By Tan Yi Lin
So you’ve heard. Breast is best.
If you are a new mum and have made the decision to breastfeed your baby, chances are that you wouldn’t want to give it up just because you have to return to work upon the end of your maternity leave. It is recommended that mothers breastfeed for six months or more, without the addition of infant formula or solid food. Even after the addition of solid food, mothers are advised to continue breastfeeding for up to a year, and can continue for two years or more. Ms Kang Phaik Gaik, Manager/Senior Lactation Consultant at the Alvernia Parentcraft Centre at Mount Alvernia Hospital, says, “Breastfeeding can continue for as long as both mother and baby desire it. However, beyond the first year, breast milk should only be used as a supplement and not as the main source of nutrition, unlike during the baby’s first year of life.”
Well, you don’t need to stop breastfeeding just because you are returning to work and will have to spend a fair bit of time away from your baby during the course of the day.
Here are some tips to help you to continue breastfeeding while working:
1 Expressing breast milk
Express your breast milk and store it so that your caregiver (be it your relative, helper or staff at infant care centre) can feed your baby while you’re at work. It is recommended that you purchase a breast pump a few weeks before returning to work. This would give you some lead time to practise using it in the comfort of your home. It will also give your baby time to transit from breast to bottle.
Electric pumps can cost anything from $100 for a single pump to over $1,000 for a double pump. Ms Kang suggests choosing one that suits your budget and that you feel comfortable using. If you’re not sure what brand or type of pump will work best for you, you can turn to experienced friends and family members for advice. Alternatively, borrow a pump from someone you know (who doesn’t need it any more), or rent from maternity stores. It’s not as yucky as it sounds – you can easily get brand new parts, such as the suction cups that come into contact with skin as well as the tubes. To make yourself comfortable, you may also want to wear outfits that make breastfeeding easy. Ms Kang recommends wearing separate tops and bottoms instead of dresses. Tops should either have front openings (e.g. a button-down shirt) or discreet side openings specially designed for nursing. Other nursing tops come with two layers, letting you roll up the top layer to access your breasts while keeping the rest of your torso covered under the second layer.
2 Availability of breastfeeding rooms
Before returning to work, it’s good to find out whether your company has a breastfeeding room. If not, you may have to seek special permission for daily access to an empty meeting room or any other unused room within the office building. Keep an extra nursing bib or apron at your desk in case you are unable to find a fully enclosed area to express your milk. In the event that you are unable to find any privacy at all, the worst case scenario would be to express your milk in the restroom, or express only in the morning before going to work and upon returning home from the office.
Inform your supervisor that you are breastfeeding as you would require occasional breaks from your work to do so. Remember to bring a cooler bag to carry home the expressed milk.
Other little things such as storing breast pads, an extra top and additional cooler bags in the office may help put your mind at ease. Equip yourself with something to do while breastfeeding, as this can take up to 30 minutes each time. You can go through your work, or unwind with music, a book or magazine.
3 Storing breast milk
Breast milk can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months. It may be a good idea to build up milk reserve at home so that you don’t have to worry about expressing sufficient milk for your child while handling the stress of adjusting to your new life as a working mum.
4 Arranging for childcare close to work
If you are fortunate enough to have a childcare facility located within or near to your office building, you can take advantage of it to fulfil your plan to breastfeed at work. Many childcare centres offer infant care services starting as early as when the child is 2 months old. Negotiate with your supervisor for scheduled daily breaks in the mid-morning, during lunch and in the afternoon to pop over to the centre to breastfeed your baby. Assure your supervisor that you will still deliver quality work on time despite the breastfeeding sessions.
5 Coping with breastfeeding while on overseas assignments
If you need to travel on overseas work assignments without your baby, make sure that you pump more frequently in the weeks leading up to your trip so as to build up enough frozen milk stores to last for the duration of your absence. “While the mother is overseas,” says Ms Kang, “she needs to continue to express and dispose of her breast milk frequently to keep production going and to prevent her milk supply from dwindling, so that she can continue to breastfeed her baby upon returning home.”
6 Other options
Working mums who have a greater control over when and where they work can explore how they can better schedule breastfeeding sessions into their work day. If your work place is near your home, you may even wish to consider the option of getting your caregiver to bring your baby to your work place for a feed during lunchtime.
All in all, learning how to manage breastfeeding at work will take some effort and time. Don’t give up if you struggle during your first week back at work. Give yourself – and your baby - a longer trial period. More importantly, make sure you stay healthy by eating and resting well.
Remember, being able to breastfeed is a privilege. So enjoy the experience as much as you can!
Ms Kang Phaik Gaik is a Manager/Senior Lactation Consultant at the Alvernia Parentcraft Centre at Mount Alvernia Hospital.
I Love Children recommends 3 good reads:
1) The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, La Leche League International
2) Breastfeeding for Dummies, By Sharon Perkins and Carol Vannais
3) The Working Mother’s Guide to Life, By Linda Mason