Time flies. Your maternity leave is fast coming to an end and you’re excited, but may also have a few mixed feelings, about your return to work.
There’s no doubt it can be hard to separate from that bundle of joy that has become the focal point of your existence for the past few months. However you can draw some comfort from knowing that your breastfeeding doesn’t have to end just because you’re heading back to work.
Lots of mums continue to breastfeed successfully after their return to work. It just takes a bit of planning and organisation. Follow our five-step plan to help you plan and feel confident about this exciting new transition.
1. Plan ahead for breastfeeding success
Except for women lucky enough to have on-site child care, returning to work will usually mean you’re separated from your baby for an extended number of hours - a period during which they would otherwise have several feeds. To keep up your milk supply and continue to provide breast milk for your baby in your absence, you’ll need to express milk during work hours. That means you will need to have the right equipment, sufficient time and a suitable, private space to express and store your breast milk. Plan ahead for what you’ll need, and start to have these conversations well in advance of your return to work with your employer.
2. Get the right equipment and learn how to use it
Assuming breastfeeding is going well at home, you’ve likely acquired all the skills you need. While you might have some experience hand expressing small quantities of milk at home, a manual or electric breast pump will help make expressing at work quicker and easier. Invest in the pump, storage bags or bottles and sterilising equipment early so you can practice at home. The only other gear you’ll need is some chiller bags or a small esky for transporting your milk. Lots of health-focused workers take their lunch in small cold bags or eskies – so you’ll now look like you’re part of the “cool crew”.
3. Schedule some “me” time in your day
You want to be a reliable member of the team at work but you may also need some flexibility at first. Milk flows freely with a hungry baby at the breast but it might take a bit longer when you’re at work and have a meeting due in ten minutes. While you can aim to express during scheduled tea and lunch breaks, invariably there will need to be some give and take. Most managers are very understanding of the needs of new mums settling back into work, so let your colleagues know how you’re going or if you need any extra time or support. They’re no doubt thrilled to have you back – and they too want your return to work to be smooth and successful.
4. Find a quiet, comfortable space
Your employer may be supportive of breastfeeding in principle but may not have thought through the practicalities. You need to do this thinking for them - preferably well in advance of your return to work. Is there a quiet, comfortable room where colleagues won’t disturb you? You’ll also need access to a fridge or freezer to store your breast milk during work hours.
Most women find that workplaces are happy to accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mums returning to work, but they just need a bit of practical direction and guidance. This also helps to pave the way for other mums returning to work after you, and also helps your workplace to be truly family friendly.
5. Persevere, and remind yourself of the benefits of breastfeeding
Give yourself some time to settle in once you’re back at work, and expect a few ups and downs as you establish this new routine. Remind yourself of the benefits of breastfeeding to both you and your new bub:
It’s a perfect source of nutrition
Breast milk contains everything a baby needs for the first six months of life. It’s a unique combination of carbohydrates, protein, fat, minerals and other micronutrients for your baby’s optimal growth and development. As solid foods are gradually introduced, breast milk continues to be an important source of nutrition up to 12 months of age.
It protects against infection
Breast milk, and the colostrum produced in the first few days after birth, contains maternal antibodies, live cells and other immune factors that help to protect your baby against infection and disease. Studies have also shown that breast fed infants have lower rates of middle ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal tract infections than other infants.
It boosts the immune system
There’s some evidence that breastfeeding protects young children from developing allergies such as hayfever. It also encourages the development of healthy bacteria in the gut and is associated with lower rates of other digestive diseases.
It supports infant brain development
The long-chain fatty acids found in breast milk, and the way the body processes these, has been found to be important for infant brain development.
It’s good for mums too
Breastfeeding is also good for mums too. Breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories a day, which will help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight and back into your pre-baby working wardrobe before you know it. Studies have also shown that breastfeeding reduces the long-term risk in mums of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pre-menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2016) recognises breastfeeding’s important contribution to child health and wellbeing. In Australia this year, World Breastfeeding Week is focused on promoting an inclusive community where all breastfeeding women and their children feel safe and welcome. It includes encouragement for employers to provide breastfeeding friendly workplaces for mothers returning to work.
For more information: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/workplace/