Tips to keep breastfeeding after maternity leave

Tips to keep breastfeeding after maternity leave

Just because your maternity leave is over doesn’t mean you have to transition your baby from breast milk to formula. With a little planning and a support system, working moms can continue to nurse when they return to the workplace.

The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age because the benefits of breastfeeding to both babies and mothers are numerous: the antibodies in breast milk can protect babies from illnesses such as respiratory infections; the act of breastfeeding aids mother-child bonding; and breastfeeding mothers have lower rates of breast and ovarian cancers, according to breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League International.

Breastfeeding is on the rise in the United States, with nearly half of babies still breastfeeding in 2010 compared to just 35 percent 10 years earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet just 16 percent of babies are breastfeeding exclusively, according to a CDC report. Rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration are higher among women who have longer maternity leave, work part time rather than full time or have breastfeeding support programs in the workplace.

“Breast is best,” says Dr. Rosalind Downing, a pediatrician on staff at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., which is taking steps to be recognized as a “Baby Friendly” hospital. “If you choose to make nursing a priority when you return to work, and you’re fortunate to have a strong support system, like I did, it’s well worth the effort,” Dr. Downing says.

If you have on-site or nearby child care, you might be able to take nursing breaks to feed your baby. If that’s not possible, you can use a breast pump to express milk while away from your baby. Dr. Downing, a mother of two who breastfed both of her children for one year, recalls “lugging my pump everywhere,” including to and from the hospital when she was on call.

The following tips, from La Leche League, can help working moms breastfeed for as long as they and their infants choose to do so:

  • Talk to your supervisor about your pumping needs before you return from maternity leave so you can develop a plan that will work for both of you. Educating your employer about the choice you’ve made and the relatively minor physical accommodations required in the workplace will encourage cooperation.
  • Invest in a high-quality electric breast pump, storage bags, cleaning products and other devices for easier pumping and storage of milk at your workplace. You might also want to buy an extra set of parts for your pump so you don’t have to spend time cleaning your parts while at work.
  • At home, discuss with your partner who will shop for food, who will cook and when ordering in is appropriate. Make a list of home responsibilities such as cooking, laundry, housekeeping, shopping and errands.
  • Once you return to work, nurse your baby before you leave and upon your return home. Some babies will compensate for your absence by requesting fewer feedings while you’re gone and more when you’re at home. To maintain consistency, keep the same nursing routine on your days off.

The Affordable Care Act signed into law into 2010 requires employers to provide moms of babies younger than 12 months a reasonable break time for pumping and a private place to pump, other than a bathroom. Finding a private pumping area can be challenging, so plan ahead, especially if you don’t have your own office. Possible locations include an unused meeting room, the lunchroom, a co-worker’s office, a rest room lounge or even a supply closet.

“You should be prepared to educate your colleagues about how important breastfeeding is, both for your health and the health of your baby and how that translates into less loss work time,” Dr. Downing says. “Mothers take less time off work when their babies are healthy, and healthier babies mean reduced health-care costs, since healthy babies need fewer prescription medications and healthcare services.”

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About the Author

Lisa Parro
Lisa Parro

Lisa Parro, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital and Advocate BroMenn Medical Center. A former journalist, Lisa has been in health care public relations since 2008 and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She and her family live in Chicago’s western suburbs.