Breastfeeding has been going well: your baby is thriving and happy. But now you are returning to work and feel sad at the prospect of weaning. Take heart - returning to paid work doesn't mean you have to stop breastfeeding. Your baby can enjoy the health and nutritional benefits and you will still have that unique connection through the one thing that only you can do for your little one - snuggling him close as he drinks your milk.
To make breastfeeding and working possible from a practical perspective, it is important to choose a carer who is breastfeeding friendly: your carer will need to be motivated to implicitly follow your instructions to store and thaw (if necessary) and feed your milk to your baby. Also, there is nothing worse than arriving with full breasts to pick up your baby, only to find she has just been fed, so do request that your carer considers this. She can either help your baby wait (as long as he isn't upset) or offer a small amount of milk to 'tide him over' (rather than a full feed) if you are on your way home. This will also require close communication on your part – perhaps a call as you leave work with an estimated arrival time.
Maintaining your milk supply
To maintain your milk supply, a good quality electric pump is an investment, especially if you buy or hire a pump which expresses both breasts at once: this will shorten the time required to express and also stimulates milk production more effectively. You will need a private space to express and a fridge or eski with ice packs to store your milk while you are at work. An eski or cooler pack is safest to transport your milk home too. Although legally, your right to breastfeed (or express at work) is protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy and potential pregnancy, an understanding employer and co workers will make things a lot easier. If you feel less than assertive about requesting support at work, you can tell your employer that your paediatrician has prescribed breastfeeding for health reasons or to prevent allergic reactions (this isn't necessarily untrue – your baby may develop health problems or allergies if he is fed formula). If your co-workers object to human milk in the office fridge or you are worried your milk may end up in a colleague's coffee, store it inside a lunch box with your name on - they will be none the wiser!
Practice makes perfect
It is wise to practise expressing and getting your baby used to taking some milk from bottles at least two weeks before you plan to return to work. This way, you can have a stash of milk in the freezer so you will feel less stressed about days when your supply seems a bit lower or your baby is extra hungry. How often you express while at work will depend on the age of your baby – if your baby is fully breastfed you may need to express three to four hourly, but for a baby over 6 months who is eating solids and will happily drink water, you may only need to express once a day then, later, you can stop expressing and just breastfeed when you are at home.
At work, it can help your milk flow if you look at a picture of your baby or smell an article of his clothing as you express. Besides expressing at work, other options to maintain a good milk supply include asking for some flexibility so that perhaps you work from home one day mid- week ( and breastfeed as your baby needs) or either go to your baby or have him brought to you by his carer for a feed during your lunch break if this is practical. On days off and weekends, you can nurse your baby as often as he likes and this will boost your milk supply for the working days ahead.
For more detailed information about working and breastfeeding, check out the Australian Breastfeeding Association website ( www.breastfeeding.asn.au ) for their booklet 'Breastfeeding, Women and Work'.