Returning to work whilst breastfeeding – how can it be done?!

When you first have your bundle of joy (well, bundle of poo, sleeplessness and noise), you are so focussed on your brand new human that you don’t think about your life before baby: the job you did and the job you have to return to. When Squid was about 4 months old, I began to emerge from the baby cocoon and I began to realise that time was starting to run away with me and it wouldn’t be long until I had to go back to work.I was lucky that Squid was born in September because, as a teacher, this meant I only had to return to work for 7 weeks before the summer holidays were upon me! But the closer it got, the more I dreaded my return. As an exclusively breastfed baby, I was worried about leaving Squid and how he would cope. I was due to return to work when he was 8 months old, not long after beginning to introduce food and I was panicking.

Luckily, I know a wonderful Breastfeeding Counsellor who has supported me through so many things in Squid’s 19 months of life, and she allayed my fears with excellent advice about how I could return to work and continue breastfeeding.

If your return to work is imminent, and you’re wondering how on earth you and your little love will cope, then hopefully this guide will help you and put your worries to rest…

Food and water

My main worry about returning to work was how Squid would deal with being away from me for 12 hours a day, 3 days a week. Prior to my return, we had never spent more than a few hours apart. Suddenly, Squid and I were going to have to be separated, which meant no boobies for my wee lad. As a chronic bottle-refuser, and a baby-led weaning baby who wasn’t eating huge amounts, I was so concerned about what he would eat and drink in my absence.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried. When I was at work, Squid was happy to drink water from a cup, and to eat food. Granted, in the beginning, he wasn’t eating a huge amount of food, but he was eating. And he very quickly increased his solid food intake after I returned to work – I think that something must have ‘clicked’ – that food fills you up.

Most mums in the UK return to work around 8 months to a year after the birth of their baby – and at this age, babies are perfectly capable of going for longer periods of time without breastmilk. This is the most common approach for mamas whose babies won’t drink from a bottle.


Practicalities of breastfeeding a baby when back to work

If your baby won’t drink expressed breast milk, and in your absence they have water and food, then when you are reunited, they may go through what is called ‘reverse cycling’. This is where your little one may make up for their missed milk by having a big cluster feed in the evening, and they may wake more regularly in the night for milk. As a bed sharing family, with a small person who has always fed for a lot of the night, this didn’t make much difference to me, and quite frankly I was always so happy to be back with my babe that I didn’t care how much he fed!

It is worth noting here, however, that even if your baby DOES drink expressed milk whilst you’re at work, they may still reverse cycle – they’ve missed you, and after all, breastfeeding never was just about the milk! It’s such a wonderful way to reconnect after a long day apart, and breastmilk is love, cuddles and warmth combined.

Another practical thing to consider is that, when you return to work and are away from your baby, therefore not nursing on demand, your boobs may feel very full and leaky – so make sure you pack extra breast pads in your bag! I had an embarrassing experience of being caught short one afternoon when I was teaching – I looked down to find my top was soaked! Thank God for big, woolly cardigans is all I’ll say!


Expressing – your rights at work

Even if your baby won’t drink your expressed milk in your absence, the likelihood is that you will still need to express during the day in order to relieve your milky Pammy Andersons!

I was really nervous about broaching this subject with my employer – I would need somewhere private to express milk, and in a school, there are not many private places!

What does the law say then, about a breastfeeding mother’s rights at work?

Unfortunately, it actually isn’t exactly law for an employer to provide you with somewhere to express milk whilst at work, however, it IS law for an employer to provide pregnant or breastfeeding mothers with somewhere to ‘rest’ at work. The law is a bit confusing here, as what ‘resting’ entails isn’t actually outlined. However, it is considered ‘good practice’ to be accommodating of breaks for a breastfeeding mother, taking into account the possible negative effects of not allowing such breaks (e.g. the risk of painful engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, and potentially even abscesses, and therefore the need for time off work for the employee. It is also worth remembering that a breastfed baby will be healthier and therefore may not require the mother (or parent) to take time off work to care for them). Therefore, if a mother is allowed adequate breaks to express milk, there will be less need for staff absence, the mother will be able to maintain her breastfeeding relationship, and staff morale will remain high.

Where you are allowed to express milk whilst at work depends on your employer. Ideally, the space should be private and comfortable, as well as hygienic. I always think that a good rule of thumb is that if you would eat there, then it’s hygienic enough to express there. Which is why, when I spoke to my work about where I could express, I refused their initial suggestion of ‘in the disabled loo’…

Luckily, this suggestion was quickly followed up with an alternative room. For a while, I expressed here during my breaks. However, as Squid always refused to drink any of the milk I expressed, I actually didn’t end up doing this for very long. In fact, the tipping point for me was when my deputy head teacher nearly walked in on me – thank goodness for locked doors or he would have had an eyeful! – I gradually, over a period of weeks, reduced the amount of times I was expressing whilst at work, starting off at twice a day, dropping to once and then eventually no expressing sessions.

