Going back to work and continuing to breastfeed is not easy. Especially when your little one is extra little – and you know everyone around you suspects she’s not getting enough. All of a sudden you can be measured and judged.
Even with an unbelievably flexible boss, an amazingly supportive husband and – shall we say – an above-average sense of self-confidence, I still find it challenging.
Challenging, but not impossible. And incredibly rewarding at the same time. There is no better feeling than coming home from work and nursing your baby to sleep. You feel the stress of the day melt away as you snuggle down, stroke that soft, furry head and hold on to those sweet little fingers.
So be prepared, be persistent and go for it!
Here are my top tips for breastfeeding moms going back to work.
- Educate yourself! There’s a lot of mis-information out there. Get your information from a trusted source. Read kellymom.com. Consult your trusted lactation consultant or doula. Attend La Leche League meetings. Here’s the thing – just because someone is certified (doctor, nurse, even lactation consultant) doesn’t mean she is informed and certainly doesn’t mean he knows what’s best for your baby. Be your own advocate. Arm yourself with information and know what you are prepared to do.
- Work towards a routine! Read the books (yes – even that one), ask around, figure out what works for your baby and start pretending you’re there. Olivia resisted a schedule for a long time. Now when people say “you’re so lucky” when I tell them Olivia is in bed by six, I have to laugh. It was – and still is – so much work. And it’s far from perfect. But it’s so much easier to leave your baby when you can give clear directions about when and how she should be eating and napping. Plus, the predictability makes it much easier for you to plan. Start at least a month before you plan to go back to work. I actually delayed going back to work a month because we weren’t there yet. Which brings us to our next tip…
- Go with your gut! You need to be 100% comfortable with your baby care arrangements before going back. What was your gut reaction when you first stepped into the daycare or met your nanny? Do you have a nagging suspicion that your Great Aunt Mildred won’t stick to your plan? When I first stepped into Olivia’s daycare I immediately felt calm and reassured in a way I hadn’t with other places we visited. Speaking to the other moms was the icing on the cake. Without that trust you will drive yourself crazy.
- Start slow! I started the Tuesday after Memorial Day and am taking Wednesdays off. Which means that first week I worked three days. Believe me it was plenty. Give yourself a chance to get used to things.
- Love your job! It’s really hard to tear yourself away from your baby. If you’re not doing something you find so captivating that time flies by or if you’re not getting paid for your talent – consider a new line of work.
- Don’t listen to those people! Those people who say “I have so much milk in my freezer I’m running out of room.” Those online reviews that boast “I filled 2 six ounce bottles in 10 minutes with this pump.” Even those people that say “I had to give up because I could only get 2 ounces from each side.” That last one killed me – I was thrilled to be getting four ounces. Do not compare yourself to other people – they are not in your situation and their baby is not your baby. Pay attention to your baby- and only your baby– to figure out how it’s going.
- Find support! You may not be able to go to that Monday morning Mommy and Me Yoga class anymore – but maybe you can organize a lunch with other nursing moms in your office once a month? Or call your childhood friend who’s now the world’s most awesome post-partum doula? How about joining Breastfeed Chicago! on Facebook? Find like-minded people and hear what they have to say!
- Set a goal! Then another. Take it one step at a time. Maybe you’re trying to get to six months. Maybe you just want to get through the week. Set your sights high.
- Be organized! I may or may not have prepared four pages of instructions for Olivia’s day care. Being organized gives me a sense of control. It also helps me operate on auto-pilot in the mornings – and maybe have a little extra time to play with Olivia before dropping her off. Make a checklist. Every night I try to idiot-proof my morning routine – packing my breakfast and lunch, laying out my clothes, rounding up my pump and bottles, putting everything but the milk in Olivia’s bag. I still make mistakes. Yesterday I was in the subway with the doors about to close when I realized I left my milk in the fridge at work and had to run back, just barely making Olivia’s bedtime. To avoid that I may keep my milk in a cooler bag with ice packs right in my bag. I certainly don’t need one more thing to try to remember.
- Experiment! Pumping is tough. Really tough. The first day I raced home to find out Olivia drank exactly what I pumped – to the quarter ounce. That never happened again. I’m routinely an ounce or two short and have to make it up by pumping at night and on the weekends. I compare pumping to having sex with an inflatable doll – it’s just not the same. So I have a variety of equipment (hand pump, single electric, soft and hard shields) and experiment with different techniques (going back to let-down mode when the flow stops, yoga breathing, massaging). Here’s the most important thing I have to say: the amount of milk you pump is not a measure of your milk supply. It’s not.
- Ask for what you want! You’d be surprised how often you get it. I was planning to pump in my office until I talked to a colleague (a former nursing mom) who said “absolutely not!” (the door doesn’t lock, people can hear you and know what you’re doing) and told me about the nursing room downstairs. I now have time blocked off on my calendar that I’ve only had to move twice. Know the law and be vocal if needed.
- Hydrate! Drink when you’re thirsty – no more, no less! Some women get really thirsty when they nurse or pump, so have a water bottle handy.
- Be forgiving! You are working twice as hard as everyone else. Give yourself a break and focus on what’s important.
- Be where you are! When you’re working, work. When you’re pumping, pump. When you’re with your baby, be with your baby.
- Celebrate your achievements! You’ve earned it.
Danit Lewin Schleman lives in Wicker Park and is a first-time mom to five-month-old Olivia. She works as a Management Consultant and enjoys cooking and yoga in her (limited) spare time.