Returning to work while breastfeeding can lead to mums feeling conflicted or upset. It’s not always a choice but a necessity for some. That said, some mums fully welcome returning to work and feeling more like themselves again, even if breastfeeding. If the latter is you, please don’t feel guilty. Both feelings are common and normal. Mum guilt often finds a way to creep in!
Lots of mums ask me about how to return to work and continue feeding. I’m a midwife but also a mum who went back to work whilst breastfeeding my daughter. She still occasionally feeds now and she’s almost two. In this article I will cover some of the things you need to plan for and consider.
Prepare yourself and your employer for the coming months. If you plan to express at work, you might want to drop your employer an email and explain. Ask if there is an area that is clean, private and lockable (not a toilet!) that can be made available to you, if this is what you want. There is a legal obligation for your employer to provide a place for expressing.
How often you will need to express at work will depend on you and your circumstances. The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) provide guidelines and recommendations to protect new mothers at work. You can also get free legal advice, by calling the Working Families hotline on 0300 012 0312. If you need further information or to encourage your employer to be more flexible, you can consult Maternity Action’s website as they provide information and leaflets around maternity and work issues. Hopefully you don’t need to refer to these but please feel free to if you’re not getting the support you’re entitled to.
"Ask if there is an area that is clean, private and lockable (not a toilet!) that can be made available to you."
Post Covid, it’s more likely that you and your employer will be able to agree on how you could work from home, even if that is one day per week (if you prefer this option), especially whilst you are still breastfeeding.
You could also look at working flexibly – this is becoming more popular now with the likes of campaigns like Flex Appeal. Lots of mums prefer to start work at little later than they did pre-baby to allow time in the morning to get the both of you ready and fed.
Communicating, planning and being as flexible as you are able to without compromising yours and your baby’s needs can help to avoid conflict and stress. The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to feel stressed about returning to work.
"Lots of mums prefer to start work at little later than they did pre-baby to allow time in the morning to get the both of you ready and fed."
Below are some top tips to prepare:
· Start to prepare a ‘milk bank’ of frozen breast milk. A good site containing full details and information around freezing and storing breast milk is LaLeche.
· In the weeks before returning to work, have a practise run and organise a routine as if you were already back at work. Make sure your baby’s care provider fully understands your plans, safe milk storage and warming etc, well in advance.
· Try to stick to your usual routine as much as possible, e.g. feeding at 7am – you may need to adapt work hours or your usual work morning routine to fit the feed in.
· If you make sudden or drastic changes, you and your baby will be more aware of these. Small changes and small steps make things easier in the long run.
· Milk from the breast is considered best, then refrigerated, then frozen. This is because milk straight from the breast has slightly more nutrients and bacteria fighting properties that adapt depending on your baby’s saliva.
· Ensure you do make time to pump at work, if you become engorged you are more at risk of getting blocked ducts or even mastitis, ensure you look after yourself. Please never feel guilty for taking the time to pump. It’s important for your health!
· Make a soothing bed-time routine (easier if you don’t work nights) and prepare everything for the morning. Ensuring your pump and any other necessities are by the door clean and ready rather than frantically cleaning in the morning.
· Although breastmilk is so much more than food, remember that your baby (if weaning/weaned) is not totally dependent on your breast milk for nutrition.
"Milk from the breast is considered best, then refrigerated, then frozen."
Rest is important and can affect your milk supply – this is the case before and after you return to work. Be prepared to be extra tired in the weeks and months after returning to work though, it brings new challenges and considerations. I’d highly recommend you take naps as often as possible and rest whenever you get a chance. Never, ever feel guilty for resting. This is a unique time in your life and wherever possible you need to prioritise your rest.
Also, try not to worry too much. I know it’s easier said than done but I have been there and worried about things that never happened – we do as mums. Yet, babies are resilient and adaptable. Your baby will soon get used to changes, especially if you can remain calm about the changes yourself. If you feel you really want to exclusively breastfeed, start to think about how this will work for you. Contact your employer in plenty of time to negotiate how you can work.
Lastly, your baby won’t forget how to breastfeed while you’re at work, they will reconnect with you and feed as normal when you’re reunited. You got this!