Maintaining Breastfeeding While Separated from One’s Baby—Often Known in the USA as Gainful Employment

Welcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of The Breastfeeding Cafe’s Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to www.breastfeedingcafe.wordpress.com. For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today’s post is about breastfeeding and employment. Please read the other blogs in today’s carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18th through the 31st!


The first few weeks (and possibly months) of mothering and breastfeeding can be overwhelming for mothers.  It can be hard to imagine leaving their precious new baby with another caregiver when the mother must return to work.  Since many mothers in the United States lack paid maternity leave or are dependent on their jobs to provide health insurance for their families, mothers feel forced to make that separation by their baby’s 12th week of life or even earlier.  Some mothers may believe that returning to work means abandoning breastfeeding, or that they might as well not even start breastfeeding since they will have to give it up in just a few weeks or months.

This post is meant to demonstrate that working outside the home can be combined with breastfeeding and to address the notion that feeding at the breast must be an all or nothing phenomenon.

With each of my two children I have been lucky to return to work in a supportive environment while my husband stayed home.  Thus far, I have been nursing at the breast when with my babies and pumping for them when I am not for 2.5 years!

What makes a supportive work environment?  I will give a few suggestions. There are many possibilities, and each mother may perceive different strengths and challenges in her own environment.  Talking about what has been successful in different settings can help other mothers find inspiration for their own workplaces.

What does a mother need in order to express milk when separated from her baby? Time and space.  That’s the bare minimum.

Time: Depending on the age of their baby, some mothers will need to express milk during work hours as often as their babies eat, perhaps as often as every 2 hours.  This is particularly true for mothers who return to work when their baby is very young because of concerns about maintaining milk supply.   Milk is produced in a demand and supply system—as more milk is removed from the breast, more milk is produced.  Depending on how a mother chooses to express milk, it may take 20 minutes or more each time she expresses milk.  These ‘breaks’ may cause friction with other employees or with employers who may perceive that the mother is slacking off on her paid employment or putting an unfair burden on her colleagues.  An early, frank discussion about the needs of lactating mother and baby and the risks associated with not breastfeeding may help to diminish some of the concerns about time.  After all, babies who are artificially fed are ill more often than breastfed babies, and the mother would likely be missing work to care for her ill baby!

Space: Mothers need a clean, private space in which to express milk for their babies.  This could be her own private office or a designated room.  Toilet stalls are not appropriate. Although they do provide some privacy, a bathroom is not a hygienic place for preparing food!  Privacy is important because most mothers need to relax in order to enable the milk ejection reflex (also known as let down).  If a mother is constantly concerned about colleagues walking in on her she may not be able to express milk effectively and then the process may take even more time or be ultimately unsuccessful.

Equipment: I mention this last because not everyone needs it!  Truly, some mothers report that they can express milk while separated from their babies more efficiently by using hand expression than any mechanical device.  Most mothers employed outside the home use a double electric pump of some sort so that they can express milk from both breasts at once, sometimes even while multi-tasking (e.g. talking on the phone or reading blogs).  An extraordinarily supportive workplace might even provide a hospital-grade pump in a lactation room for employees to use in turn!

What about the mother whose job takes her away from her usual worksite?  This situation is one in which mothers demonstrate ingenuity!  Mothers make it work. I have carried my pump to many different buildings, arriving early for meetings or staying a bit after so that I could pump.  I just ask a worker at that site if there was an empty room I could use for a while.  Once, at a conference center, there were no free rooms that were appropriate (i.e. they had glass walls), and the building manager gave me his office! Never once have I been denied a space when I asked for one.  I have met a mother who traveled for work and used a battery-powered pump with a nursing cover while safely buckled into her airplane seat.  I have been to meetings in which one mother was pumping during the meeting!  In my experience, if you give people the opportunity to help you as a nursing mother, they will.

Finally, there is hope of better workplace support for all mothers.  An item in the recent healthcare reform bill addressed time and space for mothers to express milk in the workplace.  All employers are affected, but those with fewer than 50 employees may be exempted.  Rules have not yet been published to describe implementation or enforcement of this provision, so keep your eyes and ears open!

Today’s guest post is from Christy Porucznik. Christy is the mother of two young children, a Leader with the La Leche League of Salt Lake City group, and an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah.  She also serves as the media spokesperson for the Breastfeeding Cafe and La Leche League of Utah.

 


 Here are more posts by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back because more will be added throughout the day.

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3 Comments

Filed under Employed Moms: Strategies & Support

3 responses to “Maintaining Breastfeeding While Separated from One’s Baby—Often Known in the USA as Gainful Employment

  1. Heather

    Thanks for that video on hand expression. I have read about it but viewing the video helped quite a bit. I have always used pumps but haven’t gotten a lot of milk. Maybe hand expression is better for me.

  2. Rachel

    Great post Christy! We WOHM’s gotta stick together and help others know that it is COMPLETELY possible to keep nursing while working. My daughter is about 2 1/2 now and I have been nursing the whole time and started working again when she was 4 months old.

  3. Karen

    I haven’t read anyone else discussing a solution that is really working for me! I have a 4.5 month old, and returned to work about a month ago. I have a somewhat unique situation in that my baby is cared for at home, and home is only 10 minutes from work. So instead of pumping at work, I pump onesided while I feed her on the other at 7am, 1pm (lunchbreak) and 5:30pm. The milk pumped one sided is enough for bottles around 10am and 4pm! Plus, because I feed her myself at 1pm, she doesn’t need as much from bottles.

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