This year's World Breastfeeding Week aims to support women to combine breastfeeding and work.
And I'm here to show you that if you want to carry on nursing, then going back to work doesn't need to stop you. I've managed it three times:
- With my eldest son, E, I returned to work part-time when he was seven months old. He transitioned onto solids very quickly and soon dropped to just morning and night time feeds before he fully weaned from the breast at a year old.
- My daughter B breastfed until she was four years old. I went back to work part-time when she was 10 months old. We continued nursing during the day when I was at home, but when I was at work, she just had solids and water. But she tended to catch up at night (whether I'd been at work or not) until I night weaned her when she was two and a half years old.
- I went back to work part-time when little W was just four months old. I pumped every lunch time when I was at work and he took bottles of expressed milk from the childminder. He also caught up overnight and breastfed throughout the day when I was at home. W is now three years old and continues to nurse.
So if you need to go back to work and want to continue breastfeeding, you can make it work for you. Here are my top tips:
- Tell your employer in writing before you return to work. If you don't let your employer know that you plan to continue breastfeeding and tell them how they can help, then you can't expect them to be supportive. Before you return to work, write a letter explaining that you plan to continue breastfeeding and reminding them that they are legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding employees to rest. You might also like to direct them to the Health and Safety Executive website where they will find information on good practice (but sadly not a legal obligation), to provide 'a private, healthy and safe environment for employees to express and store milk' - not a toilet. In reality, this means a lockable room with an electric socket (for your breast pump) and a fridge in which you can store your milk. You may find it helpful to include a list of benefits to the employer of you continuing to breastfeed, such as reduced absence due to childhood illnesses). My experience with two different employers has been really positive. After my daughter was born, I provided written notification of my return to work date and included a paragraph explaining that I would still be breastfeeding and that I would need somewhere to pump milk and somewhere to store the milk. After my second son was born, I started a new job when he was four months old and still exclusively breastfeeding. After I accepted the job offer, I spoke to HR and told them I would still be breastfeeding and that it would be good practice to provide me with somewhere to pump and store my milk. I added that if they failed to do so, there would be a risk of me developing mastitis. All my requests were met and my employers bent over backwards to help me out. I realise that in some jobs, having the time to pump can be quite difficult. But by raising the issue with your employers before you return to work, you can at least discuss possible solutions and enable them to help. The more working women that raise the issue of breastfeeding, the more pressure will be put on employers to enable women to continue their nursing relationship.
- Just breastfeed when you are together. In the UK, most women are able to take at least six months of maternity leave. This means that by the time you are back at work, your baby will most likely have started solids. So, in reality, you can just breastfeed when you are with your child (bedtime and/or first thing or even through the night) and then encourage your child to take solid food and water from a beaker during the times you are at work. If you are worried about dropping all milk feeds during the day, you could express breastmilk or leave some formula with your childcare provider. You will be surprised at how quickly your body and your child adapt. How do I know? I returned to work when my eldest was 7 months old. I expressed milk and left it with the nursery. After a couple of months, the nursery staff told me my sone was refusing to take the expressed milk from a bottle and actually wanted to have water from a sippy cup and a snack like the other children. We continued nursing when we were together, but when he was out and about with other carers, he was quite happy to take on other forms of nutrition.
- Ask for flexible working so you can take breaks to breastfeed your child during the day or you can manage your shifts so you're not away from home for 12 hours at a time. This is an NHS suggestion and not something I've managed to do myself, so I can't really comment on how feasible it is. But I'm sure for some women it's a viable option.
- Arrange for your childcare to be close to where you work so you can actually breastfeed your child in your breaks rather than pump. Again, this isn't something I've tried, although I now work from home and my childminder is round the corner, so it might be something I attempt later this year with Baby O.
- Relax and be flexible. You and your child will adapt to whatever works for you. Don't beat yourself up if you can't express. Don't be disappointed if you are only managing to nurse once a day or just at the weekends. Have faith in your boobs they will adapt to supply enough milk for whenever you manage to nurse your child. And your child is growing and developing every day and will easily manage the transition to fit in with whatever you can provide.
Have you successfully combined work with a continued breastfeeding relationship? How did it work? What tips would you add?