With a little forward planning, it is perfectly possible to continue to combine breastfeeding and working. If a mother intends to return to work very soon after the baby is born (for example if they are self employed), then it is essential that she ensures that breastfeeding is established and that she feels confident with feeding before starting back at work.
Any mother who returns to work when her baby is less than six months old and exclusively breastfed will need to consider where and when to express her milk in order to maintain supply and meet her baby’s needs. Many different settings are suitable for expressing, especially if hand expressing or non electric pump are used. Anywhere that is private, clean, warm and comfortable may be used, whether this is an unused office space, storage area, rest room (not the toilet!) or even a car with blinds on the windows if out and about.
For a very young baby, Mum will need to express as often as possible when separated from the baby, much as the baby would naturally feed. It is important to remember that it is the frequency and effectiveness of expressing which matters rather than the volume of milk gained, since it is this which will stimulate and maintain the supply.
If mums return to work when their baby is over six months old and taking foods other than breastmilk, it is still well worth expressing milk at work to be fed to the baby by cup or bottle. If Mum expresses two or three times during a typical eight hour working day, then this will probably provide sufficient breastmilk for the baby’s needs alongside solid foods. Mums can then feed their baby at the breast as normal during days off and enjoy the convenience of this. Storage of expressed milk can be very straightforward. It may be most convenient to take a cool bag to work, complete with ice packs to keep the temperature inside quite low (below five degrees, like a fridge). Breast milk, unlike doorstep or formula milk, is very stable and does not go off’ very quickly.
If a mother does not wish to express milk at work, it is still possible to continue to breastfeed. Baby may be given formula milk (if under one year) when Mum is not available and then feed at the breast when Mum returns. The breastmilk supply will respond to the demands made and breastfeeding can continue combined with bottle feeding, giving at least some of the health benefits of breastfeeding. Mums who choose this course of action may need to express a little in the first days back at work in order to keep their breasts soft and comfortable and reduce the risk of mastitis.
During the Cornwall Conference 2014, we were fortunate enough to have Donna Negus from Sekoya Specialist Employment Services come and talk to us about how the law protects women at work when breastfeeding – she has kindly let us share the Breastfeeding at Work fact sheet.