Returning to work while breastfeeding

Moms are often anxious when their maternity leave is nearing its end whether they are breastfeeding or not. If they are breastfeeding, it adds another layer of concern: what will happen to our nursing relationship? Do I need to pump? How will my baby respond to me not being there to nurse? Will my baby willingly take pumped milk from a cup? Will they eat enough solids? These are just some of the questions moms ask themselves and worry about when they are preparing to return to work outside the home.

The early days of breastfeeding. My son is 2 months old here and I was already back to work because I am self-employed. Working from home and having flexible hours definitely helped continue breastfeeding but it is still possible if you are returning to work outside the home.

A good resource for moms facing this scenario is the La Leche League: it’s reassuring to speak to other moms who have been there (and as you’ll read below, it was a resource one mom tapped into). With that in mind, I’ve asked two moms what their experience was. One mom returned to work when her little one was a few month old, and the other returned to work outside the home after a year. Their experiences provide some insight on how to make your breastfeeding relationship continue to work even if you aren’t with your little all the time.

Mama #1:

I went back to work part-time when my little was 7 months old, opening my own business. Before this I was working from home seeing clients and taking my babe with me (starting at about 6 weeks postpartum, very part time). At 7 months I had arranged for my little to be watched by her grandparents Monday afternoons, her daddy Wednesday afternoons, and her Aunty Friday afternoons anticipating working from 2-6. Being she was a little older I wasn’t too worried about pumping for a 2-6 time frame but before I knew it I was booking clients from 11-6 or earlier and I was taking my pump to work. I was able to keep up pumping 2-4 times a day from 7.5/8 months to 1 year with no leaking. My little was fine with other people taking breastmilk from a cup and eating some solid foods. We started daycare full time when she was 9.5 months old and she did so great. Having her be able to play with other kids was awesome for her and for me. I continued to nurse her in the morning before work and when I came home. I also decided to continue co-sleeping so we could all get better rest and she could nurse through the night without much disturbance. My girl is now 2.5 and we have continued nursing until the past week or two – being pregnant has lead to some serious nursing aversion for me and my daughter still asks on occasion but we decide to snuggle instead so mommy can work on growing a healthy baby.

A lot of the time I found people would tell me ‘you’re back at work so you’re not nursing anymore then right?’. Well no actually, I don’t see any reason to stop nursing (unless you want to) when returning to work because your supply is determined by demand by this point anyways. If you don’t nurse as much your body quickly responds and there is less chance of leaking (unlike earlier when it’s hormonally driven and you just leak everywhere all the time). If cows can be milked twice a day, why can’t I decide to nurse twice a day on work days and more frequently on weekends? It worked for us; now it won’t work for everyone, and that’s ok. But there’s no reason to stop nursing just because you are going back to work.

I also believe that my identity, although I am now a mother, is also very firmly planted in who I am as a working individual and business owner as well. Does this mean this is right for everyone? No. But I also don’t think that going back to work makes me less of or a bad mother, in fact it makes me a better mother because I am doing something I love (which I am also very fortunate I get to do). I know staying home with my daughter would not be beneficial for our relationship at this point. I need something outside the home and sometimes people try to make me feel guilty about that. Is my house clean? Yup. When the house keeper comes once every two weeks (I can’t believe I waited almost 2.5 years to get this going for my family!). Is the laundry always done? At some point yes – is it put away? Not necessarily but it does get put away by the next time I do laundry. Do I make homemade pizza and pasta weekly? Nope. But we do make pancakes for supper because my little loves helping make pancakes. Going back to work away from my home was important to me, and we made it happen in a way that worked for our family. I kept nursing, we still did cloth diapers, and both baby and momma were/are happy. It makes me a better individual, mother and wife.

Mama #2:

I recall feeling so stressed about going back to work, especially when my little was 10 months old and still not filling up on solids (and refusing bottles of pumped milk). But I went to a LLL meeting and they reassured me that our relationship would stay strong, that he wouldn’t starve and that we could keep breastfeeding.

Some things I did:

  • got organized with meal planning and freezer meals;
  • matched nap and lunch times up to the daycare’s schedule;
  • started using the same blankie at every nap to establish a comfort object for use at daycare;
  • got his father to hold/rock him to sleep so he was used to someone else. (This usually happened when I was out of the house.);
  • had a conversation about household chores with my partner since I’d no longer be home to do the lion’s share;
  • made a transition plan with my daycare to ease my little in by increasing length of his visits over two weeks;
  • prepared and resigned myself to the possibility of reverse cycling (baby nursing lots at night to make up for missing mom all day);
  • planned to be connected as possible when reunited with my little (focused play, babywearing if I needed to cook, lots of snuggles and nursing);
  • I nurse him the moment we are reunited when I pick him up from daycare.

The first few weeks I hand expressed a few times during the day and saved the milk in the work fridge. I was sending it to daycare in sippy cups but he was refusing to drink it. So instead I froze and donated it. After a month my supply regulated and I no longer needed to express.

*****

As you can see from above, there are many ways you can keep your nursing relationship strong if you so choose. For more on breastfeeding and returning to work, watch my Facebook Live weekly mom chat on the topic:

I’d love to hear about your experience: what impact did returning to work have on your breastfeeding relationship? Comment below or on my Facebook page.

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