can help keep your mind and therefore your body on the task it still needs to perform. Imagining your baby in your arms can also aid in your production of milk. Imagination is powerful. Use it to your advantage!
- Good communication with Caregiver
- Set up an arrangement with your child’s caregiver to communicate with you when your child feeds and how much they consume in one feeding. Aim to make sure that you are pumping at approximately those same times and replenishing the same amount in your pumping sessions. You may need an additional pumping to make up for the full amount you baby needs since a baby is always more efficient at extracting milk than a pump. Use your own best judgment.
- Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. You’ve got this. Many moms have done it before you and they faced similar struggles. You’re doing a great job. Set the stress aside. Listen to some calming music or chat with a coworker who may understand your current season of life. Any way to alleviate some stress will help your body perform at its best. On the other hand, stress and elevated levels of cortisol produced by stress can create a whole world of health issues. If you find that the pressure to succeed at breastfeeding while going back to work is just too much, it is totally okay to stop. Do what you find works best for YOU.
Adjust Your Baby’s Schedule
There are lots of babies who may wake up at 8 am for the day and are back in bed for the night by 8 pm. If you work from 8 am – 5 pm or have a long commute, you may not see your baby much at all during the day. That can be emotionally difficult as well as taking a toll on your supply and breastfeeding relationship. Take measures to slowly adjust your baby’s schedule. Perhaps you can shift it a little later so that you have more hours together in the evenings before bedtime.
Night wakings can be especially difficult for a mom who works outside the home. Not only are you getting less sleep from waking up to feed your baby, but you also really crave that time to hold, feed and bond with your baby. It feels like you must choose between your basic need for sleep and the instinctive desire to love and care for your child. Consider safe options for co-sleeping (baby beds that attach to the side of your bed are a great option!). Studies have found increasing benefits for better sleep and attachment between parents and children who co-sleep. Even with decreased time together during the day, those night-time feeds can do wonders for your milk supply and the bond with your baby.
Keep the Proper Perspective
It’s so important to keep things in the proper perspective during this time. As a mom, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to feel like your failure or success as a mom rides on this one thing. The reality is that your baby needs to be fed, whatever that may look like. Your desire to do what you feel is best for your child is admirable and praiseworthy. It’s what makes you a great mom!
Taking care of yourself also makes you a great mom. The breastfeeding relationship should always be mutually beneficial. When it stops being beneficial to one of you, (typically that happens for mom first, unless the supply has dipped too low) it may be time to reevaluate your options.
Stay in open and honest communication with your own personal “village”: your spouse, pediatrician, lactation consultant, mom, other seasoned mom friends. Lean on your support system and let them help you. Never forget that your experience is yours. It doesn’t have to look like someone else’s to be good. Keep going and hang in there! These days go by just as quickly as they say they do.