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Breastfeeding for Working Moms

Alexandra Grablewski

For many moms who plan to remain employed, just when they find their breastfeeding groove it’s time to return to work and rethink their routine all over again. The challenges ahead include pumping and stockpiling breast milk, introducing a bottle, negotiating a time and place to pump at work, and dealing with co-workers who may not understand your decision. On top of all that, you’ve still got to do your job. Despite these obstacles, some women do manage to continue to provide breast milk exclusively for their babies. If you’re lucky enough to work for one of the 17 percent or so of large companies with on-site or very close-by childcare, that task is a whole lot easier. If you’re not, take a cue from the Boy Scouts: Be prepared.

Get pumped 

The first step is to rent or buy a good-quality electric breast pump that empties both breasts at once. They’re more expensive than other types, but the time savings will be well worth it. You may also want to keep a lower-cost but efficient manual pump at home so you don’t have to haul the machine around (though many of us keep the heavy motor part of the electric pump at work Monday through Friday, and tote only the bottles back and forth).

Now a few words about learning to pump: This, too, can seem overwhelming when coupled with everything else you’re going through. Paradoxically, the more relaxed you can be about pumping, the easier it will be to get the milk flowing. So the last thing you want to do is attempt to master it just a few days before you’re due to return to work and under pressure. Instead, give yourself about two weeks before you go back to practice and begin storing your breast milk. Consider tapping into your husband’s inner mechanic, that guy gene that enables him to interpret how-to manuals in his sleep. (He’ll probably jump at the chance to assist you in any way possible with your breasts, desperate as he is for attention at this point.) Or, if your partner’s the type that breaks more things than he fixes, ask a girlfriend who knows her way around a breast pump to come over and give you a demo. These contraptions seem like they require a course in advanced physics at first, but unlike actually breastfeeding, you can usually get the hang of them quickly and painlessly.

Stock up 

Once you know how to hook up, you’re ready to start your freezer stash of pumped breast milk that a caregiver can use to feed your baby while you’re at work. Start pumping after each morning feeding, when your supply is at its peak. Expect to pump between fifteen to twenty- five minutes with a double electric pump that allows you to empty both breasts at once. How much milk you will be able to pump depends on the age of your baby, the time of day, and how well you’re able to maintain your milk supply. During your first at-home morning pumping sessions, it may be an effort to get as little as two ounces of milk from both breasts, since your baby has drained them already. But once you are away from your baby, you may find that you can produce from five to eight ounces at a time, assuming you are able to pump about three times during the workday. (Again, this amount is an average from the total of both breasts, but be aware that output can vary widely from mom to mom.) Seasoned pumpers report that the first pumping session of the day is often the most productive, with less milk being produced the second and third times they flip the switch. As your baby gets older and solids are added to his diet, you may find that the amount you can pump decreases, since your baby is relying less on breast milk.

You can store breast milk in resealable plastic bags with ounce markings in single-serving portions. These handy items are generally available wherever you can buy infant feeding supplies (bottles, nipples, breast pads, and the like). Be sure to label the bag with the date you pumped the milk. It’s also okay to “layer” milk from different pumping sessions in the same bag as long as you have expressed it on the same day and chill it before adding it to the frozen milk. Breast milk can be refrigerated and used within forty-eight to seventy-two hours, or frozen for much longer periods. It will keep in a freezer compartment inside the refrigerator for two to three weeks, in a separate freezer unit of a refrigerator for three to six months, or in a stand-alone deep freezer for six to twelve months. Keep in mind, however, that all of these guidelines are just that. If you find a bag buried in the back of your freezer that’s a week past the ideal time frame, it’s probably still fine to use. Like any spoiled milk, breast milk will smell bad if it is, so you’ll be able to tell after you thaw the serving if it’s okay or not.

Thaw frozen breast milk in the refrigerator, or place the bag in a bowl of warm water. It’s never a good idea to thaw or heat breast milk in a microwave—it will destroy some of the immune properties of the milk, which defeats all your efforts. Plus, there is the issue of hot spots in the baby bottle (due to microwaves’ tendency to heat unevenly) that can burn your baby’s mouth.

Introduce a bottle 

At least two weeks before your maternity leave ends, have someone else—such as Dad, the new caregiver, or Grandma—give the baby a bottle. Practice this new feeding technique, once a day to start, so that your baby gets used to it before you actually have to be separated for a long period of time. When you return to work, you may want your partner to give a bottle during the night so that you can have at least one solid block of sleep.

Start politicking 

Logistics are one thing; human nature, quite another. You may well need to negotiate a time and place to pump and deal with strange, even hostile, looks from co-workers. It’s best to try to tackle these issues before you return. Find out what arrangements your employer already has in place. If something is lacking, such as a private space to pump, see if other employees also want a change. Try to be clear and firm about what you need without being antagonistic. Nursing moms are no longer an aberration in the workplace, so don’t be shy.

If diplomatic efforts don’t pan out, try giving your boss a note from your pediatrician explaining the health benefits of breastfeeding—a healthier baby can mean fewer days that a parent has to miss work. If that fails, know your legal rights. (The National Conference of State Legislatures has a state-by-state list.)

One unexpected pocket of resistance may come from your colleagues. Moms shouldn’t have to justify their breastfeeding to others, of course, but you will likely have a better experience if you have understanding co- workers. Toward that end, you may want to try to open a dialogue about what you’re doing, in terms of both breastfeeding and your work, making it clear that you don’t intend to use your pumping breaks as an excuse to slack off.

Get to work 

Expressed breast milk should be kept chilled, so if you’re pumping at work, you’ll need a refrigerator or cooler to store it in until you go home. You’ll also need an insulated bag and cold pack to transport it during your commute. Try to dress in easily accessible clothing: blouses that unbutton in the front, or sweaters that pull up easily. You may find that favorite one-piece dresses, for instance, aren’t worth the bother of having to disrobe entirely to pump. It’s also a good idea to keep an extra neutral-colored blouse or sweater for those days when you can’t get to your pump fast enough and you start to leak. It goes without saying that you should wear a good set of breast pads at all times, and keep some spares in your desk or locker.

This is an excerpt from THE BABYTALK INSIDER’S GUIDE TO YOUR BABY’S FIRST YEAR of Babytalk Magazine. Copyright © 2008 by The Parenting Group, Inc. Published by Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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