It’s never easy to go back to work when you’ve just had a baby, even if you have maternity leave. But, in most of our cases, we don’t have a choice — and in some (15%) of our cases, the return to work happens within the first two weeks. For my first experience as a new mom, I returned to work after two weeks, not because I wanted to but because I had to pay the rent. As moms and parents, we do what we have to do to survive.
While going back to work is not always easy, I do want to share some of the tips that have helped me over the years. I also know that breastfeeding while returning to work is not easy or for the faint of heart. Even with all the studies about the health benefits of breastfeeding, I do understand and appreciate why women switch to formula after returning to work. Your return to work will increase your stress levels, may add additional time and distance restrictions, and may require additional outside care requirements. Here are a few tips to get you through your return to work.
I do want to mention that the pandemic has offered an unexpected deferment for nursing moms. It may be that your time at home has already been extended beyond your parental leave by work-at-home protocols. An extended time frame will have made this situation easier and more difficult. On the one hand, you’ve probably had the opportunity to be there for all your baby’s first moments, but the stress of working from home while caring for a newborn may have added stressors where you didn’t expect them.
Whether you’re returning to work after your parental leave or after an extended work-at-home situation, the scenarios and logistics are often the same. This process is just not always easy, and you will face emotional and physical challenges along the way.
1. Plan Ahead
I know it’s the last thing on your mind when you find out you’re pregnant, but you should start planning for every eventuality. Start taking a serious look at your situation and look at what your options are, both for when you will return to work, but also how you will continue breastfeeding.
— Breastfeeding News (@dailyBFnews) September 16, 2021
While your plan is not set in stone, you need to start thinking about what you plan to do once your baby arrives. It’s best to start the wheels turning as early as possible, particularly if you will need to arrange for childcare if and when you return to work, explore options for breastfeeding while working, and begin to understand the financial implications.
2. Seek Friendly Advice
When you see other parents who are having babies and returning to work, it may seem so easy. Or, maybe, if you’re closer to the situation, it may seem impossible. How do they do it? Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek answers. You will learn from what you like and what you don’t like about how they are handling the return to work while breastfeeding.
— Caroline Homer (@CarolineHomer) May 19, 2018
It’s possible that they might not want to discuss why they chose to breastfeed or not to breastfeed, since there can be a stigma attached. But, even without that piece, talking it through with friends and family can help to put your situation into perspective.
3. Stop Stressing
I know it may be easier said than done, but your heightened stress level is not good for you or your baby. While you should start thinking about what you will do and seeking out friendly advice, you don’t need to make any life-altering decisions right now. It’s easy to let the weight of everything involving a new baby overwhelm you.
This can and will be a scary time, particularly if you listen to all those horror stories from well-meaning moms. Focus on your own health and well-being. Seek out a doctor if you haven’t done so already and start to implement strategies to reduce stress. I’m a big fan of prenatal yoga with an experienced and knowledgeable instructor. It helps with putting everything into perspective.
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4. Ask HR And Your Manager
I cringe when I write that, but I really do hope that it will be smooth sailing for you. I cringe because I was terrified to talk about my pregnancy with Human Resources, but it really wasn’t a horrible experience. I initially talked it through with my manager and we discussed what my plans were for two weeks of time off. So, by the time I discussed it with HR and Admin, they were just verifying what we’d already discussed.
Regardless of what your situation is, you will need to discuss your pregnancy and leave options with at least your manager or HR. While you may not think you need to worry about it, you should also start discussing your breastfeeding needs. You have the right to breastfeed and pump breast milk, but the laws vary and the logistics can be challenging. So, you should know what your rights are, but also what you need from your employer before you start these conversations.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 (29 U.S. Code 207) requires your employer to allow you to express breast milk for your baby. Then, the Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act requires that public buildings provide a space with a chair, an electrical outlet, and a working surface to express milk. In theory, you should be covered, and if you’re not covered, there are avenues for filing a complaint.
5. Put It Into Perspective
This is all insane, right? All of this is just in the lead up to your baby being born. You may not even be showing yet, but you must start thinking about how it will affect your career and work life. And while you probably don’t want to think about it right now, the financial implications are also there, niggling at the back of your mind.
Some moms quit their jobs to spend more time with their new babies. Who can blame them? There’s nothing quite like watching your baby smile for the first time. Or what about when they roll over, giggle, burp, or say their first word? We don’t miss everything as working parents, but we sure do miss a lot. Women have left the workforce in record numbers over the last year to better meet the needs of their kids. Statically, working moms may make choices based on the changing needs of their children.
This is an excellent podcast- as a working mother of 2 now adult children, plus 2 step children, and as an employer of 4 solicitors on/about to take maternity leave, it’s a reminder of progress made. But not enough #womeninlaw @PregnantScrewed https://t.co/Zl0OGNZlXF
— Melinda Giles (@MelindaGilesLaw) July 23, 2021
Now, the fun begins… Up until this point, you’ve been planning and thinking about what you will do. Before you return to work, though, you have to put your thoughts and all those scraps of paper into action. So, here goes.
