You put so much love, time and energy into establishing breastfeeding and now the return to work is looming over you. So many thoughts and emotions run through your head and you wonder how you’ll possibly cope.
I felt anxious and sick as the weeks got closer and closer to returning to work after my maternity leave. I love my job but really worried about how both of us would cope. I was scared it would end our journey and stop us from reaching our one-year goal. I really wanted to continue to breastfeeding and didn’t want returning to work to put a stop to that.
I went back to work full-time in a busy operating theatre department just before Freddie’s first birthday in July. Both Freddie and I have taken this new change in our strides and I’m pleased to say we’ve been able to continue breastfeeding and have reached our one-year feeding milestone! I wanted to share some of my tips and lessons learned since that time.
I love my job but really worried about how both of us would cope. I was scared it would end our journey and stop us from reaching our one-year goal.
10 tips for breastfeeding and returning to work
I hope my top 10 tips will help another mama who is preparing to go back to work whilst breastfeeding.
1. Be prepared and get familiar with your breast pump
Make sure you have the right pump for you. Is it comfortable and do you know how to work it? Practice first if you haven’t already used it. Check the fit and instructions. I purchased a new hands-free pump on my return to work as wanted to be able to have a drink and take a break at the same time. The pump I have doesn’t have wires and has a battery. Something that was important to me so it’s more practical as no need for plug sockets. I made sure I was able to use it, take it apart and charge it before I went back to work.
2. Make sure you know where you can pump or express (not a toilet!)
I have been really fortunate that my workplace has supported me in my return to work and wanting to continue breastfeeding my son. I have access to a private lockable room with a chair and table. I was able to check out the room before I went back to work to make sure I was comfortable. At first, the room only had a chair which made transferring milk from my pump to storage bag tricky without putting stuff on the floor. I spoke to my manager about this and a table was put in. Small adaptations like this made me feel more at ease and in control of the situation. Make sure you are happy with the arrangements and it is practical for your needs.
I was able to check out the room before I went back to work to make sure I was comfortable.
3. Know your rights
There are laws to protect you and here in the UK it’s the Equality Act of 2010. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that it’s good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk. Most workplaces will have a policy so ask if you can see it beforehand. Speak to your manager and/or HR before your return to work so risk assessments and arrangements can be made. If there is no policy in place kindly ask for one to be drawn up, or maybe even suggest writing it yourself!
4. Speak openly and honestly
I talk positively about breastfeeding at work and the need to pump. This means all my colleagues are aware of the breaks I am entitled to. Education is so important to normalise breastfeeding (and ‘extended breastfeeding‘).
5. Speak to your manager in advance
This gives them time to look into what they need to do to support you. I spoke to mine a few weeks before my return date so we could make sure things were in place. While on shift the nature of my job means I cannot just go and pump as soon as I feel uncomfortable or ‘full’. I try and give my colleagues at least 30 minutes notice so arrangements can be made and my job role covered. At the moment I need to pump twice in a shift (10 hours) with a session taking about 15 minutes.
6. Use your phone (if you can) to look at pictures and videos of your baby when expressing
I find this helps me relax and my pumping session is more successful. Looking at my baby and thinking about them encourages the let-down reflex when I pump and I am able to express more milk.
7. Think about storage and transport of your breast milk
I am lucky to have access to a fridge so will keep my milk refrigerated while on shift and then freeze when home. As the fridge is accessible to other staff within the department I make sure my milk is clearly labelled and dated. Then it is stored inside a fridge bag within the fridge. The policy in my workplace states milk should be double-bagged so it’s protected and not a risk of contaminating anything else. My commute is less than 30 minutes so I use just my lunch bag to transport home. Consider freezer bags and/or ice to keep milk fresh in the summer or if your commute is longer.
As the fridge is accessible to other staff within the department I make sure my milk is clearly labelled and dated. Then it is stored inside a fridge bag within the fridge.
8. Look after yourself!
I am working full time which in itself is tiring on top of breastfeeding, which still using a lot of your energy. Keep hydrated and make sure you eat well while on shift. Pack healthy and nutritious snacks to keep you going.
9. Speak to your childcare/nursery about breastfeeding and make sure they can support your journey
This may mean encouraging baby to have your milk while away from you. Consider bottles, sippy cups and open cups to find what works for your child. Freddie was very fussy at first when it came to taking my milk and we found he would only have it at a certain temperature. Practice first and see how it goes. Remember not all babies will take breast milk not from Mum so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Communicate with whoever is looking after your child when you aren’t there about their routine and preferences.
10. Relax mama, you got this!
I found that pumping as soon as I was relieved at work meant I was stressed and my output was low (making me more stressed). Especially the nature of my busy job meant that when I sat down to pump I was sometimes distracted. Give yourself a 5-minute breather, get a drink and relax before you start pumping. Remind yourself of why you breastfeed and what your goals are.
I am really enjoying being back at work as it is good to have a break from being ‘Mum’ all the time. It has reminded me of who I am and other things I can enjoy. It is also nice to have a loo and drink break in peace haha. I am so pleased that my managers and colleagues continue to support me, I really couldn’t do it without them so thank you! Everyone deserves to be supported on their breastfeeding journey upon returning to work.