Not breastfeeding when you go back to work?

“I’ve thought about breastfeeding. I have to go back to work just 6 weeks after my baby is born. It just doesn’t seem worth all the aggravation that I’ve heard about, especially with pumping at work. I want to spend the few short weeks I have recuperating, and enjoying my baby.”

Some women rule out breastfeeding because they have to go back to work just a few weeks, or months, after birth.

You may worry about how difficult, or painful, breastfeeding might be. You can’t see how you could possibly fit pumping milk into your professional responsibilities. Most of all, you don’t yet understand the depth of connection you will feel with your baby, after birth.

Even when breastfeeding is going well, working increases the likelihood of early weaning. And, all mothers acknowledge that working and breastfeeding is the hardest thing they’ve ever done! So, why should you bother learning to breastfeed?

Because when you begin breastfeeding, it might go easily.

It may surprise you to learn that many people begin breastfeeding without difficulties. Things just fall into place and, “Voila!”… that could be you, nursing your baby and enjoying the comfort and closeness that nature intended. Research shows that ANY AMOUNT of breastfeeding is beneficial for both the baby and parent, so it makes sense that you should at least try breastfeeding.

And then, see how you feel when it’s time to return to work.

Going back to work will add an extra layer of stress into your life, and breastfeeding can help you feel better about working and being away from your baby.

Mothers in the United States are at the bottom of the list in the amount of maternity leave we receive. About 25% of moms are returning to work soon after birth. Even when breastfeeding goes well, many families find it takes two or three months before they feel like it’s second nature. You are not the only one working before breastfeeding is securely established, but it may feel like you are.

How might breastfeeding and employment work out?

1.  Do a cost analysis to see if it even makes sense to return to work.

Estimate and add up your costs for daycare, transportation, work clothes, convenience foods and the likelihood of needing to supplement with, or switch to, formula feeding. See if you are eligible for Medicaid health insurance, or a lower-cost Marketplace plan, if you aren’t working. Some mothers offer part-time child care for older children while they are at home, or find another home-based business to close the money gap.

2.  Talk to your employer while you are pregnant about pumping schedules and a clean, private place to pump.

Expect to pump 2-4 times a day at work, or about every 3 hours. Experienced pumpers block out 20 minutes, but you may need longer in the beginning. Not all pumping breaks will be paid.

Employers must provide you with a clean, private room with a locking door and access to washing facilities. Laws specifically prohibit bathrooms as workplace pumping stations. Some large workplaces have dedicated pumping rooms with amenities like refrigerators, hospital grade breast pumps and comfortable chairs.

You may also discover your employer doesn’t support you pumping at work.

Employers are sometimes surprised when you let them know you will need time and a place to pump your milk when you return. Share “The Business Case for Breastfeeding” with them.

Studies show that mothers who breastfeed take fewer sick days. Studies also show employers who accommodate nursing mothers have lower employee turnover, because their employees are happier. And laws can protect your right to express your milk for as long as three years postpartum.

If you may find your employer is pushing back in major, or minor ways, you may not feel up to fighting them, even though the law is on your side. It’s OK to save your energy and find more ways to enjoy your baby, including finding a new job.

3. Try breastfeeding and see how it goes.

You might be pleasantly surprised. Women who never intended to breastfeed are often shocked when their baby finds their breast and begins nursing. Many times, their reluctance to breastfeed fades and they find they enjoy it. You really can’t predict how breastfeeding will go, or how you will like it, until you try it.

4. Don’t be afraid to combine breastfeeding and formula feeding after you go back to work.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful way for you and your baby to reconnect after being separated all day, or night. Some breastmilk is always better than none, for bonding, nutrition and immunities. And, you can always supplement with formula, if you are not pumping enough milk at work. With this back-up plan, you may actually pump enough milk, because you aren’t feeling anxious about your baby being hungry.

Talk to other mothers who are back at work.

Before you make a final decision, find out what it’s really like from moms who have breastfed and gone back to work. There is no need to solve all the challenges yourself. Before you are actually in the situation, listen to moms who have done it, you will find out how you might express milk, what you might need in equipment, how to handle emergencies, how to handle separation from your baby, and things you can’t even imagine while you are pregnant.

Also, talk to moms who formula-fed and worked. It’s not always an easier choice–it has its own unique challenges. You will learn how to handle regrets and jealousy that may arise from not breastfeeding. You will find out about planning portions and not wasting money, dumping out half full bottles. They will have ideas about things you can’t possibly know, until you’ve been through it yourself.

Take your time and really think about what’s important to you.

You know yourself best, and what you need. You’ve had your whole life to learn what challenges you have relished, and which ones sent you into overwhelming self-pity and regret. This is a big decision and how you feel in a few months may surprise you.

A baby would always choose to breastfeed, but breastfeeding is not always the right choice for parents who work. It requires problem solving, a different use of time, and special equipment, and that may not be the healthiest choice for you.

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