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Working Without Weaning

Just when you and your baby have gotten into the swing of life together -- yikes! -- it's time to go back to work. For some moms, the thought of continuing to breastfeed while working seems daunting. And we're not going to lie to you: It's a bit of a challenge at first. But so was motherhood in general, and you pulled that off pretty well, right? Once you get into the routine, breastfeeding and working will get easier. Your baby will continue to get all that top-notch nutrition and enhanced immunity, while you'll be promoting your own long-term health, including possibly lowering your risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis. Plus, when the workday is over, you and your baby can still cuddle up together and enjoy all the convenience and closeness of breastfeeding. Here's how to make it happen:

Psych yourself up Realize that adjusting to the new demands of working and pumping breast milk will be about all you can handle at first. Don't take on extra projects during this time -- remodeling, volunteering, and fancy cooking can wait. Make taking care of yourself a priority. You need to eat well, get enough sleep, and have time to relax if it's going to work.

Lay the groundwork Introduce your baby to a bottle two to three weeks before you go back to work so he has time to get used to it. Several companies now offer nipples designed with a wide base to mimic the shape of a breast; experiment to find one your baby prefers. It also helps to have someone else -- Dad or your mom, for instance -- offer the first few bottle-feedings so your baby will accept it more easily.

Get a good breast pump

The right pump can make the difference between success and failure, so don't scrimp. A price of $300 or more may sound like a lot at first, but it's peanuts when you compare it with what you'd spend on formula over time. The main goals here: to pump more milk in less time, and portability between work and home. That means you're best off with a double electric model that lets you pump both breasts at once, yet isn't too heavy. The extra power of these models may also help maintain your milk supply. Look for options like a rechargeable battery pack, a removable motor that you can leave at the office, a carrying case, milk storage containers, and an insulated travel bag. Some women also like to have a super-portable manual pump on hand for when carrying the electric isn't feasible. Other things you'll need: plastic breast-milk storage bags and breast pads to contain leaks until you can get to your pump. Think about what you'll wear to work, too. Button-front blouses and zippered sweaters, for instance, will make it easier to pump without disrobing too much.

Practice at home Two to three weeks before you're due back at work, get out your breast pump, read the instructions, and learn to use it. The first time you try pumping, you may get very little milk. Mornings at home are a good time to practice pumping (your breasts produce and store the most milk overnight), so try pumping in between your baby's first and second feedings of the day. Freeze the milk you pump to give to your baby when you return to work. It's a good idea to have a few bottles in the bank.

Scout out your options Find a private place to pump at work. Ideally, a pumping room has an electrical outlet, a sink, a comfortable chair, and a table. Other options are an office or a conference room with a locking door. If pumping at work isn't a common practice at your job, talk to your supervisor about your needs. Remind her that breastfeeding is good business: Breastfed babies get sick less often, so their mothers miss less work. A confident, cooperative approach works best in discussions about where and when you'll pump. Some states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas) have laws that require employers to accommodate nursing mothers.

Make a pumping plan

When you're away from your baby, you'll need to pump your breasts every two to three hours, depending on your baby's feeding frequency at home. If you are away from your baby for an eight-hour workday, plus commuting time, you should expect to pump about three times. Pump as long as it takes to empty both breasts. You'll see the milk flow start to slow and your breasts will deflate as they do when your baby is finished nursing. It will take about 25 minutes to set up your equipment, pump both breasts at once, and then get dressed and pack your bottles of milk.

Protect your precious cargo It's best to store your pumped breast milk in an office refrigerator, and then carry it home in an insulated bag or cooler with an ice pack. (If you don't have a refrigerator at work, the latter will do.) At home, store the milk you pump in clean containers, labeled with the date so that your care- giver can use older milk first. Breast milk can be kept safely in the refrigerator for two to three days, and in a separate freezer unit (with its own door) of a refrigerator for three or four months. It can also be safely stored in a stand-alone deep freezer for 6 to 12 months. Store frozen milk in serving-size amounts -- probably 4 to 8 ounces, depending on your baby's age and size -- so that it's quick to thaw. Defrost the milk by holding the container under warm running water, just to take the chill off. Overheating may destroy valuable nutrients, so never microwave breast milk.

William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N., are Babytalk contributing editors and the authors of more than 30 books, including The Breastfeeding Book.

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