6. Determine Your Preferred Caregiver
It’s possible that you have a mom or relative who can watch your baby, and maybe she can even bring the baby by the office for regular feedings. Or, you might be looking for a nanny to take care of your baby at home while you’re at work. You can run home to nurse or ask the nanny to bring the baby to your office. That’s one possible scenario.
Another option is to look at daycare centers or in-home family care situations. They usually take newborns as young as 6 weeks old, and they often have long waiting lists for in-demand age groups. As you review all your options, you should look at the pros and cons of each possibility. Cost is always a factor, but you also need a high-quality and healthy environment for your child.
Do they believe that your child is learning and growing every day? But also, are they willing to use breast milk for feeds? Will there be an opportunity for you to go and see your child on breaks? Would you be able to breastfeed at all while stopping in for a visit?
7. Figure Out The Logistics
By now, you may have figured out when you’ll return to work and who will care for your baby when you’re at work, but you still need to figure out a pumping or feeding schedule. If your mom or nanny will be bringing the baby to work, what does that schedule look like? Map it out, and make sure you’re on the same page with your child’s caregiver.
It’s great if you are able to continue breastfeeding as much as possible, but you’ll still need to prepare for those eventualities where a meeting or work requirement disrupts your schedule. So, while you’re working through all the other kinks of being a new mom, it’s also important to start stocking up with a back-up supply of breast milk. It’s not always easy to balance building a stash of breast milk in your freezer with satisfying your growing newborn.
After your baby is done feeding, you can pump the remaining “bonus” milk (it could be 1-3 oz every day) and freeze it. It may not seem like a lot, but it does come in handy down the road when you start back to work. It will also get you used to the process of pumping and give you a sense of what you can expect when you pump at work. Start figuring out what kind of schedule you’ll need to follow.
8. Do Your Homework
Becoming a new parent involves a ton of research. Not only do you need to find the best breast pump for your needs, but you also need to know how to properly store your breast milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidelines for how to properly store and prepare milk for your baby. And now that you know the best storage protocols, you must make sure that every caregiver you hire is following healthy storage procedures as well.
Yes, there’s a lot to consider when you’re breastfeeding your child as you return to work, but there are also resources that can help. Here are just a few.
Fact Sheet on Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA, U.S. Department of Labor
Break Time for Nursing Mothers, U.S. Department of Labor
Frequently Asked Questions – Break Time for Nursing Mothers, U.S. Department of Labor
EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities
9. Make Sure You’re Covered
You can and should do your research to determine the best way to breastfeed, as well as explore all your options for how to breastfeed at work. As part of that research and planning process, I found these supplies to be helpful when I returned to work.
A nursing cover doesn’t have to be complicated or super expensive. It’s just a piece of cloth to keep offer a bit of privacy when you’re nursing at work. While it might be ok for you to nurse at your desk or in an empty conference room, the cover is the perfect multi-use item. You can use it to cover your blouse if you’ve leaked, and you can also use it to help keep your baby focused on feeding instead of being curious about everything around them.
And then there are pumps. No matter how dedicated you are to breastfeeding full time, you may need to consider back-up methods of feeding your baby. The good news is that you have lots of options for collecting your breast milk, with portable breast pumps that are quick and easy to use. If you decide to use a breast pump, the electric versions are usually the more popular option.
Storage supplies will come in handy when you’re breastfeeding and pumping at work. Make sure that the supplies are compatible with your breast pump. With so many options for pumping and storage, it’s best to try out a few different methods and see which strategy works best. When I was breastfeeding and pumping, I used both storage bags and bottles. Just make sure to bring an ice pack if you think there might be issues with storing the milk in a refrigerator at work or if your commute is a long one.
10. Remember That You’re Not Alone
Breastfeeding can be challenging enough when you’re at home with no distractions. It can and will be that much more complicated when you’re facing the challenges of rushing to feed your baby, pumping, or some combination of the two. On top of all that, you have the stress of work and the need to keep producing enough breast milk for your baby and for your bonus reserve.
It’s enough to drive anyone to distraction. I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Seek out advice from friends who are breastfeeding. If that doesn’t help, or you don’t know anyone you feel comfortable talking with about breastfeeding, seek out a lactation consultant. They can be an amazing resource for not only helping your baby latch on, but also helping you through the entire process of nursing, pumping, going back to work, and also understanding that it’s ok to feel overwhelmed sometimes.
— Doctorsbfc (@Doctorsbfc) August 29, 2021
What are your thoughts about going back to work while nursing? Did we miss important tips? Do you have any questions? Sound off in the comments below.
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