Breastfeeding is very much a personal and often private activity, however, at the same time it is a public concern that is affected by societal values, culture and norms. It’s something that as the founder of Lotus Maternity, a brand which I have nursed (no pun intended) since training to be a midwife, I work to support and protect. It seems as though everyone has an opinion on it, whether they’re with child or not, feeding in public for example, is always guaranteed in the UK to cause somewhat of a stir! So what if I mention the term ‘extended breastfeeding’, where do you sit with that? Supporter, unsure, on the fence, makes your stomach churn?
However, if you are a breastfeeding mother and are returning to work, the term ‘extended breastfeeding’ will probably get mentioned. There is a lot of debate around this subject as to what constitutes ‘extended’ breastfeeding. As midwives, we advocate and recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months, however the majority of women that I have supported with breastfeeding feel a sense of bereavement when their babies start dropping feeds with weaning and actually those first six months passed so quickly, so why not carry on? There is a lot of evidence to support extended breastfeeding, this image demonstrates how it continues to support babies immature immune systems due to the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties within breastmilk:
Also other factors play a role in wanting to continue with breastfeeding, such as mothers not wanting to lose that intimate bond with their baby, or a yearn to provide comfort and nourishment from nursing, or it could be something as simple as the sense of pride mothers feel that only they are able to provide such liquid ‘gold’ for their infant.
Remember as well that there are lots of healing benefits to extended breastfeeding such as
- Reducing the chances of childhood obesity.
- Less tummy troubles. Those that are still breastfed when solids are introduced are less likely to develop coeliac disease and breastfed babies have less chance of developing gastrointestinal problems.
- Fewer ear troubles. Studies have found that babies who are breastfed for more than 4 months have half as many ear infections as their formula fed peers.
- Increased immunity.
Whatever your personal choices are to continue breastfeeding, these should be respected and supported and it would be a real shame if you discontinued with your breastfeeding journey because of constraints within or the demand of your workplace. So if you’re planning on returning to work whilst nursing here are my top tips to make the transition slightly smoother.
- Plenty of forethought is required, plan, plan and plan some more.
- Introduce a bottle early on but not too early as you don’t want to create any teat confusion whilst establishing breastfeeding.
Optimum time is between 4-6 weeks as the older and smarter babies become, the less agreeable they become to taking a bottle. Preferably give the bottle during what will soon become your working hours.
If you are returning to work after 6 months though, I would always advocate that babies drink for an open cup or free flowing feeder (you can get ones which are non spill) instead of sucking from a teat or spout, as prolonged use of these can affect orthodontic, jaw and language development, as well as cause tooth decay.
- Make sure you are well practiced with pumping before you go back.
You’ll have enough on your plate on your first day back, so the last thing you need is to be messing about with tubing ends and fixing bottles on an already time restricted lunch break. Plus this way you will have enough stored for that first day, so don’t need to panic if your supply isn’t as good due to the separation from baby etc. It’s also useful to become au fait with sterilising and the correct methods of cleaning equipment.
- Do a couple of trial runs.
With childcare in place, rehearse your back to work routine somewhat. It might be worth contacting your manager and asking if there is a quiet/ appropriate place to express, or if you have visited your workplace whilst on mat. leave, make an assessment during the visit as to where you can store your breastmilk or wash your pump. It might also be advantageous to express milk outside of your house, so that you feel comfortable doing it somewhere without any home comforts.
- Ease yourself back into things.
If you’re going back to work full time, why not go back on a Thursday so you are only working a couple of days and then it’s the weekend and you can evaluate the situation during this time. Beginning with a shorter week should hopefully be less overwhelming than starting out with 5 days ahead.
- Work part time.
(If you can and it is financially feasible) even if it’s just initially until you get back into your stride. Working four or 5 half days is more practical than working 2-3 long ones. This is because firstly you might only have to miss one feed or not any. Secondly you’ll have less trouble with leakage and might not have to do any pumping on the job! Best of all you’ll spend most of your day with your baby. Working nights is also an option that won’t interfere so much with breastfeeding once your baby is sleeping through the night.
- Dress for pumping success.
Wear clothing where you can easily access your breasts so nothing that’s like a straight jacket to get on and can be opened preferably from the front. Pack breast pads if necessary although usually at this point, spontaneous leaking should have subsided (unless you’re returning to work not long after baby’s born).
- Look for privacy.
If you don’t have your own office with a door maybe borrow a friendly colleague’s, or an unused office or nursing room.
- Be consistent.
Try to pump (although this may not be possible) as close to the times that you would usually be feeding your baby, as this is when your breasts will be anticipating a feed and subsequently filling and therefore you will get a better yield. Don’t be disheartened if your volume is not what you expect initially because the let down reflex is influenced by your baby (spontaneous leaking to crying for example) who will be absent.
P.S. if this is your first time using your pump and you are surprised and perhaps somewhat disheartened by the volume, remember that this isn’t representative of the volume that your baby will strip from the breast, as they are much more effective. Remember there are different types too, here’s a brief list of the different types and their advantages:
I also really vouch for breastmilk collectors, particularly when you have a younger baby. They work by generating a second let down on the breast your baby is not feeding on and collect the milk rather than it going down your top! Throughout the course of a day you can acquire a fair few ounces. They’re a bit more tricky with older babies as there often isn’t space to put the collector on the opposite breast and also in my experience older babies aren’t as still when they’re feeding. Often they’re coming off the breast to have a good look around- so there’s a risk of your little one knocking the collector! The photo below demonstrates how effective they can be. This is my sister’s breastmilk, electric pump vs the collector, both used for the same duration but a big difference in volume obtained!
- Plan for storage.
Fresh breastmilk can be left on the side for up to 6 hours. Store freshly pumped breastmilk in the office fridge, CLEARLY LABELLED with your name on it, there’s no need to state that it’s breastmilk, (just in case you have any colleagues that may be curious) but do not leave it in the fridge door in a container that could be mistaken for mid-morning coffee break milk! Unless you want to spite the office sleaze…muhahahaahaaaaa! On a serious note though, breastmilk should never be stored in a refrigerator door as the temperature isn’t cool enough. Make sure you take it home as and when you need (can be left refrigerated for up to 5 days) but if you get into good habits, such as taking your expressed breastmilk home each day, there’s less chance of leaving it there over the weekend and having the cleaners throw all your hard pumped milk down the drain!
*Remember it’s also important to ensure that whoever is caring for your baby whilst you’re at work is aware of the correct storage of breast milk. Here are the UK guidelines for freshly expressed breastmilk:
- Take a break from bottles on the wee