There are no questions about it. Working and breastfeeding is more difficult than staying at home and breastfeeding or than working and formula feeding. For those who choose this option, hard work and effort await.
Perhaps this is why so many mothers don’t even attempt to continue breastfeeding when going back to work. In my experience, most shoot down the idea of breastfeeding whilst working without even properly thinking it through.
If you are planning to continue breastfeeding when you go back to work, you will indeed be facing many challenges:
- Women have to find the time to express during the workday. SA Labour Law states that arrangements should be made for employees who are breastfeeding to have two breaks of 30 minutes during the work-day for breastfeeding or expressing breastmilk. Many have workloads which make this difficult, some days impossible.
- Even if you get a break-time, using it to express mean that you lose out on the chance to do anything else, like actually enjoying lunch. Instead, you will spend it wolfing down food awkwardly with one hand while trying to manage the breastfeeding equipment with the other.
- Many workplaces do not have space for women to express, and you may end up in less-than-ideal locations like in a bathroom or inside your car.
- You will have to keep your breast pump and bottles clean and ready-to-use, adding another task to your already-busy early morning, and substantial luggage to your commute. This will often include a cooler bag with heavy ice packs as there may not be freezer space that you can use.
- You will most likely face some ridicule from colleagues, male and female. Even low-noise breast pumps create some sound, which is hard to miss in an office. In western culture, breasts are sexual objects, and the image of a baby (or breast pump) on the breast doesn’t fit this image, which may make some people uncomfortable and thus judgemental.
- If you don’t express regularly and properly empty your breast, not only will you struggle to maintain your supply, but you can get breast engorgement and mastitis.
- Women express different amounts of milk. One mother can manage to get enough during a session to supply in her baby’s needs, while another would need to express multiple times to get enough milk together.
- On top of working the whole day, you will be the one breastfeeding your baby at night, and though many will argue against this (a topic for another day), many breastfeeding mothers feel that this does make it more difficult to get the sleep they need.
I’m probably not busy convincing you, am I? Why go through all this trouble if you can simply give your baby formula milk? Let me share what motivated me, and maybe this can inspire you to do the same.
READ MORE: How to choose a breast pump
Between my two children, I expressed and worked for a total of 20 months. It took lots of effort, but I managed to get through those periods without giving any formula milk. Of course, as a midwife, my work environment was very breastfeeding friendly, and I had full support from my colleagues, which helped to make this possible.
I realise that this is not the case for many mothers. Nevertheless, it required some pushing through, especially as I am one of those moms who doesn’t express huge quantities of milk at a time. I had to express on average 4-5 times a day to ensure enough milk for the times away.
My worst expressing moments was probably when I got in bed tired late at night, only to remember that I still had to express. Often those late-night sessions only yielded 10-20ml of milk. However, I knew that without those small amounts my bottles would lack the last 10-20ml of milk they needed to be full, which motivated me to keep going.
So why do I suggest taking on all the work and drama in a time when you actually need to simplify things for yourself? Here is what kept me going:
- I’m not going to go into all the advantages of breastfeeding in detail. If you chose to breastfeed your baby then you have probably looked into those already. Expressing milk enables your baby to still reap all the rewards, even when you are separated.
- Babies placed in a crèche or daycare are exposed to many harmful germs from other babies and caregivers. The immune protection that breastmilk gives can help to protect your baby from getting sick. And let me say, having a constantly sick child is far more disruptive of your work schedule than 1-2 expressing breaks daily.
- Most mothers feel guilty and sad to have to leave their babies to go to work, which shouldn’t be the case considering the biggest motivator for this decision is financial compensation, without which the same baby will inadvertently suffer. Expressing breastmilk offers mothers a way to do something for their little ones, even when they are not there in person. Many women feel that it actually helps them to cope with these emotions. Breastfeeding at night is a way to reconnect and to make up for time missed in the day.
ALSO READ: Five basic tips for breastfeeding
I really want to encourage you to at least consider the option. Any breastmilk is better than no breastmilk. Many women I talk to don’t seem to realise that you can add in formula if you are unable to express enough milk to fulfil baby’s needs for the time you’re away. This takes away some of the pressure.
Obviously the longer you can feed baby, the better. But even if expressing just allows you to continue feeding for a few more months it is still worth gold.
Keep an eye out for next months’ blog, when I will specifically look at ways to make expressing easier in a workplace environment.