Tips for expressing at work:

Try and relax! You are more likely to trigger a let down if you are relaxed and calm – sometimes over thinking it can delay your let down from happening!

Take something which smells of your baby – this can really help when expressing – to look at and smell an item of clothing, for example, because it will remind you of your little one and may make your milk flow easier!

Look at photos of your small human – similar to smelling an item of their clothing, it can really help to focus on your baby whilst you express!

Don’t panic if you don’t get much milk out – it’s not a reflection of your supply. Some women really don’t respond to pumps, and can barely express a drop – and that’s okay!

Hand expressing might be better – learn how to hand express, because you may find it a quicker and more effective way of removing milk from your breasts.


What about my supply?

Before reducing my expressing sessions, I was concerned about the effect that not expressing at work would have on my supply. However, your milk supply adjusts according to supply and demand, and I soon realised that my body would adjust according to the amount of times Squid was asking for milk. It always helps to remember that breasts are rivers, not lakes; factories, not warehouses: meaning that they are constantly flowing with milk, according to demand, rather than storing the milk that will ‘disappear’ when it’s all gone. It is for this reason, that during school holidays, when I am not at work on my ‘regular’ work days, I can continue to breastfeed Squid on demand – because there is always milk.

Whilst my supply was adjusting, I did find that I had to hand express a few times a day, just enough to trigger a let down, so that my breasts did not feel so full and uncomfortable. Because I weaned from expressing so gradually, I didn’t get mastitis – if you do this too suddenly, your supply won’t have a chance to adjust and you may end up with lumps and painful blockages.


How much expressed milk to leave

If your boobie bandit does accept expressed milk from anything that isn’t the direct source, then it can be really overwhelming to think about how much expressed milk they might need in a day – you have no idea how much milk a breastfed baby takes, and therefore you don’t know what a ‘boobful’ of milk looks like!

It is easy to compare a breastfed baby with their formula fed counterparts, because you often hear of formula fed babies drinking 8oz in one sitting, but things are slightly different when a baby is exclusively breast fed. Breast milk is so easy to digest that they may feed more regularly, but drink smaller amounts, and also formula can stretch a baby’s stomach as it is heavier than breast milk – hence why they need to drink more milk, because they have a larger stomach space! A rough guide for expressed milk is approximately 1oz to 1.5oz per hour (so a baby that feeds every 3 hours might take between 3oz and 4.5oz per feed, for example). If you are at work for 12 hours, you might aim to leave between 12oz and 18oz of expressed milk for your baby. However, you may well find that your baby might not drink as much as this – if they are over 6 months old and therefore having water and food as well, they may not need as much milk – and that’s okay!


I think the best advice is to try not to stress about how much milk your baby is drinking in your absence. There’s some great advice here, about how much milk you might want to leave your exclusively breastfed baby: http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/pumping/milkcalc/

I must mention here too, that obviously the flow of milk is very different between a breast and a bottle: at the breast, babies must work for their milk, waiting for a let down, and then must actively suck and swallow throughout a feed in order to drink. That’s why a breastfed baby can’t be over fed – because they control the amount of milk they take and they stop feeding when they are full. Conversely, with a bottle, the milk flows continuously, so sometimes even when a baby might be full, the milk will continue to flow, and they swallow (because of the reflex telling them to do so). This is why when you bottle feed a baby, and particularly when you bottle feed a breastfed baby, it’s important to do something called ‘paced feeding’ which involves feeding in a more upright position, allowing the baby to ‘latch on’ to the bottle teat, and varying the angle of the bottle so that milk doesn’t always continuously flow without the baby working for it – this is so that it mimics what it’s like to be breastfed and therefore the baby doesn’t over eat! For more on paced feeding see http://kellymom.com/bf/pumpingmoms/feeding-tools/bottle-feeding/

Other great links regarding returning to work as a breastfeeding mum:

https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/6-breastfeeding-rights/continuing-to-breastfeed-when-you-return-to-work/
http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/j/k/Acas_guide_on_accommodating_breastfeeding_in_the_workplace_(JANUARY2014).pdf
Have you returned to work, and are still breastfeeding? What worries did you have, and how did you find it? Is your return to work imminent? How are you feeling about it? I’d love to know in the comments below!

Find me on Twitter and Instagram: @squidmamma and on Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/squidmamma/ for daily baby, teacher and life updates!

Love,

Squidmamma x

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