by Alissa Pemberton BSc (Midwifery),
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) & Holistic Sleep Coach
These days most breastfeeding mums will be returning to work at some point within the first year of your baby's life. The World Health Organisation recommends that we continue breastfeeding well beyond the first year, and we know there are still tonnes of health benefits for older babies and toddlers to continue breastfeeding.
Especially if your child is starting nursery or childcare when you return to work - this is the time they need that extra immunity from your breast milk!
So...how do you keep breastfeeding once you're back at work?
1) Get yourself a good quality breast pump There are hundreds of breast pumps on the market, and unfortunately when it comes to pumps more expensive is not necessarily better. Many mums look to go for a hands free option for returning to work - which can be handy for the portable aspect. It's important to be aware that hands free/in bra pumps have much smaller motors than stand alone units or hospital grade pumps and therefore are never quite as effective. If you have a well established milk supply and are not dealing with any undersupply issues then these options are handy - Lola & Lykke and Pippeta are two good options here that are less expensive than other leading brands but many mums still find to be a good compact pump. If you're looking for a more robust super pump, and don't need the convenience of it being more portable I would always recommend the Spectra S1. This still has a rechargeable battery so you don't need to be near a power point, and you can pump out and about if you need to.
2) Speak to your employer about what they need to do to support your breastfeeding It is advisable to provide your employer with written notification that you’ll be continuing to breastfeed after your return to work. You might choose to include this in a letter/email outlining when you plan to return to work and your preferred work hours. These can then be negotiated with your employer.
Breastfeeding mothers in the UK are protected from being discriminated against by the Equality Act (2010). Whilst we think of discrimination in obvious terms such as verbal/physical harassment from employers or colleagues, this also includes being discriminated against for any reason because you are breastfeeding. This might be, being excluded from a meeting because you are expressing, not being given adequate space to express, having your job performance criticised because you’re expressing etc.
The law in the UK leaves room for interpretation when it comes to what your employer is required to do. They are required, by the Health & Safety act to;
conduct a risk assessment upon your return to work, to assess any potential risks to you whilst breastfeeding. For most jobs this won’t be an issue, but if you work in manual labour or are exposed to dangerous chemicals you should discuss this with your employer.
your boss isn’t required to provide you with somewhere to express, although it is advised that they do so, but t
hey are legally required to provide ‘somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest’ so this space could be used for expressing.
it is not suitable to, nor should you have to, express in the toilet. Guidelines state that employers should provide you with a private, healthy and safe environment for expressing, and storing, milk ideally with a lockable door. This is not a legal requirement but you should not be expected to use the bathroom.
It's also worth talking to your employer about the things you'll need to make expressing possible:
Access to a place to express Access to a fridge to store milk etc. If this fridge is in a common staff area it's a good idea to take a small coolbag to put your milk bags in, and label them with your name to make sure they're not thrown out. Access to a kitchen area to wash out pump parts (especially if you're going to need to pump multiple times during your work day). You don't need to sterilise after every use, just wash in hot soapy water. Some parents still choose to sterilise pump parts once a day
or once every few uses and this can be done at home. You could also use a simple cheap option like a cold water steriliser if you want to be able to sterilise in between uses at work.
3) Try to pump around the same times your baby would normally feed
When you first return to work you'll need to do some pumping to help maintain your milk supply. It's a good idea to start pumping around the same times your baby would usually feed. You can push this schedule forward or back by about an hour if it fits in with your break times, or starting/finishing times at work.
4) Do a trial run before going back to work
Many babies, particularly those over 12 months, will take less milk when mum isn't around. So you may find that you don't need to leave as much milk for your baby as you might think.
It's a great idea to do a trial day, before you return to work. Particularly if you've got a baby who isn't so keen on taking a bottle, or hasn't been left at nursery or with another carer before.
Try to leave the house around the same time you would leave for work. You can remain somewhere nearby (within 10-15 minutes travel time) in case of emergency. This will allow you to get to grips with pumping when you're away from home, and how much your baby needs while you're away. You might choose to spend the day with a friend or relative, or go out for some alone time! Don't forget if your baby isn't keen on taking a bottle that a) you can offer milk in an open cup or sippy cup instead. b) if your baby is taking 3 meals of solid food, and drinking water through the day it's okay for them to take less milk during the day.
This will also allow you to get all the 'kit' together that you need for pumping away from home
- a cool bag
- ice packs (if you work on the road or away from an office/fridge)
- breast pump and charger
- milk storage bags
- pumping bra (if you want to be hands free)
- large zip lock bags to store clean and used pump parts in
5) Be prepared for changes in feeding patterns
As we've mentioned before, many babies (particularly those close to or over 12 months of age) will significantly change their feeding patterns during the day whilst they're away from mum. Some may be happy just to have solids and drinks of water, and won't want any milk until you return from work.
You can also expect that they may want to compensate by feeding more frequently when you do return home, or through the night. This is all normal.
Offer frequent feeds in the hours between returning home from work and bedtime, to help limit increased night waking.
Your baby also might appear to be more clingy once you return to work. This is also completely normal.
In the UK mums often return to work when their baby is around 9-10 months old. This also coincides with a natural period of separation anxiety for babies.
Try to 'fill their love tank' in the time you are around.
Lots of positive touch, skin to skin time (like taking a bath or shower together) and 1:1 attention can help with the separation.
When you leave for work always make sure to say goodbye to your baby and let them see you leave. Whilst they may get upset it's vital for them to see you leaving and returning. This helps them develop object permanence - the understanding that something or someone still exists even if they can't see them and is an essential phase of development for overcoming separation anxiety.
For most mothers you've overcome a whole lotta hurdles to get this far breastfeeding and there's no reason that needs to stop when you return to work.