Going back to work does NOT have to mean the end of breastfeeding, even if you work full time/long hours/in the field/for a small company/don’t have a private office/etc./etc. There are many solutions for continuing breastfeeding, if you so wish! Maybe you can feed your baby on drop-off and pick-up from nursery, and they can have other milk during the day. Maybe you can visit them at nursery, or have a childminder bring them to your work for a feed. Maybe they are old enough to cut back on their feeds, so they won’t miss your milk during the day (remember, though, that babies need breastmilk or a substitute until they are a year old, after which you can give cows’ milk if you wish. Breastmilk is still amazing even after 1 year, though, so you don’t have to wean them then!).
However, if like me you decide you are going to be a pumping mum, here are a few tips I have picked up along the way:
• All the old advice about how to get the milk flowing when you’re pumping WORKS! To express milk, you really need to trick your body into thinking it’s feeding your baby. So, hold something that reminds you of them. Look at photos on your phone. I liked having a video of them nursing which I would watch to help get let-down. Even then, it takes a lot longer for let-down to come using a pump than when nursing.
• Arrange with your boss BEFORE you come back to work to make sure everything is ready for you. The HSE says it is good practice for employers to provide somewhere for you to pump, and somewhere for you to store your milk. Try to find a solution that works for you and your employer. Maybe an office, a meeting room, a rest room (not a toilet), a first aid room, a storage room. If no room is available, you could pump in your car (many electric pumps have car socket adaptors).
• Be prepared to explain why you should continue breastfeeding and pumping, even if it’s seen as an inconvenience. Breastfed babies get fewer illnesses, which means less time off looking after your sick little one. 30 minutes a day to pump is preferable to 3 days off looking after a baby with an ear infection! Remember that if your child is going into full-time nursery, it’s like sending them into the front line of the Germ Warefare Warzone. Breastfeeding really WILL help keep them healthier than their non-breastfed playmates.
• If you are required to be off site at a time you would usually pump, arrange in advance to make sure you have the facilities you use. And don’t be coy about telling someone exactly what you need a private room for. I have found people much more sympathetic and happy to help if you are honest and say “I’m breastfeeding, and need a private room for 15 minutes to express some milk” rather than “I need a private room for a little while” which, lets’s face it, sounds a little dodgy…
• Get some entertainment! Once you have got used to the pump, you will find yourself needing something to do for 10 to 15 minutes that isn’t just looking at photos of your gorgeous baby (not that that isn’t always a pleasure!). Remember, too, that you will probably only have one hand free as one will be steadying/holding the pump. Smartphone apps, magazines, lightweight books, e-readers… these are all your friends!
• Hands-free pumping bras are awesome! BUT you can make one yourself using an ordinary nursing bra and two hair bobbles. Just loop the bobble round the neck of the pump, then hang it from the clip on your bra. Once the pump starts going it should hold in place nicely.
• If you are pumping in an office, you may wish to warn people otherwise they may come looking for the source of the strange whirring noise. This JUST happened to me…
• If you are pumping more than once per day, you will need to clean and thoroughly dry all parts of the pump. Hot water and washing up liquid is fine. If you have a microwave steriliser you could also sterilise your pump between uses. Any parts of your pump designed to create and maintain suction (i.e. rubber flanges and valves) should be completely dry before use, otherwise you may lose suction!
• Keep a pack of single-use breastmilk storage bags with your pump, even if you usually put the milk straight into a bottle. This way, if you forget your bottle, you always have a sterile container to put the milk into.
- Don’t be bullied into stopping expressing sooner than you would like, because you are “getting more time off” or “inconveniencing people” or “cannot do your job fully while you are breastfeeding”. I needed to change roles while breastfeeding because my lab worked required a vaccination I couldn’t have while nursing. Our site doctor said “Don’t worry, we’ll just wait until you stop!”, imagining that would be in the next few months. Little did he imagine I’d be nursing for the next year and a half. I started doing office work instead helping out our QA team, and this turned into an amazing career opportunity.
- Make sure a risk assessment is completed for breastfeeding. Even if this results in no risks to you, or simply that you might need 30 minutes a day to pump and need to drink more fluids. A risk assessment is a legal requirement, and can help your boss understand just why you are choosing to continue to nurse.